Community Outreach, Environmental Education

Rios Saludables de Osa Kick-Off!

Written by Erin Engbeck

Tuesday, October 7th, marked the launch of Osa Conservation’s Rios Saludables de Osa program with the first of two workshops co-led by Jim Palmer, the Science and Education Director at Osa Conservation, and our partners from Stroud Water Research Center. The program is based on the involvement of community members and volunteers with the aim of creating a higher level of public awareness and involvement in response to water quality and pollution. Providing citizens with the knowledge and tools for the monitoring of their local waterways as well as encouraging partnerships between local governments and the community.

Tuesday and Wednesday’s workshop initiated the training of Osa staff in identifying key concepts and techniques for data collection and community involvement within the Osa peninsula. Day one started out with introductions and an overview of the project from which we then moved forward and got down to the nitty-gritty subject matter of the workshop. Conducting chemical tests, and collecting data on water chemistries, captivated the attention of staff and volunteers and quickly absorbed the first half of the day.

Jim demonstrating how to conduct a dissolved oxygen test. Photo by, Anahí Quiñones

Jim Palmer demonstrating how to conduct a dissolved oxygen test. Photo by, Anahí Quiñones

Osa staff and research field assistants conducting pH tests. Photo by, Manuel Ramírez

Osa staff and research field assistants conducting pH tests. Photo by, Manuel Ramírez

After lunch the workshop resumed, the focus however switching from chemical testing to coliform. The idea of this test is to collect baseline data for current levels of the fecal coliform, Escherichia coli, or more commonly known as, E.coli. These tests help to determine stream health and whether or not local water sources are possible hazards to human health within the community.  This knowledge can help empower community members through hands on involvement in data collection and creating a sense of place within their natural environment.

Research assistants from Frontier and Osa Conservation learning correct methods for counting E.coli colonies. Photo by, Anahí Quiñones

Research assistants from Frontier and Osa Conservation learning correct methods for counting E.coli colonies. Photo by, Anahí Quiñones

Day two, our time was spent hands-on in the Piro River learning correct techniques for placing and collecting leaf packs. These leaf packs are perfect little houses for collecting aquatic macro invertebrates, the water inhabiting insects with no backbone that are visible to the naked eye. These invertebrates are very important in determining stream health because some of these little guys are very sensitive to changes water chemistry can only persist in certain ranges of water quality. As a result, streams can be classified into categories according to its insect inhabitants.

Tara from Stoud Water Research Center, demonstrating leaf packs. Photo by, Anahí Quiñones

Tara from Stoud Water Research Center, demonstrating leaf packs. Photo by, Anahí Quiñones

As day two came to an end it was quite hard to wrap things up, everybody loved the macro invertebrate leaf packs, because seriously, who doesn’t love an excuse to get down and dirty with insects? As the first workshop came to a close, Osa staff and other volunteers were feeling quite thrilled with the launch of the new project, and were excited to introduce it to the community members with the start of the second workshop on Friday and Saturday.

Volunteers intently looking for aquatic macro invertebrates.  Photo by, Erin Engbeck

Volunteers intently looking for aquatic macro invertebrates. Photo by, Erin Engbeck

The community workshop, on October 10th and 11th, contained eleven community members from the surrounding areas such as, La Paz and Puerto Jimenez. As with day one of the staff workshop, the community workshop followed the same guidelines, introductions and reasons for the importance of the project, then straight to the hands on testing.

Community member practicing dissolved oxygen test. Photo by, Erin Engbeck

Community member practicing dissolved oxygen test. Photo by, Erin Engbeck

David supervising data entry by community members. Photo by, Erin Engbeck

David supervising data entry by community members. Photo by, Erin Engbeck

The most rewarding part of the community workshop was not only empowering the members, so that they could take water quality and stream health into their own hands and share their knowledge with other community members, but also seeing them in the field and truly being interested in work they were doing and why is mattered. Just like with the staff workshop, the second day (aquatic macro invertebrates, and leaf packs) seemed to be everyone’s favorite activity.

David and Tara explaining the importance of sifting leaf packs in search of aquatic macro invertebrates. Photo by, Erin Engbeck

David and Tara explaining the importance of sifting leaf packs in search of aquatic macro invertebrates. Photo by, Erin Engbeck

We are very pleased that the community showed great interest in this project and would like to thank them for their participation. As part of the Rios Saludables program, we are compiling lists of schools, and other communities who are interested in participating and contributing to the program throughout the Osa peninsula. In the continuing work with surrounding communities we will be relying on them to take the lead in data collection, and hope that this empowers the community to be the first responders when water quality concerns are raised.

Community members proudly showing off their certificates for successfully completing the workshop. Photo by, Erin Engbeck

Community members proudly showing off their certificates for successfully completing the workshop. Photo by, Erin Engbeck


Community members and Rios Saludables Staff after a interesting and fun filled day of leaf packs

Community members and Rios Saludables Staff after a interesting and fun filled day of leaf packs

Marine Conservation, Sea Turtles

Leatherback Sea Turtle Sighting on Peje Perro Beach, Osa Peninsula

123Written by Manuel Sanchez and Wanda Cope.

Photo by Manuel Sanchez. Translated by Florencia Franzini


It may be the world’s largest species of marine sea turtle, but it is also the most endangered sea turtle species, too. On October 16, 2014 we are delighted to announce that this critically endangered species still has the beaches of the Osa Peninsula as an safe nesting location. It’s gratifying evidence that all of the effort that have been put fourth to protect this majestic creature, along with the other six remaining species of marine turtles, have come to fruition – this is definitely another reason to keep fighting the good fight and continue on with our mission.

In 2004 the first nesting Leatherback turtle was spotted on the Peje Perro beach by Manuel Sanchez and Pablo Modena during a beach monitoring effort – since that year there has not been another sighting on the beach again. In 2013 it was identified that a leatherback turtle had laid one clutch in the 29th sector of the beach. Finally with much happiness we had another official sighting on October 16, 2014. Once again the sight chosen for nesting was on Peje Perro beach, and during the night patrol the tracks of a massive leatherback turtle were identified. Initially the tracks led to a false clutch nest site on sector 29 of the beach (the same site as the 2004 nest), but ultimately not but 500 meters away did the turtle attempt and succeed at the construction of a new nest to lay eggs in.


Aves, Birds

Sighting of Yellow-billed Cotinga (Carpodectes antoniae) in the Piro area of the Osa Wildlife Refuge, Costa Rica.

Written by: Manuel Sánchez Mendoza & Pablo Porras Peñaranda

The Yellow-billed Cotinga (Carpodectes antoniae) is a regional endemic bird that occurs on the Pacific lowlands of southern Costa Rica and Northern Panama. This species is listed as Endangered (EN) by IUCN’s red list, and its small population, estimated at only 298 to 794 individuals, is thought to be declining rapidly. In the past years, Osa Conservation has led efforts to study this species and its habitat needs to conserve one of Osa Peninsula’s most unique treasures.

Observations of Yellow-billed Cotinga at several locations indicate that it requires access to mature fruits from Lauraceae, Annonaceae, Moraceae and other mixed forest tree species. Recent work by Osa Conservation has documented movement between mangrove and premontane tropical habitats during their suspected breeding season (December to June); however, spatial parameters of home range size and habitat use, and patterns of movements between breeding, feeding and roosting areas remain unknown. Few observations of Yellow-billed Cotingas exist within mangrove habitat during months the birds are thought to be non-breeding, which has lead researchers to believe that the species migrates or “wanders” locally or possibly attitudinally between July and November, but this has never been confirmed. Individuals have been observed at two inland sites on the Osa Peninsula several kilometers away from typical mangrove habitats between the months of September and November, but the breeding status and origin of these birds with respect to their reproductive grounds and their migratory movements is unknown.

The gaps in the natural history of the Yellow-billed Cotinga are slowly filled to technology and birdwatchers sharing their sightings as part of a big citizen-science network. The Yellow-billled Cotinga has been reported in new sightings throughout the Peninsula, specifically at the Osa Wildlife Refuge; nevertheless these sightings are still incredibly scarce and often have a large time-lapse between them. Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird online platform last reported a sighting at the Lapa Rios’ property in 2011 (see map attached).

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Osa Conservation’s naturalist Manuel Sanchez Mendoza along with his brother and niece, Elfer Daniel Sanchez Mendoza and Jennifer Robles Sanchez, have been observing Turquoise Cotingas (Cotinga ridgwayi) at his house backyard (neighboring OC’s Piro Biological Station) foraging on “Aguacatillo” Trees (Lauracea family) for several days when on August 17th to his surprise, an adult male Yellow-billed Cotinga was with the group of birds feeding on that tree. This is a truly amazing report after three years of “silence” (picture attached).

C. Manuel Sanchez

This photo was taken by Manuel Sanchez at his home while observing Turquoise Cotinga’s with his family.


Community Outreach, Environmental Education, Science and Research, Volunteers and Visitors

Local students study the life contained in the Osa’s freshwater streams

by Lauren Lipuma, Conservation Outreach Coordinator, and Jim Palmer, founder of Creek Connections


This past week local students from Puerto Jiménez had the chance to discover what lives in the streams that flow by their small town and the incredible amount of chemistry and biology that goes into keeping their water sources clean and healthy.

Led by veteran biologist Jim Palmer, founder of the Creek Connections program at Allegheny College, Osa Conservation staff and volunteers worked with 8 sixth-grade students, a teacher, and several parents from the local public school in Puerto Jiménez over three days to study the biological diversity, water quality and chemistry of waterways in the Osa Peninsula. OC staff and local students were joined by several Creek Connections staff members and interns as well as staff from the Stroud Water Research Center of Avondale, PA and the National Biodiversity Institute of Costa Rica.

On Sunday, students split into teams to study Quebrada Ignacia, a small stream running through Puerto Jiménez, and conducted basic tests of water composition, measuring such things as nitrogen, phosphorus and dissolved oxygen levels, as well as turbidity (total dissolved solids) and pH levels. The macroinvertebrates inhabiting a stream, such as insects, molluscs, arachnids and crustaceans can act as indicators of stream health, but the water in this stream was too deep and silty to collect them. Luckily, Creek Connections staff members brought a few live ‘macros’ from Rio Piro so that students could get a preview of what they would see the next day.



Community Education Manager Pilar Bernal shows students how to conduct basic water chemistry tests.


Students sort macroinvertebrates brought from Rio Piro.

Then, on Monday morning, the students joined Dr. Palmer and others at Osa Conservation’s Piro Biological Station to continue their water quality studies on the streams flowing on the western side of the peninsula. After a brief introduction to the importance of key chemical and biological indicators of stream health, students made the short hike to the junction of Rio Piro and Rio Coyunda, where they conducted the same chemical tests they had performed the day before on Quebrada Ignacia. Creek Connections staff members demonstrated the kick-net technique for sampling aquatic biodiversity in each stream, and students sorted the diverse array of macroinvertebrates they collected in the kick-nets on the basis of whether they indicate excellent, good, regular or poor stream health. Staff from the Stroud Center and the National Biodiversity Institute also helped students identify aquatic insects and several fish species from the streams. The students then summarized their results as a group.



Students set up a field water monitoring station at the junction of Rios Piro and Coyunda.



RFA David Parreño helps students conduct basic water chemistry tests on the Rio Piro.


Overall, the students measured significantly higher aquatic biological diversity at both the Rio Coyunda and Rio Piro sites compared to Quebrada Ignacia.  Quebrada Ignacia had much higher turbidity and salinity levels compared to Rios Piro and Coyunda, most likely due to the strong estuary influence from nearby Golfo Dulce.  Students found that Rio Coyunda was significantly more alkaline than Rio Piro and hypothesized it was due to the presence of more rocks of limestone origin with higher calcium content in Rio Coyunda. The types and abundance of macroinvertebrates present placed both Rios Piro and Coyunda at the high end of the “regular” category in terms of water quality.  Students noticed both streams had high numbers of snails on the rocks.



Students collect macroinvertebrates using a kick-net.



Students separate and sort the collected macroinvertebrates in ice cube trays.


On Tuesday, Dr. Palmer and Creek Connections staff joined the same students for a third time at the Osa Conservation office in Puerto Jimenez for additional practice at sorting and identifying the invertebrate indicators of water quality.  At the OC office, students used microscopes to examine key adaptations of some of the invertebrates up close. Dr. Palmer and Pilar Bernal, OC’s Community Education Manager, concluded the sessions with a summary of the major findings of the three days of study and a fun ‘lab practical’ that challenged students to correctly place preserved specimens from OC’s reference collection in to the appropriate indicator category.


Students examine macroinvertebrates under a microscope.


Students compare samples taken from Rio Piro against samples from OC’s reference collection.


Students sort the invertebrates into categories based on stream health indicators.

Over this three-day workshop, students were quick learners and eager to return to the field station for more activities. Creek Connections and Osa Conservation hope to continue to engage this same class in ongoing water quality assessments of the Quebrada Ignacia to spot seasonal and long-term patterns, and will also encourage and support these same students to design their own stream research projects as they move through high school.

Aves, Birds, Community Outreach, Environmental Education

Migratory birds uniting communities and countries

by Pilar Bernal, Environmental Education and Outreach Manager


On March 1, Puerto Jimenez was filled with color, music, and recreational activities for children and adults. More than 200 people congregated to say their farewells to the migratory birds that will be returning to their nesting habitats in North America. The occasion celebrates the first migratory bird festival of the Osa Peninsula, an event jointly organized with Osa Birds and ACOSA-SINAC, with support from Tropical Wings and the National Park Services of the United States.

The festival’s objectives were to promote knowledge and awareness in communities of conservation and protection through recreational activities, lectures, and exhibitions. As well as bringing to light the joining of the National Park Services of the United States and Costa Rica, the event sought to make people aware of the responsibilities and actions shared by both countries for the conservation of bird species that call both of our countries home.

Participants had the opportunity to take part in a birding walk tour led by the most renowned birders of Osa Peninsula and to learn about migratory birds through talks with Osa Birds, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting Osa’s incredible bird species. Participants were also able to learn about edible plants for birds with Reinaldo Aguilar and conservation projects for birds with the Ornithologist Union of Costa Rica. All this was organized to answer this question at the end of the day: why are the birds so important?

A complementary migratory bird festival will take place in bird nesting locations in St. Croix, Minnesota, in the United States, sponsored by Tropical Wings United States, the St. Croix Scenic River Association and the National Park Service. An art exchange will take place between students from schools of Osa Peninsula and schools in St. Croix.

Check out some photos from this incredible event!


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Community Outreach, Environmental Education, Land Conservation and Forest Restoration

An exchange of knowledge for conservation, part 2: Agustín takes a trip to Colombia!

This two-part series chronicles the efforts of Osa Conservation and Amazon Conservation Team to learn from one another’s conservation strategies through staff visits to each other’s field sites and the ensuing exchange of knowledge and experience.


My first time in the Amazon

by Agustín Mendoza, Land Stewardship and Maintenance, Osa Conservation


Agustín (right, tan shirt) talks about native seed collection and forest restoration.

I arrived on the Osa Peninsula well over 39 years ago; since I was young I worked the land with my father, through him learning the best techniques to do so. Although I was very young, I had always expressed an interest as to how little by little the forest around me was disappearing, and along with it all the wildlife. Back in those days, there were no laws to prevent the indiscriminate lumber trade in the Osa.


At the age of 23 I left the Osa Peninsula for the first time for three of the longest years of my life. I had to return because I could never acclimate myself to living in a world so different to that which I had grown up in. I also returned with my young children in hopes of giving them the experience of growing up in nature that I myself had received as a small child. It was during my return to the Osa that I met Manuel Ramirez and Adrian Forsyth who contracted me to begin working with them: they were looking for someone to help them protect the Osa wildlife and to work on reforestation projects on the peninsula. With this job I took advantage of the opportunity to bring my children into the forest and educate them about the importance of the animals and wildlife around them, much as I had learned as a small child.  It was a learning experience for my children as much as it was for me; as I continued working on these projects, I also begun learning about native trees and about their seeds, about reforestation, and about general conservation issues. Later Osa Conservation would contract me where my wildlife experience would be of much value to the organization. I also was given the chance to learn a lot by working with Osa Conservation; for example, about the importance of relationships with scientist, students, and volunteers, and how important their impact and work with the forest is. This opportunity helped me to grow as a person, and also opened many doors for me that I would not have had otherwise.


Thanks to one of these encounters through Osa, I recently had the luxury of traveling to Colombia to give a presentation about reforestation and native tree seed collection. I was greeted by Wilmar and Jairo, collaborators with our organization Amazon Conservation Team. With them I traveled down an Amazon river to the indigenous community of Guitara. In truth, I was originally rather scared of making the journey; the boat ride, the river; all of these things were completely unknown to me, and outside of my native Osa made me nervous. In the end I cannot complain, I was greeted by the indigenous community with an incredible response – they were truly special and humble humans with whom I was able to share unique experiences, stories, history, and culture. At the end of my journey I came to the realization that although I had traveled to Colombia with the idea of teaching the community of Guitara a bit of what I knew, I came out learning so much more than I could have hoped to teach them.

Community Outreach, Environmental Education, Land Conservation and Forest Restoration

An exchange of knowledge for conservation, part 1: Wilmar travels to the Osa!

This two-part series chronicles the efforts of Osa Conservation and Amazon Conservation Team to learn from one another’s conservation strategies through staff visits to each other’s field sites and the ensuing exchange of knowledge and experience.


My trip to Costa Rica and the Osa Peninsula

by Wilmar Diaz Bahamón, Field Projects Manager, ACT Colombia


Agustin shows Wilmar and ACT how to climb trees to collect native seeds in the forest.

I was born in the countryside. As a child I explored my small town walking for hours in the bush following ant trails, playing in fish streams and climbing trees to pick wild fruit like guavas, uvillas, guamas and sapodilla. When I was 10 years old, my parents decided to move to the city — I was in shock — I missed my time as an explorer looking for animal and plant species. Upon completing high school, I enrolled at the University of the Amazon and majored in Agro-ecological Engineering. While in college, I reconnected with my childhood and I wanted to learn as much as possible about the wild, be it through research, seminars, workshops or through exchanges with others (which , in my opinion, is the best way to grow and learn).


When I finished my studies in 2006, I started working with communities; but whenever there was a call for proposals, scholarships, or an opportunity to participate in national and international level workshops, I applied. I deepened my knowledge and started doing coursework for my Master’s in Agroforestry.


In May 2010, I was hired by ACT-Colombia. ACT was implementing the Landscape Conservation Project with indigenous and rural communities in the buffer zone of Alto Fragua Indi Wasi National Park in the Belen de los Andaquíes and San José del Fragua communities in Caquetá. Day after day I learned from the local people and began to really understand the land where I grew up. ACT gave me the opportunity to grow as a professional and as a person. In June 2013 I was invited to go to Costa Rica to give a presentation at a conference organized by the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE) in San José. There, Liliana Madrigal, Co-founder of Amazon Conservation Team, suggested that I travel to Puerto Jimenez to learn from the experience of Osa Conservation and exchange knowledge that I could apply upon my return to Caquetá. I did not hesitate, and readily agreed.


I traveled from San Jose to Puerto Jimenez on a small plane. I did not take my eyes off the window admiring the majestic forests that were connected from the sea to the mountains. When we landed in Puerto Jiménez, Dennis Vasquez of Osa Conservation was waiting for me. Dennis drove us for 40 minutes to Cerro Osa where I met Agustin. Agustin is a local expert who was to share his knowledge about seed collection techniques and show me the OC grounds. I was reminded of my childhood days when I climbed trees to pick fruit, but this time I was going to do it using another technique.


Agustin was my guide for a week walking in the forest for hours. I was amazed to see how many young people voluntarily contributed to protecting turtles, planting trees, and doing research in the area; I was impressed to see foreigners visiting Cerro Osa for the purpose of planting trees and enjoying the beauty of the forest. Time went by very fast but we took advantage of the night hours to share stories with Agustin, and in return to answer his questions and concerns. He was curious to know about the Colombian Amazon, it’s people, their culture, their ways of life — I wanted Agustin to come with me so I could reciprocate the experience and show him my territory and to have him live the same experience I was having in Osa, but I felt helpless because it was not up to me to make that happen.


Upon my return to Colombia, I talked to Carolina Gil, Director of ACT- Colombia about the experience, and I proposed we invite Agustin so he could visit the indigenous communities, to exchange knowledge and share his expertise in the techniques used to collect seeds. The proposal was approved and Agustin packed his bags, overcame the fear of traveling and in October 2013 he came to Colombia, where he stayed for 10 days. During his trip he toured Bogota and Florencia, Caquetá and rode on a high speed Amazonian boat in order to get to the remote villages of the Huitotos and Coreguajes Indians. There he would share his knowledge with the communities and ACT’s technical staff. Agustin was the center of attention for his abilities, and for being from “another country.” Agustin was intrigued at the ways communities lived, for example, he did not understand why before climbing a tree, the Indians put a handful of green powder in their mouth; we explained that it was pulverized coca leaf — an ancient indigenous practice.


Soon, it was time for Agustin to return to Costa Rica, but before leaving, he was showered with gifts – baskets, necklaces and everyone wanted a photo with him. “Agustin, the man who shared with us another way to climb trees — we used to scratch our chest and belly when we climbed like monkeys; Agustin, with his ropes and other equipment showed us a more practical, simple and comfortable way to climb much higher without the risk of skinning ourselves so much” said Elias in his “maloka” or sacred meeting place for indigenous people while they were conducting the evaluation of the workshop.


I believe that these exchanges are invaluable, the travel to other countries, experiencing different cultures, meeting people, seeing the way communities live, opens our minds, makes us grow as people and as professionals. The exchanges allow us to share knowledge and continue contributing to the conservation and development of our countries. Thanks to all who made ​​this possible – these are life stories that fill us with knowledge, joy and love for what we do.

Science and Research, Sea Turtles, Volunteers and Visitors

The 2013 Sea Turtle Season Draws to a Close

by: Lauren Lipuma and Lindsay Metz

Volunteer Alisa Wang collects vulnerable turtle eggs from the beach for relocation to our hatchery.

The 2013 Sea Turtle Season at Osa Conservation has ended, and what a spectacular year it was! From the opening of the new turtle hatchery to the annual festival on Carate beach, it was an exciting and successful year for OC’s sea turtle conservation program.

The Osa is home to four species of sea turtles: Leatherback, Hawksbill, Olive Ridley, and Pacific Green. Our beaches mainly support populations of nesting Olive Ridley and Pacific Green sea turtles, but Leatherbacks and Hawksbills also make an occasional appearance. OC’s sea turtle season, which runs from July to December, coincides with the peak of Olive Ridley and Hawksbill nesting season. The peak of Pacific Green and Leatherback sea turtle nesting season will not begin until February and will last through March. During this low time, track sighting on our patrol beaches, Pejeperro and Piro, have been rare, and our hatchery is empty and excavated.  The month of December was a time for family and friends and rounding out all the collected data.


turtle hatchery

Volunteers collect hatchlings in buckets for release on Piro beach.

It was quite a successful first year for our sea turtle hatchery. When nests are vulnerable, whether from predators, poachers or floodwaters from the nearby river,  we move them to our hatchery. Staff and volunteers always take extra care while moving a nest, and when relocated they will simulate an environment as similar as possible to the original nest. The depth and width of the nest is measured, and sand from the original nest lines the transport bucket as well as the new nest. If the nest was laid in the shade of the vegetation or the sun, our hatchery can accommodate either. This strategy seems to have worked very well so far – 92.6% of all the nests moved this year hatched successfully! With this strategy working well, having hatched thousands of sea turtle eggs, our hopes are high for 2014.



Protected nests at our sea turtle hatchery.

The results are in for turtle sightings and track records on our beaches.  This year we had 7 tagged turtles return to Pejeperro Beach and tagged a total of 136 new turtles between both Piro and Pejeperro beaches.  Almost all of the health assessments for sighted turtles were very good –  only one turtle had fibropapillomas (skin tumors caused by a virus) and two had barnacles.  Even shell, flipper, and skin wounds were rarely recorded. More shell damage was seen on Piro beach, which could indicate more off-shore boat activity near that beach.



2013 turtle sightings.

As expected, the most commonly sighted turtle was the Olive Ridley (LO), but the Green (CM) takes a close second.  The Hawksbills (EI) are a new addition to our sightings recorded this year, but no Leatherback (DC) tracks or turtles were recorded.  As the graph shows, this was not the best year for our turtles and our sightings records have been slowly decreasing. The reason for this is unknown, but we hope with more data collection in 2014 we can start to solve the problems and the turtle population can rebound.

Community Outreach, Environmental Education, Land Conservation and Forest Restoration, Miscellaneous

Wetlands Conservation: one more item on the waiting list for presidential candidates

Terraba Sierpe wetlands, Costa Rica. Photo credit: Cavu

Térraba-Sierpe National Wetlands, Costa Rica. Photo credit: Cavu

By: Luis Williams

Community Planning – Wetlands Program

Luis Williams

A functional environment is built on a day-to-day basis, from all sectors of society, and a fundamental support for environmental security comes from the participation of local citizens. In many cases, local organizations become protagonists that can either complement or detract from the government’s role in supporting a functioning environment. At Osa Conservation, we aim to highlight the responsibility of citizen participation by presenting useful information to voters during this year’s presidential run-off elections. We want to focus on an issue that we consider crucial to the country, which has remained pending in the proposals of the candidates: conservation of the nation’s wetlands.

Thirteen years ago, Costa Rica approved the Wetlands Policy, a national policy that defined guidelines for the management and conservation of the country’s wetlands. The policy holds Costa Rica’s commitment to the ratification of the Ramsar Convention in 1991, a commission dedicated to the international protection and “wise use” of wetland ecosystems, due to their biological wealth and function as a refuge for a significant number of seasonal migratory water birds. Costa Rica currently has 12 Ramsar sites in count, all of which cover approximately an 11% of the national territory and 350 identified wetlands (SINAC 2013, Environmental Kiosks, 2013).

Despite these efforts at preservation, years have passed and Costa Rica’s wetlands are disbanded and remain without the government and citizen support that they deserve. For example, The Management Plan of National Wetlands Térraba-Sierpe (HNTS)1 still has yet to be approved. During this year’s elections, presidential candidates paid little attention to wetland conservation. But why should they? The answer is simple: wetlands provide us with a great variety of products that vary from basic foods like fish and rice, to lumber, firewood, vegetable oil, salt, herbs, stems and leaves for weaving, and fodder for animals. Many wetlands are also directly related with subterranean water and play a large role in regulating the quantity and quality of the groundwater, which is often an important source of drinking water and water for crop irrigation. Wetlands are also reservoirs of biodiversity, and there is an enormous cultural link between human populations that develop their understanding of the world from their relationship to wetland ecosystems.

The mouth of the Sierpe River, part of the Térraba-Sierpe National Wetlands.

The mouth of the Sierpe River, part of the Térraba-Sierpe National Wetlands.

The Ramsar Report 2013 and the XIX Report of the State of the Nation 2012 are very clear about the challenges that pressure these Costa Rican ecosystems. These include:

·       Conflicts over the use of land

·       Economic activities surrounding the wetlands that threaten biodiversity

·       Uncontrolled expansion of monoculture crops (pineapple, banana, etc.)

·       Haphazard use of chemicals on crops

·       Illegal exploitation of species

·       Lack of resources for the protection, management, and restoration of wetlands

·       Scarce cooperation between governmental entities

In the wake of the electoral campaign, Osa Conservation is focused more on finding solutions than defining problems, so let’s analyze the proposed plans of the government. As mentioned, none of the top five candidates expressed any interest in conserving wetlands, although the Citizen Action Party and Broad Front plans make references to some topics that could allow a negotiation and conservation of wetland ecosystems. These proposals are the ones that come closest to creating favorable mechanisms to these ecosystems and these same proposals can be found in the box at the bottom of the text.

The government plans of the presidential candidates leave us the following:

1.     Wetlands are just one more item on the waiting list. None of them have made a direct proposal about conserving wetlands; they have not even spoken about the issue.

2.     To the candidates, only rivers are considered wetlands. You could say that all candidates tie wetlands to rivers, obtaining from them just one sole environmental service: the production of water.

3.     The PLN, FA, and the PAC set out in their plans, with their respective differences on how to do this, the issue of watershed management as either a part of a strategy to strengthen foreign policy (PLN), as the basis unit of territorial organization (FA), or as a foundation for secure access and protection of water resources (PAC).

4.     In making an effort to bring out the positive aspects of all parties, including those with the least mention on the topic, to think about the future institutional mechanisms for the protection of the wetlands, we could say, with difficulty, that the ML and the PUSC prescribe the necessity for better water management as a form of contamination control.

5.     It is important to mention that although it is not explicit for the wetlands, the FA and the PAC give a lot of importance to the role that the communities living around Protected Areas play in conservation and protection, like Caño Negro. This could be a rescuing point, since without doubt, a real exercise in conservation and democracy initiates from the possibility that we gave as citizens to construct the mechanisms necessary to care for the wetlands.

From all of the above, there is only conclusion we can draw – for all of the presidential candidates, the wetlands barely exist, and when they do, the only ecosystem service they provide is generating water. To underestimate the biological importance of Costa Rica’s wetlands is a grave mistake, and one that we can only hope the next president will reverse.

1This plan was approved on December 16, 2013, after many years of diagnostics, studies, and negotiations. After all, the HNTS is one of the most important wetlands of Central America. According to official reports, accounts with an area of about 24 sq. meters with 4 different ecosystems bring together hundreds of species, including human groups, with strongly rooted relationships with these productive ecosystems and cultural ties.


Aves, Birds, Miscellaneous, Volunteers and Visitors

OC gears up for birding and filmmaking!

It’s that time of year again – birding time!

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Aside from the hundreds of native tropical birds who reside in the Osa, the peninsula is also winter home for many North American migratory birds. Every spring, they return to nest – the Scarlet Tanager, the Indigo Bunting, the Golden-Winged Warbler, the Baltimore Oriole, and scores of other migrant songbirds. And every winter, they make the perilous journey back to the rainforests of Central America to wait out the long cold season. Unfortunately, their wintering grounds are under intense pressure from development and natural resource extraction. The rainforests of Central America are being degraded at an alarming rate – and the birds that call these forests home – the endemic species and the migrants who winter there – have no where to turn. North America’s birds need a place that is still wild – our birds need the Osa.

Every winter, OC hosts birding groups from all over the world at our biological stations who come to see Osa’s magnificent birds and help us to protect their home. Unfortunately, aside from these avid birders, not many people understand the global significance of the Osa’s biodiversity or how many of our birds depend on it for survival – so this coming January, a film crew from Wisconsin will be traveling to the Osa with one of these birding groups to conduct a field shoot for the production of two documentaries – one to highlight the importance of the Osa as a biological hotspot, and another to document the efforts of Osa Conservation in protecting Osa’s birds – particularly the Yellow-billed Cotinga. From January 23 – 31st, 2014, this birding trip, led by veteran conservationist, OC board member, and birding addict Craig Thompson, will take the crew on a locally-guided tour of rainforest, beach, river, and wetlands to spot the most elusive Osa birds and interview local Osa residents.

Meet our crew!

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Luckily, our film crew are no strangers to filming in the jungle! Producer and writer Jo Garrett has been making documentaries for over 25 years. For the last decade, Jo and videographer Frank Boll have collaborated on a series of stories and documentaries for PBS on the plight of wildlife – including bats, black bears, pine martens, wolves, rattlesnakes, and more – but Jo’s favorite stories spotlight birds and the problems and successes in bird conservation. That passion led to the production of the documentary Our Birds, which highlights the struggles neotropical migratory birds face on their perilous journeys.

Frank Boll has trekked the world shooting stories for over 40 years. Frank’s most recent project took him to Peru in 2012. Funded in part by a grant from the National Geographic Society, Frank spent a month in the cloud forests, documenting the efforts of conservation groups working to save Peru’s critically endangered Yellow-Tailed Woolly Monkey.

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Kerman and Frank on location for a previous film shoot.


Kerman Eckes has worked for twenty years as a location sound recordist and sound designer for Wisconsin Public Television. She’ll get great stereo recordings of the birds calls of the Osa but she also brings other talents to the job: she’s fluent in Spanish, she’s an accomplished professor with a master’s in film production, and she’s served on video production crews in both Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

This film shoot will definitely put Jo, Frank, and Kerman’s skills to the test, as they trek through jungle and wetlands to document the stories of Osa’s birds. Filming birds in the wild also presents a unique challenge – perhaps even more so than other animals. Birds, especially warblers, are constantly moving – searching the trees and ground for insects, fruit, and other sources of food. How do you capture such tiny, quick creatures on camera, especially ones that are far away and so easily startled? The answer is to combine a camera and a telescope!

Videographers use a digiscope to capture birds on film – essentially a digital camera mounted to a birdwatcher’s spotting scope, which is a light, portable telescope. Frank uses a digiscope comprised of a Canon 60D DSLR camera attached to a Swarovski 30-70X spotting scope, pictured below:

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Due to their constant activity, following birds with such high-powered magnification presents another significant challenge. Footage often has to be trimmed to clips less than 10 seconds long that are later edited together – a serious time investment!

Check out some footage that Frank has already shot with his digiscope of one of Wisconsin’s migrants, the Yellow Warbler, known affectionately as the “little yellow comet.” We’re hoping to spot one of these little guys on our shoot down in the Osa!

Here’s some more footage shot by Frank, of two Orioles engaged in a “flyoff!”

This year, I’ll be joining this birding trip, so stay tuned for updates on the field shoot as it unfolds – direct from the Osa!

Read more about our film project here – and even help fund it!


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