Uncategorized

Ornithology & Neuroscience: A Student Research Experience

Blogpost by Patrick Newcombe, Volunteer and Student Researcher

My time at Osa Conservation’s biological station was an incredible experience, full of birds, nature, and exploration in the tropical rainforest. It was particularly meaningful as I got to follow up on my highschool ornithology research in the Osa and present it at the Society for Neuroscience conference in Washington, D.C.

sfn

Society for Neuroscience Conference

Over 30,000 people from 80+ countries attended the annual meeting, which filled DC’s convention center. I presented a poster that included my research on the elaborate courtship displays that manakins use to attract their mates in the Osa. As scientists walked by my scientific poster, they were eager to learn more about my findings!

 

Newcombe's poster on his research

Newcombe’s poster on his research

As a part of my summer research, I hiked the trails around the biostation searching for manakin “leks” – a term used to describe the gathering of two or more males performing courtship displays. I found that for each of three manakin species found in the Osa – including Red-capped, Blue-crowned, and Orange-collared –  each one frequented and displayed in different habitats.

_mg_9086

Red-Capped Manakin, by Manuel Sanchez

The Orange-collared Manakin lived in secondary growth forest, within meters from trees that remain from plantations that previously occupied the same land. This was really interesting as it illustrates Osa Conservation’s success in reforestation and the importance of not just preserving existing rainforest, but also re-growing new rainforest, which is valuable for birds such as the Orange-collared Manakin! I also found Red-capped Manakins in primary forest, although they were near the borders with secondary growth. Blue-crowned Manakins were in both primary and well-established secondary growth rainforest.

 

sfn-at-poster

Students at the Society for Neuroscience Conference

 

Overall, I had a great time doing my research in the Osa and enjoyed being able to present what I found in the field to bring together ornithology and neuroscience at a conference in DC! What an experience!

 

Note: Patrick visited Osa earlier this year and is part of the Sidwell School’s Upper School’s BRAIN Club. Click here to learn more about the students and their “Biological Research and Investigations in Neuroscience” Club!

Uncategorized

Cornell College Field Course: Reflections from Students

Blogposts written by Cornell College students

Cornell College visited our biological station for week-long field trip. While at the station, they collaborated with our science team, carried out primate point count surveys every morning and afternoon, and participated in the sea turtle program. The primate data collected will be analyzed and paired with the dung beetle research we have been carrying out, investigating the patterns of this link. The students worked incredibly hard trekking through the jungle for hours and we can’t thank them enough. Below is a series of short blogs about their experiences with us.  We can’t wait to see you next year Cornell College!

The Cornell College Field Course Group

The Cornell College Field Course Group, photo by Eleanor Flatt

Where Forest meets Beach

 By Andrew Hanson.

My experience on the Osa Peninsula was absolutely incredible. From tromping through the rainforest looking for monkeys to being on the beach patrolling for sea turtles, this was an experience unlike any I have ever had before. The highlight of this experience was exploring the vast sandy Piro beach where the sea turtle hatchery was located. While the waves and riptides were not conducive to swimming, the amount of wildlife near the beach made up for it. Both times we went we observed around 10 capuchin monkeys and their babies. While we were able  to watch the capuchins interact,  they did begin throwing coconuts if we got too close! As a whole, I cannot explain everything about the Osa Peninsula. From the people to the places, this is a truly incredible place.

img_8324

Capuchin Monkey, photo by Manuel Sanchez

My Osa Conservation Experience

By Katie Stieber

This has been my first ever experience hiking in a tropical rainforest. On the second day, we ventured off on a 1-hour hike at 05:00am to reach a point to survey primates. As I am not very athletic, I struggled at the start but I eventually made it.  As we went to each of our points, we were surrounded by singing birds as the sun rose and I had a great sense of achievement that I completed the hike and participated in the survey. Then, at the last point in the hike, three scarlet macaws, the one bird I had hoped to see, flew over our heads while squawking loudly. I was taken away by the beauty of this sighting and it definitely made the hike worthwhile! If hiking at the biological station means I get to see beautiful wildlife in natural habitat, then I cannot wait to go and hike through the rainforest again.

img_0455

Scarlet Macaw, photo by Manuel Sanchez

Leaf-Cutter Ants

By Danielle Polson

Like a single parent with two jobs of the rainforest, these little leaf-cutter ants never stop working. It doesn’t matter if its dark, raining or even flooded – they keep going. With their “rain hats” made of leaves, the leaf-cutter ants carve pathways throughout the forest as thousands of them walk one-by-one in a line. They all go to the same plant, cut out what they will carry and then make the return trek back to their underground nest where they harvest and feed on the fungus that grows on the leaves. These tiny workers remind me of what “hard work” means and inspire me to reflect on my own work ethic, knowing that I like to sleep a lot and run for shelter when it’s raining. I admire the leaf-cutter ants for their work ethic and adorable choice of hats. I hope one day I can just keep moving through the mud with my very own little leaf hat.

Hidden treasures

By April

The rainforest is for the brave, but still full of charming creatures like sloths, ocelots and coatis. However, there are plenty of creepy-crawlies that are still very cool to observe. I saw many Golden Orb Weaver spiders, a boa constrictor as thick as my arm, and many interesting bugs. To see all these wonderful sites, you need to go out and adventure, hours of hiking in the mud uphill through the humid air and sometimes rain. While not everyone is naturally used to this type of adventure, the experience can be much like how Bilbo Baggins describes adventure: uncomfortable sometimes, but forms bonds between those in the group and not without its rewards. Overall, the adventure is worth the trek and I have seen animals here that I have never heard about before and found many hidden treasures.

 

A coati in the forest

A coati in the forest, photo by Eleanor Flatt

 

A boa

A boa, photo by Eleanor Flatt

 

Some students on one of the hikes

Cornell College students observing the biodiversity in the Osa, Photo by Eleanor Flatt

 

Uncategorized

Join us – Education through bird watching: “Give wings” to knowledge

Blogpost by Luis Carlos Solis, Asistencia Técnica

Each year from the middle of December through early January, Christmas bird counts are organized worldwide. These counts consist of the identification and registration of the number of bird species observed in a given period of time. This tradition has been established in the world of bird watchers and is taught to each new generation.

The Osa Peninsula is no exception to this tradition, as different organizations collaborate in December for one day to participate in tracking the progress of endangered species and assessing the impact of environmental threats on birds and their habitat. This year, children and young people from educational centers of the Osa Peninsula, through the coordination of teachers and local organizations, will be responsible for carrying out the first Osa Peninsula Children Christmas Count 2017.

christmas-count-image

This event is possible thanks to the coordination and collaboration of several institutions and organizations: Osa Conservation, Neotrópica Foundation, University of Costa Rica Golfito Campus, Ficus Tours, Osa Birds, Osa Wild, Utopia Drake Outdoors, Osa Birders Tours, Lapa Rios Lodge, Danta Corcovado Lodge, and La Palma Academic College. They will lead guided walks around each school, lecturing about the birds that frequent the places and that are observed daily by the children. The purpose of this activity is to improve the relationship between the young population, birds, and their habitat, in order to create new guardians of the natural heritage of the Osa.

The Christmas Children’s Bird Count will take place on Tuesday December 5 – Thursday December 7, 2017 of this year with the participation of 17 educational centers in different sectors of the Peninsula including the communities of Carate, Piro, Carbonera, Saturnino Cedeño of Puerto Jiménez, Dos Brazos of Tigre River, Gallardo, Cañaza, Agujas, Guadalupe, Riyito, La Palma Academic College, Alto San Juan, Chal Bay, El Campo, Admiral de Banegas, Rancho Quemado, and Aguilas de Bahía Drake.

Through experiencing nature and research, each of the participants contributes greatly to the monitoring of the health and long-term condition of bird populations and contributes to their conservation worldwide.

_mg_9086

img_7241 img_3621

 

 

 

 

img_1227 _mg_9141

 

 

 

 

 

Photos by Manuel Sanchez

Uncategorized

The Circle of Life: Jacobin Chicks

Blog post written by Marina Garrido, Sea Turtle Research Field Assistant

Several months ago, while returning to the station after spending a long morning working to build a new hatchery, some volunteers from the University of Costa Rica and I spotted the nest of a white-necked jacobin (Florisuga mellivora) close to the trail. We were very lucky to see the mother incubating her eggs in a nest made of soft vegetation and cobwebs. This delicate nest was on the surface of a large leaf covered and protected by other leaves.

picture1

Picture 1: Female of white-necked jacobin incubating her eggs in the middle of the wild jungle.

I was fascinated by the discovery, so almost every day after patrolling Piro beach, I would go to check on the nest.

picture-3

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picture 2 and 3: Two hungry white-necked Jacobin babies waiting for their mother to come back with some food.

The white-necked jacobin not only feeds on nectar, but on flying insects as well, catching them one by one in shorts flights. The plumage of the male is of beautiful bright colours, which he displays during the breeding season by dancing around the female to show off his attractiveness.

screen-shot-2017-09-05-at-4-38-28-pmPicture 4. The two babies ARS growing up strong and healthy

The chicks grew up quite fast, as in just a few weeks they were ready to leave the nest and find their own adventures. One of them left first while the other stayed in the nest for four more days. It is always difficult to leave our comfortable home and make the big jump, however, as it is said: those who do not jump will never fly.

screen-shot-2017-09-05-at-4-47-10-pmPicture 5. The last one to leave the nest, too comfortable at his home.

Uncategorized

The Osa Camera Trap Network

Blog post written by Juan Carlos Cruz, Feline Program Coordinator

Osa Conservation is excited to have worked with our partners to host the very first workshop for the Osa Camera Trap Network!

 

img_1510

Photo of Osa Camera Trap Network Workshop

 

This Network gathers together those in the Osa interested in doing research on wildcat conservation – including partners from communities, private companies, research institutions and conservationist organizations- to help inform conservation decision-making and provide a baseline of wildcat data for generations to come.

Wildcats are keystone species, which are crucial for the balance and full function of tropical ecosystems. As the top predators in our ecosystems, they are highest on the trophic chain. This means that they have no natural predators and play a significant role controlling all the subsequent levels on the food web – especially ungulates and other herbivores.

 

camera-trap-lion

Camera trap photo of a puma

 

Wildcats are also known as “indicator species” and help to assess the health of their ecosystems. Since these species are highly territorial and need large areas to fulfill their ecological needs, they are sensitive to fragmentation and respond to decreases in population of their natural prey (such as loss due to hunting pressures).

 

camera-trap-jaguar

Camera trap photo of a jaguar

 

Thus, the presence of wildcats, such as jaguars and pumas, is a sign of good ecosystem health. For this reason, monitoring population of wildcats is an effective and precise approach for monitoring the quality of tropical ecosystems.

Due to the urgent need to understand the conservation status of our focal species and ecosystems, Osa Conservation, in collaboration with several stakeholders in the Osa, started the “Osa Camera Trap Network” in 2013.  Each member of the Network provides their own camera traps and expertise of their site, while Osa Conservation’s Wildcat Program helps to provide the technical support in the placement of cameras and processing of data collected. At this time, the Network is composed of more than 20 members in the Peninsula, including Corcovado and Piedras Blancas National Parks, the Golfo Dulce Forest Reserve and Private Reserves. Additionally, more members are expected to join the initiative – producing one of, if not the largest camera trap systems in Central America!

As part of the workshop, this Network identified several of the key priorities for this upcoming year, including:

  • Estimating the current density of Jaguar in the Osa Peninsula.
  • Estimating abundance of terrestrial mammals among the different protected areas in the Osa Peninsula.
  • Identifying anthropogenic and environmental factors affecting the distribution and abundance of terrestrial mammals in the Osa Peninsula.
  • Evaluating the biological corridors in the Osa Peninsula.

Working together, we will be able to take on this ambitious and exciting work.  We see this workshop as an important stepping stone to mark the beginning of this essential collaboration to help conserve these amazing species and their ecosystems.

 

Osa Camera Network

Photo of Osa Camera Trap Network Workshop

 

We look forward to continuing to work together with the following current members of the Osa Camera Trap Network (and others who might wish to join):

  • Lapa Ríos Eco Lodge
  • Saladero Eco Lodge
  • Nicuesa Eco Lodge
  • Playa Cativo Lodge
  • La Leona Eco Lodge
  • Danta Lodge
  • Esquinas Eco Lodge
  • Asociación de Desarrollo integral Carate-Corcovado
  • Estación Tropical La Gamba (Universidad de Viena)
  • Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica
  • Beatriz López (estudiante Universidad de Florida)
  • Juan Vargas (estudiante Universidad de Toronto)
  • Investigadora Leslie Hay
  • Hacienda Rio Oro
  • Empresa Propietaria de la Red (EPR)
  • MINAE (ACOSA) – SINAC
  • FONAFIFO
  • Comunidad Rancho Quemado
  • Comunidad Los Planes
  • Comunidad Alto Laguna
  • Comunidad Rio Tigre

 

Volunteers and Visitors

A First Impressions of the Osa

Blogpost written by Sawyer Judge, Volunteer

Before going to the Osa for the first time, I was looking forward to seeing rare big cats, incredible crawling insects and of course the famous scarlet Macaw’s that thrive in the region. But the Osa was so much more than I could have ever expected and it amazed me from the moment I got here!

Photo by CIFOR on Flickr

Photo by CIFOR on Flickr

The taxi ride to Osa Conservation’s biological station is bumpy, but with taxi-driver Andi (a man from Germany who has lived in the Osa for 10 years) as your guide, there’s plenty of interesting things to learn. Andi has an incredible eye. Even while driving he can spot a family of tropical screech owls sleeping in a shady branch. In response to my awe, he replied, “when you’ve been here as long as I have, things become easier to see.”

Some things are easier to see than owls, even to the untrained eye. Closer to the biological station we passed something out of Dr. Suess. With skinny trunks about a dozen feet high or more, and wide, almost pentagonal leaves, the trees rise from the ground erect like a field of a telephone poles. “What are those?” I asked. “Oh, those are teak trees – young ones, too – maybe 6 years old,” Andi answered.

Photo by Feona on Flickr

Photo by Feona on Flickr

Andi went on to explain that teak trees are among some of the fastest growing tree species. Their wood is highly durable and makes good construction supply for exteriors and boats, due to the wood’s water resistant properties. Although not native to Costa Rica, these trees are doubly used here for quick forest cover and lumber supply – a good resource for quick wood, whether you want to keep it or chop it.

The fact that teak trees are a prominent source of lumber here is a double edge sword. As natural teak tree forests throughout Southeast Asia dwindle, commercial farms in places like Costa Rica increase to meet high demand. And, unfortunately, this is becoming an increasing threat to conservation throughout the country. Although reliance on teak means less exploitation of endemic tree species, teak requires a lot of land and resources which can harm and often pollute the environment. Teak could be a healthy alternative to lumber but only when managed responsibly.

I have been amazed by the things I have seen and learned in my first few days here. I can only image what the next few weeks will bring. Stay tuned for future blogs as I delve into experiencing the Osa!

Sustainable agriculture

What’s the Deal with Sustainable Agriculture?

Blogpost written by Mollie Carroll, Intern


Most of us never think past the walls of the grocery store when it comes to our food. And, we definitely don’t often go as far as to think about the practices used to produce it. Yet, in an ever modernizing world, we should stop for a moment to question what really goes into making the food that we eat every day and ask ourselves, “What’s the deal with sustainable agriculture?”

In the United States, the amount of farms has drastically decreased as yield from industrial farms skyrockets. The goal of modern industrial agriculture is to increase output produced while also decreasing costs. The main issue with industrial agriculture stems from the negative externalities created when companies are focused on this goal.

A negative externality means that the cost shown on the price tag of food we buy does not represent the true cost to society. These added social costs include things like health risks and environmental problems. The false sense of price causes people to consume more than the socially efficient levels of outcome. Basically, we are lured into over consumption, and nothing acts as a deterrent from buying products that have negative health and environmental effects.

For now, we will focus solely on the environmental effects of industrial agriculture, and there are plenty.

Photo by Rob James

Photo by Rob James Garden Beds Without Pesticides

First, fertilizer use has increased dramatically in recent years, but the products are no more efficient. Only around 1/3 of the nitrogen in fertilizer gets absorbed leaving the rest to enter our runoff. Among other things, excess nitrogen in runoff creates dead zones in waterways.

Dead zones are areas in which oxygen is depleted and nutrient rich water allows for algae blooms. This causes not only asphyxiation of marine life, but can also impact reproduction and longevity of wildlife.

Pesticides cause similar issues with their inefficiency. Only about .1% of pesticides reach their target species! That means 99.9% of the pesticides we use cause unwanted damage. Chlorpyrifos, for example, is used on bananas grown in monocultures. While the amount of the pesticide found in the bananas is often low, communities and ecosystems around the farms exhibit extremely high levels of the chemical.  This damage includes disrupting delicate predator-prey balances. Pests (the prey) often recover much faster from population declines caused by pesticides than predators such as birds. Pesticides also are a suspected major cause in the decline of honeybees because they weaken their immune system and disrupt reproduction.

Photo by Rob James

Photo by Rob James Wild Pepper Growing Without Pesticides

Some of the increase in pesticide use can be attributed to the reliance on monocultures. When breeders attempt to make disease resistant crops under time constraints, they often cross breed plants isolating one resistant trait instead of the complex web of traits that is the cause of a species disease resistance. Because of this, diseases are able to evolve at a faster rate exacerbating the need for new varieties of plants and pesticide use. Monocultures intensify this need creating a vicious cycle.

Today, we rely on monocultures mainly to feed our livestock; 66% of grain production in the United States goes directly to livestock. The same amount of land, when used to plant legumes, can produce ten times the amount of protein.

Meat can also be tricky to produce.  One common inefficiency of meat production is the exorbitant amount of water it requires- almost 100 times the grain equivalent in protein.

Photo by Rob James

Photo by Rob James Commitment to Sustainable Animal Husbandry Practices

Water use in industrial agriculture is becoming an increasingly threatening problem. Around two-thirds of water worldwide goes directly to agriculture leading to the rapid depletion of aquifers. Similarly, the EPA states that 70% of stream and river pollution in the United States comes directly from agriculture.

This list includes just some of the many effects of industrial agriculture that harm our environment and make promoting sustainable agriculture more important every day. But what exactly is sustainable agriculture?

Sustainable agriculture is the production of food using practices that protect the environment and may even promote benefits such as increased biodiversity.

Photo By Max Villalobos Bird's Nest Found Among Crops on Wildlife Friendly Farm

Photo By Max Villalobos Bird’s Nest Found Among Crops on Wildlife Friendly Farm

At Osa Conservation’s wildlife-friendly farm, we make conscious decisions to ensure the sustainability of our farming practices.

One major sustainable practice that we implement is growing native crops that support the local ecosystem. Planting a large variety of local crops helps suppress weeds, which then reduces the need for harmful pesticides. It also means that crops can thrive in local soil without the use of fertilizers.

Keeping the farm substance-free is especially important because of the integration of crops and livestock. This practice is said to reduce soil degradation because manure from livestock continuously stimulates soil fertility. Further, integrating crops and livestock ensures that no failed harvests or crops go to waste. This not only means happy animals, but happy farmers too!

Photo by Rob James

Photo by Rob James

Another important task of our sustainable farming is to carefully care for our soil. Among other techniques, Osa Conservation uses reduced tilling methods, such as through the use of compost and biochar. Not only does biochar contribute to carbon sequestration, but it helps transform agriculture waste into soil.

It is hard not to support sustainable farming when you consider the differences in the environmental impact. At Osa Conservation, we are incredibly proud of our wildlife-friendly farm, and not just because our food is delicious!

If you’re looking for a once in a lifetime opproutunity to be a part of the sustainable agriculture movement, come volunteer with our program in the Osa. Learn more about it here!

Sustainable Farm Research Field Assistant

Sea Turtles

Every Day is Sea Turtle Day Here in the Osa

Blogpost written by Marina Garrido, Sea Turtle Volunteer

 

World Sea Turtle Day was just last week and the sea turtle team at Osa Conservation was super excited. Why? Because to us, it is not just a day, but a day in which we hope the whole world can remember and think about, even if just for a moment, these amazing animals.

Sea turtles are one of the most ancient animals alive. They belong to the family Quelonidae, which  also encompasses terrestrial turtles. One interesting fact about sea turtles, is that unlike the terrestrial turtles, they cannot hide their bodies inside their shells.

Photo by Marina Garrido, baby sea turtles journey back to the ocean

Photo by Marina Garrido, baby sea turtles journey back to the ocean

Currently, there are seven sea turtle species swimming in the seas and oceans. Costa Rica is home to four of these species including: the Olive ridley, the Pacific Green turtle, the Hawksbill and the Leatherback. All four of them can be found in the Osa Peninsula!

All sea turtle species are considered highly endangered. Here in Osa Conservation, we are conserving and protecting sea turtles to make a change. How do we do it? We patrol two beaches every day, looking for turtle tracks. If we find a nest, we move it to the hatchery in order to protect it. Thanks to the hatchery we can control the nests and study them to improve the success of the hatchlings. For example, one of the things we control is the temperature of the nests. Why? The sea turtles are reptiles and therefore the temperature surrounding the nest determines gender. Females are born on high temperatures and males on low temperatures. Unfortunately, the temperatures have increased in the past few years due to climate change, and so, more females are being born than males.

Photo by Marina Garrido, volunteers observe a nesting female at night

Photo by Marina Garrido, volunteers observe a nesting female at night

We have been very successful in protecting the turtles thanks to the help of everyone that comes to volunteer. Last year we set around 15,000 hatchlings free. Still we need a lot of help from all of you! Below you can find a little list of things you can do to help the sea turtles:

  • Do not throw any trash into the ocean.
  • Clean the beaches as you walk and close to where you spend time.
  • Reuse and Recycle.
  • Use reusable fabric bags instead of plastic bags.
Photo by Marina Garrido, Sea turtle volunteers release hatchlings back to the ocean

Photo by Marina Garrido, Sea turtle volunteers release hatchlings into the ocean

IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE SEA TURTLE DAY FOR YOU TO HELP THE TURTLES. YOU CAN MAKE CHANGE HAPPEN!

 

 

 

 

 

Uncategorized

The Unexpected Values of Vanilla

Blogpost written by Lesley Mould, Intern

Since vanilla is so popular, it was surprising to learn how challenging it is to grow it in the wild! Vanilla is one of the many rare and distinct plants that can be found in the Osa. The uniqueness of the vanilla plant is fascinating, and its potential to both reforest and spur regional development is heartening in a field that can often be cynical.  As an intern in Osa Conservation’s Washington, D.C. office with a strong interest in botany, I find the traits and characteristics of the vanilla plant incredibly enticing.

 

A brief history of Vanilla

Vanilla is the most popular flavoring in the world, the second most expensive, and an incredibly time- and labor-intensive crop. In the 17th century, factories to manufacture the vanilla flavor began to emerge throughout Europe. Vanilla became a common commercial crop in 1841 after Edmond Albius discovered an effective method for hand pollination. This is still the dominant harvesting methodology today.

Photo by Osa Conservation

Photo by Osa Conservation

Fast Facts about Vanilla

The vanilla grown in Costa Rica is a Vanilla planifolia. The vanilla vine grows on a host tree, and if unattended, can grow up to 30 meters and reach the tops of forests. The vanilla bean is the fruit of the Vanilla orchid, and is the only edible fruit of the 25,000 orchid species native to Central America and the surrounding regions. The vanilla flower only blooms for 24 hours, and if it is not pollinated, the plant dies and the beans cannot be used. There are over 50 species of vanilla, but only a few of them are used for flavoring.

Vanilla must be grown in a moist, tropical climate between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, and between 10 and 20 degrees north and south of the Equator. It is impossible to grow the same vanilla vine in the more than one country because of soil and climate variances, so each growing region produces vanilla with a slightly different flavor.

Photo by Osa Conservation

Photo by Osa Conservation

Vanilla Pollination

Manual pollination of the vanilla plant is done with a very small stick and takes a great amount of time and precision. Fertilization by a native species is incredibly rare—so rare, in fact, that scientists are unsure of exactly which species are pollinators. It has been suggested that the Melipona bee is a vanilla pollinator, but its small size makes is an unlikely candidate.

screen-shot-2017-06-14-at-9-38-51-am

Photo by Osa Conservation

Vanilla Conservation

Conservation of the vanilla plant is of paramount importance. Its labor-intensive cultivation, niche growing environment, short life-cycle, and extraordinarily high demand place a great deal of pressure on vanilla crops. That is why Osa Conservation is excited to help further this conservation research! An exciting project is under development, so stay tuned for more information on what is happening in the field as Osa Conservation works towards gaining a better understanding of the role of vanilla in the rainforest.

Osa Conservation’s BioStation is the perfect place to conduct further research on the vanilla plant and its pollination. We have several vanilla plants, both wild and domesticated, that researchers can observe and study, and maybe even use to find new solutions to the problems of deforestation, regional underdevelopment, and vanilla shortage!

Uncategorized

Why the Osa is Impossible to Forget

Blogpost written by Robert Baker, Volunteer

Hi, my name is Bob Baker. For the past 10 years, my wife Lindsay and I have come to the Osa Peninsula for two weeks every March. We come to enjoy what National Geographic calls the “most biologically intense place on earth.” We typically stay in vacation rentals in the Cabo Matapalo area which is about 18km south of Puerto Jimenez at the tip of the peninsula. Last March (2016), we arranged to visit Osa Conservation’s biological station and during our visit,  Manuel Sanchez (Sea Turtle Program Coordinator) asked if we would like to join him on a sea turtle beach patrol one evening. Joining Manuel, and rescuing and releasing 17 baby Green sea turtles to the ocean was such an amazing experience that I decided to become a sea turtle volunteer with the program again this past March for a week.

Photo by Bob Baker

Photo by Bob Baker

On the first day, we met for an orientation session and learned that our duties would begin at 5:00am the next morning when Manuel, our supervisor, would meet us at the dining station. From there we started our hike to Piro beach and began our first sea turtle patrol.

Beach patrols as a sea turtle volunteer involve walking, paying attention and more walking. Manuel taught us that there are primarily 2 species of sea turtles that visit this beach, as well as Pejeperro beach, for nesting purposes. These are the Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) and the Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas). Leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) and Hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) also occasionally visit these beaches. We even got to see a Leatherback nest during our stint. Manuel taught us about the different species and how to identify them. For example, Olive Ridley sea turtles leave asymmetrical, or alternating, tracks. On the other hand, Green turtles leave wider, symmetrical tracks due to their size.

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

On this first morning, we recovered approximately 100 Green sea turtle eggs and carried them to the hatchery. The hatchery is a covered area within the vegetation just off the beach. Careful to maintain the same dimensions as the original nest, we dug a hole in the hatchery compound placed the eggs in the new “nest,” We then removed about 25 Green sea turtle hatchlings from another nest and watched them make their small journey to the waiting ocean. Fantastic!

The next morning, we were up at 3:30am to patrol the longer Pejeperro beach. We found Green and Olive Ridley tracks and a few new nests. We did not remove the eggs  from their nests on this beach due to lesser rates of poaching and predation.

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

During my week as a sea turtle volunteer, I saw other wildlife including Fiery-Billed aracaris, baby Green iguanas, a Red-eyed tree frog, Yellow-headed caracaras, Squirrel monkeys and a Common potoo. Although we did not see them, we used our skills to determine that other species were nearby.  Manuel, Delaney and I hiked to a camera trap and found an amazing photo of a jaguar. This jaguar had been in front of this camera the previous evening. Manuel was so excited because it was the second jaguar they had seen and documented recently. We also encountered Puma “scratchings” on the trail to the camera trap location.

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

Later in the week, alone on the Ajo trail I came upon a herd of approximately 50 White-lipped peccaries. At first, I thought they were the more common Collared peccaries. However,  Osa Conservation’s Andy Whitworth later corrected me and explained that Collared Peccaries travel in small groups (usually no more than 10-20). White-lipped Peccaries travel in herds from anywhere between 50-300 individuals.  After showing Manuel my photos he confirmed they were of the white-lipped variety. The abundance of peccaries, one of the jaguar’s natural prey, further explain the jaguar in the vicinity.

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

On my last full day, I went out on 2 patrols (Piro at 3:30am and Pejeperro at 8pm), transferred 137 Olive Ridley eggs to the hatchery, hiked the Ajo and Tangara trails, visited 2 camera traps and  hiked to the Sunset rocks to watch another beautiful Pacific Ocean sunset. The next morning, I went on my last sea turtle patrol with Manuel and Marina (a new research assistant). Tired from the night before, we doggedly walked the beach. We ended up transferring 93 Olive Ridley eggs to the hatchery, a great way to end my sea turtle volunteer experience. A big thanks to Manuel, Alejandra, Karla, Rachael and Andy for their support and making this a wonderful life experience. Cheers!