Marine Conservation

This Halloween’s Coolest Claws: Halloween Crabs

Why the name?

Vibrant, showy, and brilliantly bold, Halloween Crabs are named, and famed, for their colorful costumes. They have a dark brown uppercase that is often confused for black, a bright orange body and purple claws and limbs. Their eyes are a vibrant yellow, complemented by two white spots at the rear part of their carapace. Many people are taken with the crabs’ appearance and choose to make these lively creatures their pets. They are amazingly easy to handle and care for. Proper enclosure and careful measures of temperature and humidity will keep these crabs living a happy lifespan of up to ten years!halloween-crab-forblog

What are Halloween Crabs?

Crabs are unique species that can be found throughout the world’s tropical and semi-tropical regions. There are three principal groups distinguished by habitat: freshwater, semi-terrestrial and terrestrial (land).  Halloween Crabs are land crabs belonging to the Gecarcinidae family. Although they lead a terrestrial existence, at some time during adulthood, the crabs visit the sea for reproduction.

Distribution:

Halloween Crabs are found along river banks, mangroves, and rainforests from the Gulf of California in Mexico as far south as Colombia. Humid habitats like these provide the water sources the crabs depend on to prevent lung desiccation. As more water becomes available towards the interior of a country, the more common it is to find these crabs significantly away from the coast. For example, in Southern Costa Rica, the crab can be found up to 600 meters inland.halloween-crab-forblog2

The unique diet and behavior of Halloween Crabs is fitting of the name. Largely nocturnal, the crabs spend their nights climbing trees and burrowing in underground holes. These holes function mainly as the crabs’ store houses. The leaves and seeds of the next day’s meal are hoarded away to be kept safe and dry for these hungry Halloween crabs. While the crabs are mainly herbivorous, they can also eat fish, insects, worms, apples and other fruits and animals.

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Sea Turtle Conservation – It Just Takes One

There is an often cited estimate that only 1 in 1000 sea turtles that hatch and make it to the ocean will survive to adulthood. With odds like that one can sometimes feel like the work is futile and has little impact. As Olivia points out in her blog this week – it just takes is one brush with success to remind us that every individual counts.

By: Olivia

Upon arriving to Osa to start my position as a Research Field Assistant (RFA), I was so excited to start a new life that involved working in my field of study and a new place to call home. To say each category has surpassed my expectations within the time I have been here would be only an understatement.

Screen Shot 2016-06-17 at 7.56.23 PMComing from Canada, life in Costa Rica was going to be a massive change for me, however one that I was going to greet with open arms. I had my final exam for my Biology Degree at the end of April, and not two days later I was on a plane headed for my new life abroad. I finished University knowing I wanted to enter the field of conservation straight away, and am willingly missing my own graduation to do so.

Ever since I arrived for my first day on the job, I have been working and learning collectively with my fellow Research Field Assistant and Program Coordinator Manuel Sanchez Mendoza. Beach patrols are done everyday, at morning or at night, and our job as Sea Turtle RFAs involves monitoring the beach for sea turtle nesting activity. Our job is to record data on turtle observations from both our beaches, Playa Piro and Playa Pejeperro. On my second day and first patrol on our longer beach Pejeperro, Manuel and I found a group of green turtle hatchlings and I was ultimately able to help them reach the ocean.

I’ve come to realize that as unpredictable as the nesting turtles are, their hatchlings are just as much so. Only last week, I was taking a walk along Pejeperro in the mid-afternoonScreen Shot 2016-06-17 at 7.56.34 PM and felt something brush against my foot. Looking down, I watched an Olive Ridley hatchling crawl along the top of my foot and shuffle as quickly as it could to the ocean – asymmetrically of course. Looking up along the sloping sand, I saw many siblings following behind. That afternoon, I was able to help around thirty hatchlings reach the ocean and avoid the majority of the scorching sun. After spending most of my time trying to save predated nests and rescue as many eggs as possible, it was incredibly rewarding to see what exactly I’ve dedicated my work here towards with the oddest timing.

We just finished building our sea turtle hatchery where we relocate nests in danger of being washed away by the river or of predation. The eggs from these nests are placed carefully in our nursery to ensure safety and healthy growth. Once the babies are ready to leave, we will release them early in the morning to avoid the day’s heat and many predators. This week we have been working diligently to finish the construction and hopefully in a couple days we shall be placing our first nest in the hScreen Shot 2016-06-17 at 7.56.41 PMatchery. The nursery has had major success over the past two years with over 20,000 baby turtles released last year, and I cannot wait to see how many hatchlings we will have this year.

Entering the field of conservation, especially sea turtle conservation, I knew the difficulty of working against so many factors and having such little chance of rewarding results in the short term. I spent some time questioning how much of a difference one person can make in conservation with so many oppositions. All of that changed though, and all it took was one baby turtle crawling over my foot!

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Osa Verde and Vanilla Farming

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The beneficial mycorrhizal fungus found in large amounts in wild plants on Osa Verde. This fungus is one that gives several benefits to the plant.

Beginning four months ago, the National University, Osa Conservation, and University of Costa Rica have been uniting forces in order to carry out the establishment and development of organic mother vanilla plants in the Osa. Since the cultivation is very profitable, it would be a good economic opportunity for the farmers in the southern part of the country, many of whom do not have job opportunities. A trial plot has been placed on Osa Conservation’s Osa Verde farm.

One of the problems facing the cultivation of vanilla is that of pests and diseases that affect a part or all of the cultivation. Often the use of agricultural chemicals has controlled these problems but we are undertaking a completely organic trial. Beneficial microorganisms from University of Costa Rica’s Agricultural Microbiology laboratory strains bank and other beneficial microorganism that already have been isolated from Osa Verde’s forest soil are being utilized for this trial. The microorganisms will be multiplied and evaluated in the trial. In this work, one creates an organic techno12688270_764387100362270_4366647257822921076_nlogy packet, a base of bacterias and and fungi that serve to control the pests and diseases.

Additionally, we intend to provide local farmers that are interested in sowing vanilla with high quality cuttings for the plant with the desired characteristics of vanillin. These cuttings can be purchased on the market, but the sales of these species of vanilla is often of poor quality. In order for the farmers to undertake their own production and gain access to the market, both nationally and internationally, the National University will help by serving as a guide and collaborator.

In order to carry out this research, the following objectives have been defined:

  1. Develop and establish organic mother plants of vanilla, so that the IMG_20160219_091546farmers in the area have high quality and healthy vanilla cuttings for the establishment on their own farms.
  2. Establish a vanilla farm that is demonstrative and educational for the farmers in the southern area, where a protocol for growing organic vanilla in agroforestry systems is implemented.
  3. Determine the main phytosanitary problems present in vanilla plants found in the wild and identify potential biocontrol found in association.
  4. Identification of vanilla plant species that are isolated in the forests around Osa Verde.

This exciting research happening on Osa Verde is just on example of how we are partnering with academic institutions and researchers to conserve the Osa and it’s biodiversity; create a sustainable and local food production system; demonstrate best practices to visitors; and also provide economic alternatives to locals.

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Bananas: The Spotty Past and Precarious Future of the World’s Most Consumed Fruit

The banana is one of the most popular fruits in the world. However, since each banana is genetically identical it is highly susceptible to disease. The Osa Verde Farm is able to combat such disease by planting genetically diverse bananas, not using chemical inputs, and maintaining other sustainable practices.

By: Holland Cathey

The banana. A fruit that we have grown to love, rely on, and ultimately take for granted may be in danger of going extinct.  A seemingly incurable fungus called the Panama Disease is rapidly spreading to plantations around the world and wiping out the banana crops there.

        Despite the fact that there are thousands of varieties of banana worldwide, more than 95% of the bananas produced for export and over 40% of bananas total are the Cavendish variety.  The Cavendish is the variety that we are all familiar with.  This variety is tailor-made for export.  Not only is it mildly sweet, soft, and seedless, but it also continues to ripen after being harvested and has a thick skin that makes it both cheap and easy for companies to transport.  However, in order for the Cavendish to remain consistently viable for export, each is a clone.  This means that there is absolutely zero genetic diversity within the beloved Cavendish.  Additionally, strict monocrop agricultural techniques and lack of crop rotation make the Cavendish extremely vulnerable to threats such as the Panama Disease and pests.  Genetic diversity within a species is usually nature’s defense system against these type of threats, as it allows the organism to adapt to new and changing threats. However, with human intervention and domestication, that first line of defense no longer exists.

        Because the Panama Disease is a fungus, it stays in the soil and infects the plant through its roots.  Because each banana plant is biologically 1559300_10152980088081998_5301024009236505569_oidentical, the plant itself is defenseless.  The Panama Disease has the ability, and often succeeds, in wiping out entire plantations.  Then, the fungus stays in the soil for years after, making it difficult to plant a new crop.  Additionally, there are multiple variations of the Panama Disease spreading around banana-producing countries. One such strain is called Tropical Race 4, or TR4.  Panama Disease and TR4 are currently most prolific in South Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Australia; but it’s spreading.  Randy Ploetz, Professor of Plant Pathology at the University of Florida has called it the “worst threat to sustainable banana production worldwide” and noted numerous social and economic implications in the collapse of the banana industry.

        Believe it or not, this is not the first time that the world has seen such a pressing threat to its favorite variety of banana.  The Gros Michel is the sweeter, more-easily transported equivalent of the Cavendish and it practically went extinct in the 1960s when a fungus similar to the Panama Disease attacked it as well.  In fact, the Cavendish is a hybrid banana, bred for its fruit and immunity to the fungus that plagued the Gros Michel.

        Why is history repeating itself?  While the fungus has, over time, continued to evolve and change, the Cavendish has remained genetically exactly the same.  In effect, the Panama Disease and the banana are playing an evolutionary game of “Tag”—and the Cavendish is “it”!  In order to keep the Cavendish alive, banana companies have to use a huge amount of chemicals including pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides to keep threats at bay.  Ultimately, there is a limit on the effectiveness of even the most toxic chemicals– not to mention the detrimental  impact of the chemicals themselves on both those consuming the bananas and the environment around the plantations.

        Banana companies have a long and dark history of exploitation and big business around the world and especially in Costa Rica.  Despite the fact that Americans annually consume more bananas than apples and oranges combined, there are surprisingly few regulations governing human rights issues in banana production.  Historically, the industry is notorious for its use of child labor, anti-union measures, substandard pay for workers, and exposure of workers to harmful chemicals.

        In response to the big banana businesses, smaller-scale companies have cropped up; making the commitment to use 11836844_10206183056766771_6671090466082792692_nfewer chemicals, treat workers fairly, and protect biodiversity.  Osa Conservation is doing just that! On the Osa Verde farm, we are committed to mastering the art of sustainable farming and teaching it to others.  Rather than grow the now-popular variety of Cavendish, our team is growing the previous favorite, Gros Michel without chemical inputs.  

If the Gros Michel is also susceptible to fungal infections, how is it growing in the Osa? And with no chemicals?  The small-scale agricultural practices that are utilized at Osa Verde allow our talented agronomist, Paola Vargas, to focus her attention on keeping the plants healthy.  According to Paola, preventing too much moisture and removing old leaves are some simple yet labor-intensive things that keep the bananas safe and the farm running without the input of chemicals.  Osa Verde is committed to maintaining the farm organically — and according to Paola, it’s not as difficult as it seems.  As long as the plants get the proper nutrients, then the farm is stable. The farm requires constant maintenance, but no more than an industrial farm working with a delicate balance of toxic chemicals.

Osa Verde has a group of 4-8 people that are responsible for all of the work on the farm including planting, harvesting, maintenance, and any other tasks that may arise.  The work being done here has huge implications for the future of sustainable agriculture.  The Osa Conservation team works in the hopes that people around the world can learn to make more sustainable choices when it comes to responsible food production, healthy food, and food security around the world.

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Osa’s Healthy Rivers and the Future of Water in Costa Rica

The Nation: http://www.nacion.com/vivir/ambiente/Ticos-agua-persona_0_1550044983.html

“Costa Ricans will have 65% less water per person by the year 2020”

March 22, 2016, Michelle Soto M.

 

Osa’s Healthy Rivers has been working to conserve the water quality in the Osa Peninsula.

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Figure 1. Group from The Gamba School monitoring The Gamba River, close to the Golf, May 2016.

This march in 2016, The Nation published an important article about the quantity and quality of water in Costa Rica, the critical theme in the work of Osa’s healthy river project, which monitors the quality of water in the river and ravines of the Osa Peninsula with the help of the participation from community groups. The article titled “Costa Ricans will have 65% less water per person by the year 2020”  shares the incredible news that each costa rican will use 19,000 m3 when in 1970  they used 55,000 m3. This critical decrease is due to all of the changes in the climate, the deterioration of the environment, and the growth in demographics. It is not only the quantity but also the quality of the water is diminishing, as Gueillermo Calvo of the Institute of Technology of Costa Rica show us in his two year experiment. He and his team of scientists took samples in the 10 river basins of the country, using the dutch index to measure the biochemical demand of oxygen, dissolved oxygen, and ammonia nitrogen in the water. They also measured phosphates, nitrates, turbidity and fecal coliform, this type of analysis also are carried out by the groups from Osa’s Healthy River Project.

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Figure 2. Members of Osa’s Healthy Rivers participating in a workshop in Osa Conservation’s Piro Biological Station, December 2015.

The results indicated a relationship between the population density and the contamination of water. They discovered that there was a notable exception with the Ricon and Tigre rivers on the Osa Peninsula, which do not have big populations around them but are contaminated by the produced pollution of fertilizers and human activity. Those two rivers are monitored usually by members of Osa’s Healthy Rivers, who monitor the state of the rivers in the time. Calvo’s experiment emphasizes the importance of Osa’s healthy river, not only in monitoring the rivers and streams of the Osa Peninsula, but also in educating and gain the participation of the members of communities in that region.  

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Figure 3. Group from the Piedras Blancas School monitoring in the Piedras Blancas River, April 2016.

Today, Osa’s Healthy Rivers monitors 10 rivers and includes 8 community groups monthly,  it is expected that this number will increase in the future with the interest and participation of more people. The members of Osa’s Healthy Rivers perform visual, chemical, and biological monitoring, measuring parameters such as dissolved oxygen, turbidity, nitrates, conductivity, temperature, pH and coliform bacteria. The groups also evaluates the biological health of the monitoring sites using an index to measure the diversity of the species of macroinvertebrates in the river. With the support of a coordinator, who assists a lot of the monitoring, the groups collect high quality data and learn how to analyze and communicate the results.

The last discussion in The Nation article emphasized the role that the trees play in the quality of the water. The roots of the trees maintain the water in the soil and trap contaminants and nutrients before they arrive at the rivers and ravines. A new direction for the Healthy Rivers Project will focus more on the aspect forests and planted trees on the bank of the rivers. The members of Healthy Rivers, with the support of Osa Conservation, hope to continue and expand their work around the peninsula. Monitoring monthly in the rivers, planting trees, educating our young and neighbors… Healthy Rivers is fighting against pollution and wear of the water of our region, which are so important to the human race and their own environment. Please help us in this fight!

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The Return of the Jaguar

The lush and enchanted forests of Piro, Osa Conservation saw the return of their majestic King of the Jungle after two long years.

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The Jaguar Is Back!

In the late hours of 23rd March 2016 the first images of this beautiful creature was captured on the camera traps on the Ajo trail. Since the last sightings of the jaguar on the camera traps here was back in 2014, his return is very exciting. Especially for the big cat programme and its researcher Tabea who ran out screaming “JAGUAR JAGUAR” when she was processing the data. With this hard evidence that the big cat was on Osa property and probably somewhere close by I suddenly had a strong desire to go hiking in the hope to witness this rare beauty of this endangered animal. So a few other volunteers and I planned numerous ‘jaguar hunts’ on most of Osa Conservation’s forest trails.

After two weeks and with more and more images capturing the jaguar on nearby trails we still had no luck finding him for ourselves. So being very unsuccessful at tracking the jaguar I decided to stop looking. I believed in the philosophy that if I stopped trying to find him, he would find me. And so with my new profound realisation, I carried on with my normal routines of morning and night sea turtle patrols.

Early last week a volunteer, Kate, and I were walking along the beach around 10pm after a rather successful turtle night patrol where Kate was able to see her first nesting Green turtle. We were still on the beach so we weren’t using our flash lights, there was only a slight glimmer of moonlight lighting up the beach ahead. Nearly 100 metres from the exit of the beach is Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 4.52.33 PMwhen I stopped. I noticed a large dark silhouette only five or so metres in front of me. Moving fast up from the ocean to the vegetation. I cry out to Kate “What was that?!” grabbing her arm and experiencing a weird sensation of all the hairs on my legs standing up at once. We stood in silence for a couple of seconds allowing our brains to figure out what our eyes had just witnessed, trying to conjure up different possibilities.

“It’s too big to be a dog….it is too small to be the water buffalo?”

We both turn our white lights on and scan the sand, hoping to not find anything and to accept being fools of our own imagination. Alas, we walked forward and discovered large, rounded big cat prints that had been prowling the beach ahead of us. By now all fear had disappeared or turned into pure amazement and adrenaline. Still in disbelief we thought it would be a good idea to take pictures of the prints for identification and to have as evidence of our encounter.

Once we were back at the station we were able to compare our pictures and measurements with that on the track board which gave us enough reason to believe it was the jaguar we had been searching for. Later that week we collected the images from the camera trap by the beach and we got 100% confirmation it was a jaguar that night.

Hopefully this particular jaguar will stick around for some time as it is a great sign that our forests are heathy and diverse!

It’s safe to say that my philosophy does work. If you are looking for something …Don’t look for it!

 

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Healthy Soil for Healthy Food

Bokashi: Improving the Soil through Solid Waste

By Yngrid Espinoza

In a time of unparalleled consumption, intensive agricultural production, mass exploitation of raw materials and countless other activities that advance ‘development’ – we in Costa Rica are generating an enormous quantity of solid waste daily. According to the University of Costa Rica, each individual produces a staggering 1.3 – 2.4 pounds of waste daily. 45% of this ends up in illegal dumps and approximately 50-60% of this waste is biodegradable material.

With this in mind, the vision of Osa Conservation’s Sustainable Agriculture Program is utilize organic waste to generate organic fertilizer for our farm. It is essential to consider the sufficient input of nutrients to the soil and rather than reply on external inputs (like non-organic and chemical fertilizers), we are working with bokashi. Bokashi is a Japanese word that means “organic fermented material ” and is a method that differs from traditional compost.

 

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Figure 1: production of bokashi at Osa Verde Farm

To prepare Bokashi, we add substrates from the rainforest soil to the organic waste in order to inoculate the waste with beneficial microorganisms that accelerate the organic microbial diversity, improve the chemical and physical conditions and maintain a healthy soil that supplies nutrients needed for crop development (Shintani, et al. 2000). In order to accelerate the decomposition process or fragmentation of the waste particles, we will be using a chipper.

In this way, soil nutrients are cycled through each growing season, taking advantage of waste that otherwise would end up in landfills. With this model we are using an integrated system of production with less dependence on external sources for nutrients and are more sustainable.

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Figure 2: diagram of nutrients in the soil

Healthy soil is vital to creating healthy food and we aim to demonstrate that farmers can create great, productive soil without having to purchase agricultural inputs that are damaging to ecosystems and to the health of wildlife and humans.

Sources:

UCR, 2011. Expertos analizan el manejo de la basura en Costa Rica. Información on line [http://www.ucr.ac.cr/noticias/2011/11/17/expertos-analizan-el-manejo-de-la-basura-en-costa-rica.html].

Shintani, 2000. BOKASHI: Tecnología Tradicional Adaptada para una Agricultura Sostenible y un Manejo de Desechos Modernos. Costa Rica 24p.