Aquatic Health, Community Outreach, Environmental Education

“Picnic in the River,” a nationwide celebration of rivers

Blogpost by Kristina Graves, Healthy Rivers Program Research Field Assistant and Masters Student at Imperial College London

Having just arrived at the start of the week, I was really excited to hear that Osa Conservation was hosting a “Picnic in the River” in celebration of Costa Rican rivers and their importance to people and wildlife. I thought it would be a great way to understand the context of rivers in the Osa and community and throw myself headfirst into learning some Spanish. 

“Picnic in the River” is an annual festival in which communities across Costa Rica celebrate rivers as part of the International Day of Action for Rivers. This year, we hosted the largest ever Osa Peninsula “Picnic en el River”, thanks to the 71 community members who come out to our Osa Verde BioStation (Piro) to celebrate rivers. 

The Osa Community celebrated Costa Rica’s rivers, along with 170 groups across Costa Rica, in honor of the International Day of River Action. Photo: Jo De Pauw

The day started off with a buzz in the air and a tangible excitement among the staff in anticipation of the day. It all kicked off when three buses arrived bringing children from local schools and their families to the station. 

After introductions, workshops were led by Hilary Brumberg (Healthy Rivers Program Coordinator), and Mariam Weyand (Sea Turtle Biologist), and Marlon Jiménez Castro (the local aqueduct administrator), to highlight the many uses people have for rivers and how rivers function as a connection between the land and the sea. Marco Hidalgo (Coordinator of Ecosystem Resilience and Community Outreach) explained how the iNaturalist application can be used to register the incredible wildlife found in the Osa. The children, who were initially shy, seemed really enthusiastic as they called out their ideas and got involved in the presentations. 

Participants learned about aquatic biodiversity and competed in a mini “BioBlitz” to find as much wildlife as they could. Photo: Osa Conservation

The children had two dances prepared for the day, and outfits to match! They came dressed as iconic forest creatures and plants and they looked fantastic. It was great to get involved with them at the end and share their enthusiasm for nature and the day in general. 

In the afternoon, families were split into two groups and led to either Piro River or the nearby Piro Beach, where Piro River meets the sea, to get an opportunity to experience first-hand the diversity and ecological importance of their country. The kids participated in a mini wildlife BioBlitz, each competing to find the most different types of wildlife to records on their iNaturalist “nametags.” Nature really showed off with some turtle hatchlings at the beach and lots of shrimp, fish and insect larva in the stream. There was also time for a quick dip in the stream afterwards to cool off!

To celebrate declaring Piro River “healthy” based on a high diversity of aquatic wildlife, the kids celebrated with a dip in the stream. Photo: Jo De Pauw

Overall, it felt great to be part of a “Picnic in the River” celebration on the same day as 170 groups across Costa Rica in honor of the International Day of River Action. I had a great first introduction to the community and streams in the Osa Peninsula and I am so excited to get stuck in to the projects and be a part of the work Osa Conservation are doing here.

Birds, Community Outreach, Land Conservation and Forest Restoration, Science and Research, Sea Turtles, Volunteers and Visitors

Repeat volunteers reflect on growth of restoration plots and science programs

Blogpost by Robin Morris and Steve Pearce, General Volunteers

It seems like yesterday when we walked through the gate to the Osa Verde BioStation (Piro) for the first time in January 2017 and were greeted by a group scarlet macaws in the trees snacking and squawking.  We’re here now for our third winter excursion, and I have to admit we’ve done some cool things the last couple years.  

Robin enjoying a two-year-old balsa forest. During Robin and Steve’s 2018 visit, they helped clear plants around the small balsa saplings, and in 2019, they helped preparing bird boxes to bring wildlife to the young balsa forest. Photo: Steve Pearce

One of the projects we’ve helped with here is reforesting abandoned farmland.  Seedlings of balsa trees have been planted, and on a previous stay we were given small machetes and told to clear the plants around the seedlings, a project we lovingly christened ¨Weeding the rainforest.¨ It felt somewhat silly and hopeless, but when we came this year, we found new forests of balsa on the former farmland, proving conservation work frequently requires patience to see results.  Part of the reforestation process is creating habitats for animals, so this year we helped set up bird boxes to encourage birds to move into the new forest, sort of like opening a piano bar to lure lounge lizards.  

“Conservation work frequently requires patience to see results.”

Robin helping Manuel relocate a sea turtle nest on a patrol with Manuel Sanchez. Photo: Steve Pearce

One of the great lures to volunteering here is the Sea Turtle Program.  A newly hatched green or Olive Ridley turtle could give cuteness-lessons to puppies or kittens. When we first came here two years ago, the program was led by local legendary naturalist and photographer Manuel Sanchez.  Last year we even got to checked on the hatchery in the afternoons so he could have a vacation.  The Sea Turtle Program, like much work in conservation, is a steady commitment. Now the program has several dedicated enthusiastic staff members, frequently assisted by volunteers like us.  But the work is still the same, patrolling the deserted beach on breathtaking mornings, finding and relocating nests to the hatchery, releasing the hatchlings to the sea, as well as excavating nests to determine mortality rates among the eggs.  And after releasing young turtles for three years, it’s fun to watch people melt.

“The Sea Turtle Program, like much work in conservation, is a steady commitment… And after releasing young turtles for three years, it’s fun to watch people melt.”

The Osa features a splendid variety of wildlife, from squirrel monkeys and scarlet macaws to cane toads and green turtles.  Each trip has brought new sightings or exciting moments of discovery.  But one creature has almost brought our marriage to an end each year.  No, a jaguar has not attacked us on a footpath.  Snakes have not ambushed us in the bathroom.  And no, a crocodile has never attacked us on the beach. The problem is that Steve always falls in love with the paraque.  

Steve’s girlfriend, a paraque, resting in the pavilion. Photo: Steve Pearce

A nocturnal species, the paraque birds frequently sit along the paths of the research station and even in the pavilion, occasionally sweeping through to feed on insects drawn by the light.   They make an assortment of whistles to other paraques in the area and flop about when people walk near.  They sometimes make cooing ¨bwot¨ sounds.  Local folklore includes tales of the paraque calling travelers into the forest to get them or their children lost.  A paraque sometimes follows us to our cabina and bwots to lure me outside.  Attempts to photograph them at night usually yield nothing but a red dot in the darkness, further evidence of their supernatural nature.  

The paraque is a heartbreaker though, for when we asked another volunteer what her favorite mammal and bird of the Osa were, she replied ¨squirrel monkeys and Steve’s girlfriend.¨  We hope to leave at the end of the week without Steve pining for his girlfriend at the airport.

Aves, Birds, Community Outreach, Science and Research

Descubriendo la ecología de un ave endémica y en peligro en Osa: Habia atrimaxillaris

Blogpost por Arlet Quiros-Calvo, ganador de la Beca Alvaro Ugalde y estudiante de maestría en la Universidad de Costa Rica

Macho y hembra de izquierda a derecha de tangara hormiguera carinegra (H. atrimaxillaris). Fotos: Arlet Quiros-Calvo

 Me llamo Arlet, trabajo con una especie en peligro de extinción, especial porque se encuentra en un único lugar del mundo. La tangara hormiguera carinegra, Habia atrimaxillaris, habita solamente en la Península de Osa y en el Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Golfito-Parque Nacional Piedras Blancas en Costa Rica.

 Se cree que su población está disminuyendo rápidamente dentro de su pequeño rango geográfico debido a una gran reducción de su hábitat, resultante de la deforestación y la expansión de la frontera agrícola en el Pacífico Sur.

 Según investigaciones en la Gamba de Golfito, esta especie tiene una preferencia por los bosques primarios y bosques secundarios maduros. Al ser una especie que forrajea en el sotobosque, es decir, en la vegetación que se encuentra por debajo del dosel, puede ser muy sensible a las fragmentaciones del bosque. Aún así, el estado de conservación actual de la especie y el conocimiento sobre sus preferencias de hábitat es muy limitado en la Península de Osa, por lo que decidí ampliar la información existente sobre esta ave con la beca Álvaro Ugalde de Conservación Osa.

Los asistentes monitoreando día a día los nidos (izquierda). Realizando mediciones de las parcelas en Dos Brazos del Rio Tigre y la Tarde (derecha). Fotos: Arlet Quiros-Calvo

Desarrollamos esta investigación en sitios ubicados en la comunidad llamada La Tarde y la comunidad Dos Brazos de Rio Tigre, donde localizamos individuos en dos parcelas. Cuando nos dispusimos a monitorearlos, día a día, ¡descubrimos algunos secretos de su reproducción! 

Hasta el momento, hemos descubierto información muy valiosa para la conservación de esta peculiar especie. En los meses de época reproductiva (febrero-abril), observamos su comportamiento de cortejo y apareamiento, la selección del sitio de anidación, preferencia de hábitat, el número de huevos, su alimentación, e incluso anotamos datos de polluelos depredados. Además, mediante videos, llegamos a ver actividades cotidianas como forrajeo, búsqueda de alimento e incubación, lo cual nos ayuda a entender la complejidad reproductiva de la especie y su adaptabilidad en Osa. Adicionalmente, el comportamiento reproductivo es diferente en Dos Brazos de Rio Tigre y la Tarde, por la misma razón: la fragmentación de propiedades vecinas al Parque Nacional Corcovado.

Nido encontrado en la palma suita Asterogyne martiana en Dos Brazos de Río Tigre. Foto: Arlet Quiros-Calvo

A pesar de que en la literatura se menciona que la distribución de la especie se limita a hábitat maduro, nosotros ubicamos nidos en bosques de galería (bosques en los bordes de cuerpos de agua), áreas abiertas, bosques en regeneración y zonas de pendiente.

Al visualizar todos estos datos obtenidos, podemos generar información clave para proteger los bosques de Osa, sus aves y en general toda la biodiversidad presente en esta pequeña área de Costa Rica.

Diseño del nido de H. atrimaxillaris encontrado en Dos Brazos de Rio Tigre. Foto: Arlet Quiros-Calvo

Community Outreach, Land Conservation and Forest Restoration, Sustainable agriculture

Into the wild: Revealing the secrets of wild vanilla

Blogpost by Charlotte Watteyn, doctoral researcher at KU Leuven (Belgium) and the University of Costa Rica, collaborating with Osa Conservation

If you think about vanilla, you immediately start to imagine delicious ice creams, cakes and other yummy sweets. But where does this vanilla come from? Well, it is extracted from the fruits (beans or pods) of orchid vines, producing an intense aroma resulting from a complex of molecules. These orchids belong to the genus Vanilla (Orchidaceae), a diverse group of climbing hemi-epiphytes growing around trees with their aerial roots. The genus contains over 100 species and is pantropic, meaning that they are present all around the tropics. However, the aromatic vanilla species, the ones that produce the lovely smelling pods, are native to the Neotropics.

Overview of the 5 different vanilla species growing in our study region ACOSA (Area de Conservacion Osa). Photo: Adam Karremans

Nevertheless, when you buy vanilla and take a further look at the country of origin, you will probably read “Madagascar.” But Madagascar does not fall within vanilla’s native growing regions, so only the introduced species that was brought over from Mexico a long time ago, Vanilla planifolia, is cultivated in Madgascar. Vanilla cultivators in Madagascar have to pollinate flowers by hand, because natural pollinators are absent, and use intensive production systems. Furthermore, the market chain involves several intermediaries that keep prices artificially high by holding back large quantities, explaining the currently high market prices. As a result, we realized there is a need for innovation in vanilla cultivation.

We want to determine the possibility of contributing to a more sustainable vanilla provision through a joint land sparing and land sharing approach (SPASHA), ensuring the conservation of wild vanilla populations while cultivating the economically interesting ones in a sustainable agroforestry system. There are several wild vanilla species, known as crop wild relatives (CWR), growing in the lowland tropical rainforests of the Neotropics, with presence of pods (that smell very nice!), indicating natural pollination. However, there is very little known about the distribution, biology and ecology of both the orchids and their pollinators. We are interested in determining the potential to cultivate wild vanilla and therefore create an alternative income source for local communities.

Left: The beautiful flower of Vanilla trigonocarpa. Middle: Fruits (green beans) of Vanilla hartii, the result from natural pollination, a mysterious process that we will study in more detail during the coming year. Right: Flower buttons of Vanilla hartii. All three species are native to the lowland tropical rainforests of Costa Rica and are growing within our study region ACOSA. Photos: Charlotte Watteyn & Ruthmery Pillco Huarcaya

As part of the study, we made experimental plots, where we planted four aromatic vanilla CWR—V. hartii, V. odorata, V. pompona and V. trigonocarpa—in both reforestation areas and organic cacao plantations. One of the plots is located at Osa Conservation’s Osa Verde Agroecological Farm. We will measure growth and survival rate over time, as well as production and pollination processes during later stages.

We will be monitoring the vanilla’s success over the next few months and keep you updated with the first results of this exciting (and delicious) research!

 

The planting team at Osa Verde (Marvin, Johan, José, Ruth and Charlotte). We planted 120 vanilla plants, 30 plants of each of the four species, in our experimental plot within a 3-year old reforestation area with a mix of native tree species that act as tutor trees. Photos: Charlotte Watteyn and Ruthmery Pillco Huarcaya

Aquatic Health, Community Outreach, Uncategorized

Rios Saludables First Workshop in Colegio Puerto Jimenez

Blogpost by Hilary Brumberg, Ríos Saludables Program Coordinator 

Students in bright blue uniforms dip nets into a small stream and retrieve soggy masses of leaves, branches, rocks, and candy wrappers. They comb through the leaves with plastic spoons, and excitedly pluck small insects and crustaceans from the foliage and place them into the stream water filled ice cube tray  – our fancy specimen holder.

The students rush the specimens over to our identification station, a tree stump bearing a laminated booklet with dozens of pictures of aquatic critters. They methodically scan each page of the identification guide, enthusiastically pointing at pictures that look like their specimens. When these young scientists finally decide on the identity of the critter swimming around their tray, they return their specimen to the stream and begin fishing again. Other groups of teenagers wander around the stream in pursuit of litter, tossing snack wrappers in black trash bags to help clean the streams.

Students identifying macroinvertebrates

Students identifying macro invertebrates

These students attend Colegio Industrial Técnico Puerto Jiménez, one of two secondary schools on the Osa Peninsula and the closest one to our biological station. In the yard behind their school is Cacao Stream.  Students usually eat lunch alongside the stream, and often snack wrappers mysteriously make their way into the stream.

Today, these students are surveying the stream for macroinvertebrates, mini mighty organisms that are bio-indicators for river health. Many of the students had never thought twice about Cacao Stream, let alone the crustaceans and insects that call it home.

A group of students measuring the water

A group of students measuring the stream quality

This field activity is part of Rios Saludables’ first ever workshop with the Colegio Puerto Jiménez. Before heading to the stream to sample, I began the workshop with a presentation, assisted by one of the program’s community partners.

We discussed the importance of water and specifically rivers for nature and humans. Reasons they suggested included sources of drinking water, important ecological habitat, and nutrient transport.

One of my favorite parts of these presentations is to show a map of Osa’s expansive freshwater network. Rivers and streams expand like a spider web across the peninsula in every direction. Students always gasp when the map is projected, because they realize the extent that the peninsula’s ecosystems rely on rivers.

Hillary and some of the students

Hilary & students analyze their collections

A trademark Rios Saludables saying is “the problem with water on the Osa is not quantity, but rather quality.” This leads nicely into an explanation of the ways we determine water quality, namely water chemistry tests and macroinvertebrate surveys. These students had recently learned about pH and alkalinity  in their chemistry class, and I described what ranges indicate that a river is healthy. Then I passed around samples of macroinvertebrates I collected with community partners across the region, many from rivers close to students’ homes.

Now it is time for these newly ordained freshwater ecologists to head to Cacao Stream to practice these surveys.

Community Outreach, Uncategorized

Payment for Ecosystem Services: Conservation Incentive

What are Ecosystem Services?

The concept of ecosystem services was developed in order to express the value that nature has to people and the benefits we derive from it.

Types of Ecosystem Services

There are three types of ecosystem services:  direct services, indirect services, and cultural/aesthetic services.

Direct services are the resources that we directly benefit from extracting from nature.  Drinking water, timber, natural gas and oils, plants such as cotton, and numerous other plants for medicinal benefits.  We depend on these resources so heavily that it is unfathomable to think that we could live without inputs from nature.  The chair you sit in, the clothes you wear, and even the medicine you take in the morning probably comes directly from provisioning services.

Indirect services are the benefits provided by ecosystem processes that moderate natural phenomena.  Think of these services as the “unsung heroes” of  ecosystem services.  They are necessary for the production of all other ecosystem services.  For example, pollination, photosynthesis, decomposition, water purification, erosion, and even flood control.  These services maintain the natural ebbs and flows of ecosystems. While humans have, in past years, done a lot to influence these processes, they are overwhelmingly natural and our technology has not caught up to the scale that nature naturally produces.  Pollination is a great example.  Pollination is not only crucial to the reproduction of plants, but also impossible for humans to artificially create on the necessary scale.

Cultural services are the non-material benefits that contribute to the development and cultural advancement of people.   In other words, nature is beautiful–there is no price tag on the beauty of nature. Recreation, mental and physical health, tourism, aesthetic appreciation and inspiration for culture, art and design, spiritual experience and a sense of place are just a few aspects of nature that are central to the world as we know it.  While we cannot attach an accurate monetary value or economic impact to the depletion of this type of ecosystem services, it is important to understand that we must not leave a depleted world to the next generation.  

Ecosystem Services in Action

Ecosystems are by definition interconnected, codependent, and constantly evolving.  As a result, changes at any level of an ecosystem can lead to the collapse of the whole thing.  Because this can be hard to visualize, let’s take mangroves, an especially important ecosystem, as an example.  

The Mangrove is an immensely important type of tree that lines coastlines around the world.  Most plants cannot live where the mangroves do because of the constant pounding of waves, salt water, and often extreme winds.  However, mangroves have evolved to be ideal for this environment and actually thrive in these conditions.  As a result, they protect coastlines from erosion and have large, cage-like roots that serve as a nursery for many different species of marine organisms.  The mangroves provide a relatively safe, protected space for important species to lay their eggs or raise their young.  This means, that without the protection of the mangroves in the early stages of life, many of the marine species that we rely on for food such as some types of Grouper, Trout, Tarpon, and even Snapper would cease to exist.

Mangroves provide an indirect service to humans, supporting a variety of marine life that fill the bellies of millions around the world.  Despite this, people often destroy mangrove groves to develop the prime oceanfront land that they occupy–often for an oceanfront hotel or a shrimp farm.  In these cases, it is useful to have a monetary value assigned to the mangrove environment as a defense against “development” of the shoreline.  That way, the value of ecosystem services, both direct and indirect are taken into account.

 

What is Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES)?

Payments for ecosystem services (PES) are payments to farmers or landowners who have agreed to take certain actions to manage their land or watersheds to provide an ecological service.  The idea is that the payments assign a monetary value to the land that is for something other than the direct services and raw goods of the land.  As the payments provide incentives to landowners and managers, PES is a market-based mechanism, similar to subsidies and taxes, to encourage the conservation of natural resources.

PES in Costa Rica

Twenty years ago, Costa Rica began to pioneer programs that allow landowners to be paid for the value of the ecosystem services of their land.  This created an opportunity for landowners to earn an income while working to protect rainforests, conserve wildlife, regulate river flows, and store carbon.

Since 1997, nearly one million hectares of forest in Costa Rica has been part of these ‘payments for ecosystem services’ (PES) plans at one time or another. Meanwhile, forest cover has returned to over 50 per cent of the country’s land area, from a low of just over 20 per cent in the 1980s.

PES at Osa Conservation

Osa Conservation has been able to enroll some of our properties into this program and benefit from the country’s incentives to protect habitat. These funds allow us to pay key staff that patrol the land and ensure that there are no poachers, miners or loggers present. These same staff help us restore degraded land by collecting native tree seeds for germination, planting trees and maintaining the new tree plantings. PES does not cover all the costs associated with protecting the land in the Osa but it helps.

If you are interested in supporting our work, please donate.

Sources:

http://www.iied.org/markets-payments-for-environmental-services

http://www.iied.org/payments-for-ecosystem-services-costa-rica-s-recipe

http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/where_we_work/black_sea_basin/danube_carpathian/our_solutions/green_economy/pes/

https://www.nwf.org/Wildlife/Wildlife-Conservation/Ecosystem-Services.aspx

http://www.greenfacts.org/glossary/def/ecosystem-services.htm

http://www.teebweb.org/resources/ecosystem-services/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCH1Gre3Mg0

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

Environmental Festivals in the Osa

World Environment Day, 2nd Anniversary of the Luis Jorge Poveda Álvarez Arboretum and inauguration of the Centenary Forest.

In early June, we had three important celebrations: World Environment Day, the 2nd anniversary of the Jorge Poveda Álvarez Arboretum and the inauguration of the Centenary Forest.

World Environment Day was celebrated in early June, and had participation from diverse groups of people. We had students from various educational centers participate as well as people from organizations and businesses with various fields of focus, like mangroves in the case of Fundación Neotrópica, sea turtles in the case of LAST (Latin American Sea Turtles) and sustainable forest plantations in the case of LACT. The support and participation of local farmers and artisans with the exhibition and sale of their products topped off a great turnout.

Furthermore, this y11011808_442506935917583_1591210675148998070_near we celebrated two important events in forest culture. First, the second anniversary of the Luis Jorge Poveda Álvarez Arboretum was on June 14. This museum of trees on the Osa Peninsula includes emblematic and threatened species like the ajo negro (Anthodiscus chocoensis), the camíbar (Copaifera aromatica), the nazareno or purpleheart (Peltogyne purpurea Pittier), the cristóbal (Platymiscium pinnatum) and the breadnut or Maya nut (Brosimum alicastrum).

Lastly, on June 15 was the inauguration of the Centenary Forest. This day pays homage to the 100 years of the institutionalization of National Tree Day by President Alfredo González Flores, and also to honor the people and institutions that have worked toward the conservation of the forests like Don Álvaro Ugalde, Daniel Janzen and Winnie Hallwach. This has been and initiative of the Golfo Dulce Forest Reserve, as a strategy to promote forest culture in the communities of the Osa and to promote an appreciation for the forests and their ecosystem services.

Celebrations like these are crucial to community outreach, especially to the younger generations. By celebrating how far we’ve come and our accomplishments in conservation, we get people excited about nature and inspire more action to protect it in the future!

Community Outreach, Environmental Education, Marine Conservation, Sea Turtles, Volunteers and Visitors

Yoga and Conservation: a pair meant to be

When I came to a yoga retreat in the wilds of Costa Rica, I had no idea one of the best memories I’d take home at week’s end would center around turtles–tiny baby ones, all girls.

But when Manuel Mendoza of Osa Conservation visited Blue Osa Yoga Retreat & Spa to tell us about the work he and his team of volunteers do to protect these magnificent, highly endangered creatures, I couldn’t believe how paramount the need was, and was excited to become involved.

I dragged myself out of bed the next morning at 5:30 am–quite an accomplishment as rain pelted the metal roof of my temporary home, lulling me into a deep sleep I’ve only achieved on tropical vacations. My travel companions and I bounded into two 4-wheel drive vehicles and headed south along a pothole riddled road to the end of the Osa Peninsula, one of the most bio-diverse regions on earth.

Manuel greeted us at the gates to his compound, an open-air Cocina with a separate building for offices and research, surrounded by immense green space and backing up to rain forest as far as the eye could see. This did not look like a suitable home for sea turtles.

The Blue Osa crew was directed to choose from a bushel basket of rain boots, the purpose of which was somewhat lost on me since I was already completely soaked, head to toe, just from making my way from the car. Manuel said we would make a short hike along a muddy jungle path to get to the hatchlings waiting on us to set them free into the great Pacific.

This was not a leisurely stroll through the woods. We walked at a brisk pace, wading through rivers, tripping over enormous tree roots, and slipping in the mud as we went.

Finally, in harmony with the jungle sounds, the roar of the Pacific drew us near and motivated me onward through the unfamiliar territory.

When the forest cleared, churning waves pounded down aggressively in front of Osa Conservation’s hatchery.

Manuel took us through deep sand to the hatchery where we became mesmerized at the big life coming from the group of small creatures. It was otherworldly to reach down and touch the babies, the textures of their feet and shells connecting me to nature in a way I’d never been before.

They scuttled around the buckets we hauled down the beach toward the release area. Our emotions were running high at the task ahead.

Manuel indicated the proper spot and gave us guidelines for the release experience. The numbers were not in the little ones’ favor. Of our 250+ hatchlings only one or two were likely to survive due to the factors working against them. But we didn’t lose hope.

It was a mix of emotions as we pulled each little life from the large green containers and encouraged them down the wide stretch of beach toward the water, which calmed a bit in their good fortune.

The journey for them was short, but for me it had a long-lasting effect. Watching the babies get swept bravely into the sea inspired me. I was filled with joy to have participated in such a pivotal experience.

When I returned to Blue Osa that evening, I spent time on my yoga mat thinking how the impact the hatchlings had on me exceeded the impact I’d had on them–and how Osa Conservation’s efforts are impassioned and infectious.

My body might have been recovering from the hike–achy and blistered–but my soul was content. Rainforest hiking and nature preservation had never been in my immediate skill-set, yet I found a way to make a difference in the Osa.

About The Author

When photographer/writer Leah Wyman found herself in the midst of a quarter-life crisis, she left her job in the church world for the sanctuary that is Blue Osa. A classical singer, composer and conductor with a B.M. degree from Manhattan School of Music and further studies at the University of Oxford in England, Leah is finding inspiring new ways to use her voice–in harmony with howler monkeys, scarlet macaws and crashing ocean waves at blueosa.com.

Community Outreach, Environmental Education, Science and Research

Ríos Saludables on the Road!

Submitted by: Jim Palmer, Science and Education Director

Osa Conservation took its new citizen-science stream-monitoring network, Ríos Saludables de Osa, on the road in February for a community workshop in the San Josecito area south of Dominical. Over 35 community members including kids convened in the scenic watershed of the Rio Higuerón for a full day of ‘immersion’ in stream ecology and hands-on measurement of aquatic health.

Claudia Alderman, a resident of San Josecito and member of our Osa Conservation Science and Education Advisory Committee, hosted the event. Activities were facilitated by Osa Conservation staff: Pilar Bernal (Environmental Educator), Erin Engbeck (Aquatic Research Field Assistant), and Jim Palmer (Science and Education Director), as well as recent UCR graduate Alejandro Muñoz (Biomonitoring and Ecotoxicology Lab).

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The morning session held in the San Josecito community center featured an introduction to the Ríos Saludables Network and hands-on practice in methods of basic analysis of water chemistry and bacterial coliforms. Residents had the opportunity to voice their concerns and personal passion for the health of their drinking water sources and beautiful streams in this mountainside community. Of special concern were instances of illegal harvesting of freshwater shrimp in the watershed and the potential impacts on overall stream health.

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The afternoon was filled entirely with fieldwork from the banks of the beautiful Río Higuerón. Divided in to four teams, the group conducted replicate tests of basic water chemistry (temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, conductivity, nitrates, turbidity, alkalinity), bacteria (E. coli), and stream biodiversity using kick-net samples. The soothing, cool water of the stream and natural waterslides did not escape the attention of these citizen scientists either! Results revealed a stream high in clarity and oxygen with strong influence from adjacent spring-fed tributaries. Kick-net samples detected 27 different taxa of freshwater macroinvertebrates with an ‘excellent’ score (exceeding 120 points on the BMWP-CR index of water quality. Especially important indicators of high water quality, the mayflies (Ephemeroptera), stoneflies (Plecoptera), and caddisflies (Trichoptera) were present in healthy numbers and multiple taxa.

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At the conclusion of a busy day, Jim Palmer presented the San Josecito community group with a complete water testing kit so they may continue to assess the health of their watershed on a monthly basis. OC staff will return periodically for future follow-up sessions to introduce the stream studies to local school classes. We invite the San Josecito community members and students to visit us at Osa Conservation for comparison water studies on the Osa Peninsula and partner with our local schools in Puerto Jimenez, Carbonera, Piro and Río D’Oro in this growing network.

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Ríos Saludables de Osa is a volunteer water-monitoring network for community members and schools of the Osa Peninsula and southwestern Costa Rica. Osa Conservation provides the organizing framework for the project with assistance from professional, government and non-profit agencies. Our purpose is to establish and sustain a network of community volunteers across the Osa region to conduct ongoing basic water quality monitoring. Data will be incorporated into an online Water Atlas for the ACOSA region and used to inform public health, watershed protection and conservation decisions.

Initial organization of Ríos Saludables de Osa was made possible by the materials, resources and experience of our partner organizations: Georgia Adopt-A-Stream (Atlanta, GA, USA); Creek Connections (Allegheny College, USA); and Stroud Water Research Center (Avondale PA, USA). As the project matures, community volunteers and stakeholders will oversee organization and water monitoring activities of local groups.

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

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