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From the field: Insights into the Rios Saludables Program

Blogpost by Rachael Eplee, Rios Saludables Program Coordinator

Hello all!

My name is Rachael Eplee, and I am the coordinator for Osa Conservation’s Rios Saludables (Healthy Rivers) Program. I graduated in 2016 from Virginia Tech with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Policy and Planning and a Bachelor of Arts in International Development.  In my first step into the professional world, I started working with Osa Conservation in July 2016 and have had the great pleasure of living in this rich and diverse environment ever since!

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My area of interest lies in human and natural system interaction and how that can be applied to development practices. Thus, the Rios Saludables Program, a community-based watershed monitoring program, is a natural fit!  We seek to engage international students, local actors, and local communities in education, research, and evidence-based decision making in order to contribute to the greater conservation efforts in the Osa region.  In Costa Rica, the greatest risk to water systems is not quantity, but quality.  The Osa Peninsula has 46 individual watersheds, which means there are 46 major river mouths entering the Gulfo Dulce and Pacific Ocean.  Each of these watersheds offer a picture into the composition of the land around it and can allow us to see the impact of land use, human interaction, and conserved lands around the river.  We use chemical, macro-invertebrate, and bacterial testing to measure the quality of rivers that impact Osa’s communities.  Through engaging citizen scientists in the Osa, we collect quality data while simultaneously using nature as a classroom to educate students of all ages and academic levels.

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The goal of the program is to create quality long term data in this region which is home to many farms and is in constant threat of rapid development.  Long term data allows communities and conservationists in the area to advocate to municipalities and people making land-use decisions.  The robust ecosystem has capacity to protect its natural systems internally, but only with the help of dedicated reforestation and wildlife conservation efforts.  Rios Saludables has engaged over 60 individuals in 10 regions throughout the peninsula in education and data collection.  We are excited to expand our impact by creating strategic plans with our local partners, including nearby eco-lodges and biological stations.

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From a personal standpoint, I see the success of this program lying in the hands of the incredible people of this region.  Anyone who has had the opportunity to spend time in this place knows the importance of all conservation efforts in the region and knows that the best way to understand its true beauty is to take the time to see it through the eyes of the people who call it home.  In the Osa, there is a deep understanding of the power and importance of nature – the opportunity to work in this place has given me a perspective that only the Osa can! Rios Saludables is a young program and is the culmination of the hard work of many people.  As it gains strength and grows, this program will undoubtedly be impacted by many incredible scientists and nature lovers from all over the world.  For me, spending the past year with this program has been a great pleasure and I will take the lessons it has taught me everywhere I go.

As far as first professional jobs go, I think I hit the jackpot! 😊

 

 

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Working where the rainforest meets the sea

Blogpost by Alejandra Rojas, Naturalist Guide and Avian Program Coordinator

In a remote corner of southern Costa Rica, Osa Conservation runs a biological station that receives researchers from all over the world, as well as students and visitors who share a passion for conservation.  At this station, there is a complete team working on-site: A group of scientists, naturalists and environmentalists doing our very best to apply our knowledge to make conservation possible. I am excited to have recently joined Osa Conservation as their Naturalist Guide and Avian Program Coordinator.

The day I learned about Osa Conservation (OC) was in 2012, writing a monograph about the endemic Black-cheeked Ant-tanager (Habia atrimaxillaris), while I was still studying in the university. I read about the efforts OC was doing to buy lands in order to protect the habitat for the many endangered birds of the Osa Peninsula.

I am a ale-imagetropical biologist who graduated from National University (UNA), Costa Rica. After  learning the reality of conservation biology in Costa Rica, I chose a path that I consider fundamental in the work towards conservation: coupling science with people, and understanding that the social backgrounds of communities are the lines between preserving or declining the ecosystem’s health. And this is precisely one of the basis of the organization I work for, and the main reason why I decided to join this experience in the Osa, where I work as a naturalist guide, birder and station assistant.

I grew up surrounded by the rainforest and the sea and I developed a passion for wildlife, which I later turned into my profession. Before graduating, I got trained as a naturalist guide and started working in a nature theme park, the place where I learned the importance of citizen science and environmental education. I have a lot to acknowledge to this place, because I was not really planning to keep working as a guide, but without it, I would have never been able to do what I am doing today.

In 2014, I started doing some freelance work involving teaching people about nature and raising awareness about conservation problems. At the same time, I began birding and I settled tale-blog-imagehe first Christmas Bird Count in Golfito (a small town in the southeast region of Golfo Dulce), where I still manage and coordinate it with a close friend that works in tourism. Afterwards, I got involved in the tourism business by working in an ecolodge as a resident biologist and guest services manager, which of course was a great experience! While working there, I became acquainted with OC through collecting camera trap data of wildcats and their prey as part of their camera trap network program. We even got our work together featured in The New York Times.

I really enjoy working in the Osa! It is a paradise for a biologist: hiking in the forest includes following a mixed flock of birds in the understory, finding a jaguar print, watching the spider monkeys swing through the canopy, followed by the enjoying the sunset on the beach.

My job with Osa Conservation  allows me to do what I love, but also share what I love  with our visitors. When I am not in the field birding or collecting information on natural history,  I am in charge of the details that help our station work properly. I  help maintain contact with researchers and visitors before they arrive, visit near-by lodges and partners to raise awareness about the mission of our organization,  and work hard to make sure that our conservation efforts reach the local communities.

ale-blog-2I am responsible for receiving people from the first moment they step into our place. When you come to visit Osa Conservation, I will always be around to help you when needed and ask you how everything is going –  Have you visited the beach to see the sunset? Did you see the Scarlet macaws along the way? Did you enjoy waking up to the howler monkeys in the morning? Or, I will invite you to go birding with me! We will make a connection here; we will shake hands to say hi and we will hug to say bye. If you have not yet been to the Osa, I encourage you to come and adventure in this mesmerizing paradise!

Take a look at this link and  learn more about what Osa Conservation is doing in the Osa Peninsula.

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Why I learned to use a machete over winter break

Blogpost by Revée Needham

¡Buenos dias! My name is Revée Needham and I spent 4 weeks working in the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica with Osa Conservation from December 2016 to January 2017. I came to the Osa to complete my Alumni Memorial Scholar’s project through Colgate University. Majoring in Environmental Studies and Geography, I started my interest in agriculture after debating in class the ethics of eating meat. Since then, I have developed a passion for learning more about the food I eat and how to reform industrial agriculture in the US. I applied to volunteer at Osa Conservation with their sustainable ecological farm, packed my bags, and made my way to Costa Rica for the first time!

img_2692As I thought about the role of this  farm, I became more aware of the mission and importance of Osa Conservation. Options for organic food are limited throughout much of Costa Rica, and relying upon on traditional farming techniques would mean pollution with pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. However, Osa Conservation’s sustainable farm uses all natural techniques and serves as a model for other farmers. Techniques and methods are tried and tested to determine what is best suited for that environment. Then, other farmers can come and learn how to work with the forested land in the Osa peninsula instead of against it. Another unique feature of the farm is that most of the farm acreage is reforested land. The land was previously a cattle ranch, but has now been reforested with native species. Although it is currently in the beginning stages, I can’t wait to follow the farm’s journey into the future.

img_2663After a delicious homemade breakfast by my favorite cooks, Rob, Emilia, and Annia, I slathered on sunscreen to begin my day. Then I walked or biked to the farm, usually accompanied by multiple blue morpho butterflies. At the farm, I followed the direction of Paola, the farm manager, for our daily tasks. I spent most of my time weeding, with the use of a machete, or planting seeds. While I wasn’t at Osa Conservation long enough to plant a seed and harvest the fruit, I was able to see incredibly fast growth while I was away over holidays and even over a long weekend! One satisfying part of staying for an extended period of time was that I could see the progress at the farm. When I arrived, the greenhouse was empty but throughout my stay, the beds were built and filled with soil; we built and installed an irrigation system, and we planted seeds and seedlings!

One main observation I gathered right away from my work is how labor and time-intensive the work is. I could spend the whole morning weeding, or clearing a plot to be planted, then look out and see how much more there was left to do. If anything, I’m so glad to be making a difference, simply by providing the womanpower. I learned of the devastation to the crops from the hurricane that ended shortly before I arrived. While I wasn’t affected, the impact of the hurricane could be felt throughout many farms in Costa Rica.

revee-and-goatAnother highlight from my time was befriending the baby goat, who was born shortly before my arrival. This cabrita acted very similar to a human child or puppy and loves to follow her favorite people around! In addition, I was able to help release baby sea turtles. I’m so glad I chose to visit Osa Conservation, where I could partake in many different types of conservation efforts.

  Muchas gracias to my fellow farmers- Paola, Juansito, Christian, and Chonga, and those at the station- Manuel, Rachael, Alejandra, and Rob for helping me make a home in Costa Rica. ¡Pura Vida!

 

 

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Introducing our new field staff!

We are pleased to welcome new field staff to Osa Conservation! We are excited to have these wonderful new additions be a part of our team in the Osa Peninsula and we look forward to building on their expertise, knowledge and excellent enthusiasm to help us conserve “the most biologically intense place on earth.” Please join us in welcoming Andy, Karla and Alejandra!

 

 

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Dr. Andy Whitworth, Director of Ecological Restoration and Biodiversity Conservation

  • He is originally from the UK;
  • He lived and worked in Manu, Peru for the past 6 years, including as the Biodiversity and Conservation Coordinator for the “Sustainable Manu Project” and as a Research Manager for The Crees Foundation;
  • His PhD thesis is from The University of Glasgow in Scotland and  entitled “Conservation Value, Biodiversity, and Methods of Assessment in Regenerating Human Disturbed Tropical Forests;”
  • He started keeping pet snakes when he was 7 years old, including venomous ones by the time he was 11 years old (unbeknownst to his mother);
  • He is most excited to finally see the silky pygmy anteater, which is one of his favorite animals and is what brought him to the rainforest.

 

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Karla Funes, Conservation Experience Manager

  • She is from Golfito, Costa Rica;
  • Previously, she worked as the Operations Director of Osa Green Travel Agency and as Administrative Coordinator at Lapa Rios Lodge;
  • She holds an International Master in Auditing and Business Management, FUNIVER, Costa Rica; Bachelor of Business Administration, Tourism, Metropolitan University Castro Caraz, Costa Rica;
  • She received her Certified Tour Guided License by National Institute of Tourism;
  • She loves to run and to be in nature; She enjoys traveling and aims to visit a new country every year.

 

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Alejandra Rojas, Naturalist Guide and Avian Program Coordinator

  • She is from Costa Rica
  • She holds a BSc in Tropical Biology from National University in Costa Rica;
  • She grew up surrounded by the sea and the rainforest, which is where she developed a passion for wildlife;
  • Previously, she worked at an ecolodge near the Esquinas River estuary, where she had the chance to learn all about the biodiversity of Golfo Dulce;
  • She started working as a freelance Bird Guide in 2015;
  • Her favorite bird is the Laughing Falcon (Herpetotheres cachinnans), but she also enjoys watching the understory mixed flocks that follow the army-ant swarms.