Land Conservation and Forest Restoration

Keeping Up with our Vanilla Conservation

Blog Post written by Ruthmery Pillco Huarcaya, Research Field Assistant Biodiversity & Conservation

I love vanilla! But did you ever wonder where it comes from? From the vanilla bean. But not from a tree; it comes from an orchid, which grows up the tree as a vine.

However, it is not that simple. Each flower opens for only 24 hours and must be pollinated within 8-12 hours. If pollination does not occur the flower wilts, drops from the vine, and no pods are produced. The vanilla bean’s pollen is covered by a little septum (called the rostellum) that separates the anthers (male features), and stigma (female features). This means the some creature to go in and break this septum; a pollinator. It also means that vanilla conservation is a tedious and difficult task. 

Vanilla Plant

Photo by Ruth Pillco Huarcaya


(The history of vanilla, and more about pollination and conservation, can be found here)

Costa Rica has approximately 12 species of vanilla, at least four of which are found around the Osa Conservation’s biological station and adjacent landscapes. Only two species are grown to produce commercial vanilla: V. planifolia and V. madagascariensis. Because the natural pollinators are unknown, pollination is performed by hand, and low levels of genetic diversity are expected in cultivated plants.  

camera trap for vanilla

Photo by Ruth Pillco Huarcaya

Many Vanilla species are threatened in the wild. Here at Osa Conservation, we want to understand the ecology of wild vanilla, and gain a better understanding of their habitat preference, and reproductive strategies. We want to know where they like to live, who their pollinators are, and who disperses their seeds. This could help us to develop proper conservation strategies, and allow us to test profitability for commercial production in areas such as secondary forests, restoration plots and fruit gardens.

Vanilla pollination

Photo by Ruth Pillco Huarcaya

To do so, we have been using wildlife camera traps to monitor the flowers and beans, and have spent hours directly watching the flowers. So far, a population of Vanilla hartii was found flowering, and after a few long hours of observation and camera trapping, the little Stripe-throated hermit hummingbird was observed visiting their flowers; a potential pollinator or a nectar thief?

Our work will continue until we can really discover the secrets behind wild vanilla in the Osa Peninsula.

Environmental Education, Land Conservation and Forest Restoration, Science and Research

Agalychnis spurelli : A personal excerpt by Andres Jimenez

This blog piece was taken and translated directly from Osa Conservation’s Wetland Program Coordinator, Andres Jimenez, and his very own personal blog.


While I wait here for the fog on my camera to evaporate, and while the few clean clothes I have left are drying, and while none of my shoes are fully covered in mud, here I am dedicating myself to editing photos and writing this blog! Little did I imagine (although one always has hopes) that on a rainy night…wait…let me correct myself – during the deluge, where for a few moments I envisioned myself constructing a small boat in order to begin having to collect two of each kinds of species like Noah himself – I would come across an explosive reproductive session of these wondrous red-eyed frogs in the middle of the day!

Agalychnis spurelli - the gliding tree frog.

Agalychnis spurelli – the gliding tree frog.

The previous night I walked something like 6 hours with a great report of local creatures including: two vipers, one anteater, an armadillo, and countless horned spiders, but then again this experience also left me (as my misfortune would have it) with a camera lens completely and utterly fogged – an issue that will become ever so relevant when I later arrive to the focal point of the swamp in this mentioned tale. Anyways, I don’t want to distract you all with the tales of my night-time adventures, lets get directly to the frog; or better said, the avalanche of frogs. Agalychnis spurrelli, also known as the gliding tree frog, is a beautiful and rare frog that, prior to this tale, I had only managed to see in the wild twice in my life. This particular tree frog is about 40 mm by 70 mm, that is to say it has some 7 cm from its mouth to its anus, which in reality is quite large for a frog species. For those who are not so familiar in the ways of amphibians, that measurement is for this frog’s body size, the legs, that are often rather much larger and longer, are not included in this measurement. This frog species tends to live on the canopy of a tree, and it often moves as though walking on a tightrope, placing one hand in front of itself, followed closely by his feet: a feature I would like to add this is very popular on all TV channels.

It’s very likely that you have before seen, or perhaps are aware of, some of the cousins to this wondrous frog – maybe you have even caught glimpses of them on TV. Agalychnis spurrelli cousin frog has a red body, red eyes and specks of colors running around it side. Clearly our Agalychnis spurrelli and its cousin are very spectacular creatures, and I would imagine that this often results in people  wondering what the thought process behind their given common names is, being that the names are so unique as the frog themselves. According to many biologist, and as it was reported by Savage 2002, this “gliding tree frog” has the capacity to jump in a “parachute” style giving rise to it’s common name. You see, after the frog jumps, it positions it’s body with a 45 degree angle, maintains both it’s legs straight, outwards and parallel to the ground, and this enables the frog during it’s descent, (or in some cases ascent) to use it’s suckers, more commonly referred to as it’s digits (that are extremely sticky) and anchor itself to the vegetation in one spectacular and graceful jump; it goes without saying that the jumps can be very wide, and inclusively the frog is furthermore capable in using it’s webbed digits to execute large spins in the air.

Enough with side notes and distractions – back to the main story at hand: at my arrival to the earlier mentioned swamp, where my colleagues already prepared their photography equipment for shots of the area, what called my attention at that movement was the strange movement in the trees that was on the other side of a marshy swamp. Sheer curiosity willed me to pull my binoculars expecting to observe a bird, but to my great fortune (finally!) I couldn’t have been more wrong. The movement in the branches continued, and it was low and high, far and wide, it was thousands and thousands of frogs that were jumping from tree to tree, branch to branch, in a spectacular display that made this self-proclaimed amphibian lover go running through a swamp with little precaution for the vipers near my feet…I know what you’re thinking…I’m not exaggerating.

An explosive reproductive session.

An explosive reproductive session.

At this point I took out my camera, prepared the camera lens, hung the camera strap around my person, and jumped into the swamp. A swamp -like the majorities of open water – is stagnant water covered in vegetation…so sometimes they are deep…and other times they are not…the point is it can often be hard to tell. But in any case, here I was in the water, and I begun to approach the frogs little by little, inch by inch, I was more nervous than I thought I would be, that’s for sure. With one wrong movement, I could jeopardize my hopes of this anticipated photo. I approached a little bite more, and at this point the water was creeping into my boots, and starting to rise quickly (at this moment I had to remind myself that this was my last clean pair of pants….err…my last cleanest pair of pants….). With the water officially up to my waist I suddenly recalled… my camera lenses I realized was completely fogged up! Clearly the previous nights adventure had cost me dearly! Only some 20 photos after initiating my photographic campaign came through, and my camera decided to not recuperate from the previous nights tryst. The irony! One photo would be produced foggy, I’d clean the lenses, take anther photo, and it would be foggier than the first! I’d change to another lens I had, still foggy. I’d clean the lens once more, everything seemingly according to plan…and then the inner camera would fog up…it was a nightmare ! I wasn’t able to capture a single worthwhile photo during the whole moment.

When I had given up on everything a ray of sun emerged; and I’m not being metaphorical. There was a sliver of light permeating through the forest – I was swift to head in it’s direction and there, finally, I was able to detach the len and allow them to dry in the light. After a few long, torturous, and endless few minutes (that I of course spent enviously looking on to the frogs jumping in bliss) one of the lenses finally decided to cooperate – my hopes were answered…. or were they? The sun quickly disappeared once more and now the problem was another: there was no light; it was totally dark, and how was I to capture this moment without the right amount of light? Those of us who have taken photos within the forest without sun know that pictures will come out totally dark. But I was fortunate in one thing, there was a bat biologist, Melkin, who offered to let me borrow his flash and once readied onto my camera I once more jumped into the swamp.

In the process of being lugged around - a lazy male is carried by a female to the site of her choosing to deposit her eggs.

In the process of being lugged around – a lazy male is carried by a female to the site of her choosing to deposit her eggs.

We return then to the swamp: behind the lenses of my camera an Agalychnis spurelli walks through the leaves carrying a male on her back. These frogs prefer to reproduce at night in ephemeral puddles off water, like swamps, that have some foliage to cover the water. They only reproduce during the rainy season, where the males look for a perch to call out to the females on. In the majority of the cases the swamps tend to have several couples, that after their initial courtships ritual, will situation themselves on a leaf. Following the females deposit of egg on said leaf, a male will then fertilize said eggs. What is particular about these frogs is that, generally speaking, before they deposit their eggs on to the leaf, the male will embrace the female, (the male is about twice her size) and then the female will carry her partner to the site of her choosing for depositing her eggs. As you will see from my photos, the loafer males are so huge that they even apparel to be asleep while the poor female lugs him around doing all the work! Well then, now that we are clear on the basic of reproduction of this species we ask: what set apart this morning from all the others? The serious response: thousands of frogs reproducing at once in the same place at the same time, in the day. What many will deem “and explosive reproductive session” that occurred in the middle of the day! Imagine how much it must have rained for these creatures, who primarily reproduce at night, would willingly decide to reproduce during the plain light of the day! A great moment to have to pulls one’s camera and take an image that is worthwhile, right? The previous night it had rained so much that the ambient condition for these frogs was so perfect that the previous nights frog orgy lasted well into the morning of the following day. We biologist arrived, as my mother would have said, with milk and bread, just in time to take a few photos of the previous nights partners. I leave you with photos and history. Now you know: next time that you are in the low parts of the Caribbean or the Pacific and you should have rainfall to rival that of the deluge, take a camera, and looks for a swamp in which to enjoy the great reproductive explosion of amphibians (if you’re lucky).


“If you would like to see more of Andre’s photos please click on the following link to check out his personal blog about his wondrous adventures with the Agalychnis spurelli .”

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

We Arrive, the Aliens!

Written by: Luis Alberto Williams Fallas

Translated by: Florencia Franzini

We find ourselves in the middle of a project titled “Conservation and Management of Marine and Forest Resources in the National Terraba Sierpe Wetlands.” Our associates are APREMMA: a local community of fishermen and piangüeros working out of the Ajuntaderas area, a small community off the Southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica. This newly formed group is looking for a method to develop a healthy relationship between their community and efforts to conserve the local wetlands.

APREMAA, like many of the local communities throughout the country of Costa Rica, still maintain a great level of distrust for external organizations, interpreting their work as being “urban,” and having “first world” aspirations in their investigations, projects, studies, and diagnostics.

Is there a stranger in the photo? OC staff during an interview with locals throughout an APREMAA diagnostic.

Is there a stranger in the photo?
OC staff during an interview with locals throughout an APREMAA diagnostic.

For some it may be hard to reach the conclusion as to why a local community might be unwilling to work with outsiders, but we must first take a look at the whole picture before making this sort of judgement. Take this example into account: Imagine that a UFO landed in front of your home – If that image seems weird, I would agree, but take the time to actually imagine this scenario. The Alien comes out of his craft, and somehow you manage to partially communicate with one another; You speak two different languages, but you are able to come to some sort of communal understanding. The alien wants to know about your life, and how life works on your planet. You go ahead and share all of your problems with the alien: war, famine, misogyny, everything. To you, at first, it seems only natural that an Alien who lands in front of your house might have the resources to help alleviate all of these issues, right? The Alien offers to perform investigations that will help detect where these problems are stemming from through the use of discussion and workshops.  You willingly share your knowledge with the Alien about your society, and take notes on all of the workshops and meetings throughout. After analyzing all the information you have given them the Alien decides to publish his findings in an intergalactic science magazine, and then gets in his shuttle and goes home. The issue with this scenario is that you are still left with all the problems you originally described, and worse off, you are also left with the hopes that you once had to solve your problems with the Alien. You are essentially left high and dry, and at that moment you think to yourself, “I shall not again open my doors to another alien.”

This example, though ironic, reflects the work that a lot of NGO’s have done in the past with foreign communities, and for that matter, work they will continue to do as well. This metaphorical scenario reflects how we as NGO’s are viewed by these local populations, who have come to harbor so much distrust and resentment to outside coalitions. And to be fair, this resentment may be very well justified. NGO’s have become accustomed to disrespecting communities by extracting the woes of locals and thusly empowering themselves off this information as if it were gold. NGO’s operate only as “distant observers,” as alien who would rather impose external knowledge. The truth is that NPO’s are undoubtedly guilty of these actions – sometimes without the intent, and other times on purpose, but this is the reality of their situation.

It is with this in mind that we who are working on this “Conservation and Management of Marine and Forest Resources in the National Terraba Sierpe Wetlands” project are attempting to incorporate ourselves into another type of work asides from the general extraction of knowledge. We aspire to work backwards from the usual scenario, and to work from the bottom-up. On one side we want to desperately understand the needs of the community that we are working within, all the while at the same time helping realize the aspirations of these existing needs. We believe that the needs of a community cannot just be recorded, they must also be solved in order for this exchange to be truly beneficial.

With this being said, we have outlined some of the internal dynamics that have already been reached between ourselves and APREMMA:

  • Working through resentment by having creating many long work sessions (5 – 6 hours) where (aside from exhaustion) there has been an expressed enthusiasm to understand and resolve the problems of the community
  • Their have been creation of work teams between the associates who have had conflicts with one another. They have united through their differences in order to have the best supervision in their work
  • In each work session we have seen the confidence of all the board members, and the means that they are taking upon themselves and the group in order to succeed. There has been horizontal unity between the community groups and us. There is recognition between both groups of bing co-workers
  • For our part, a fundamental part of our work has been the transparency and sincerity of our organization. Our goal is not just to study the community, but also to work with the community as collaboration.
  • We have also been dedicated to bringing with us to every session the issues generated in prior visits. By bringing the information we’ve obtained from prior sessions (some with solutions, and some without,)we promote the idea that this kind of work requires constant collaboration between ourselves and the community.
  • We have been empathetic in regards to the enhancement of kowlege and capabilities not just of the group, but of the individuals within the community as well

Out relationship with the members of APREMAA may be new, but we are already looking to turn the general distrust and resistance of outsiders into a situation of cordiality, open dialogue, trust , and cooperation in order to continue building real knowledge. We arrived from the outside, from far away, like aliens – but we are trying to incorporate ourselves to this local lifestyle and culture with the hope of becoming more human in the process.

Environmental Education, Land Conservation and Forest Restoration, Marine Conservation

Now You See Me – Now You Don’t!

Written by: Juan Carlos Cruz Diaz
Edited by: Florencia Franzini

One of the most charismatic animals of the rainforest is definitely the river otter. These animals, related to the weasel family, live in large family near rivers and streams where they form social groups of up to fifteen individuals.

Otter in the Piro River, Photo Credit: Manuel Sánchez.

Otter in the Piro River, Photo Credit: Manuel Sánchez.

River otters can also be found in bodies of water that lie close to rivers, such as estuaries and beaches with rock formations. They are active from early hours of the day and until the evening, spending most of their time swimming in search of food and socializing . But if they are so active, why are they so hard to see?

Otters have an extraordinary sense of hearing and sight, so when any noise or movement are detected by their senses, they quickly hide, protecting themselves from a potential predator.

For us, river otters are very important because they are indicators of the health of rivers. The animals that form their diet ( crustaceans, snails and fish ) need a very good quality of water to survive, so if otters are present in a river we can therefore be sure the water is of a good quality.

For this reason, Osa Conservation has a program for monitoring otter populations in the Piro and Coyunda river – rivers that are both within the Osa National Wildlife Refuge. However since these animals are so elusive, and it is rarely possible to see them , how can we the study them?

Fortunately otters, much as other terrestrial mammals, leave their signs of presence on the ground even though we do not see them in person. This includes markings like such as footprints or their feces, and they would be found in areas adjacent to rivers and beaches where otters frequent.


Otter tracks on Piro River.

Otter tracks on Piro River.

Otter droppings atop a rock by the Coyunda River.

Once a month we walk upstream from both rivers looking for for tracks and feces, recording useful data such as the location of the sample, vegetation cover, proximity to water bodies, and position. All this is done in order to use the information for relative abundance but also to learn about preferences for resting, burrow construction sites, habitat use, and in general what areas are most important to them.

Tracks are perhaps the most common signs, however feces are also important, but not easy to find. Otters use their feces as methods to mark their territory so they do not defecate directly into the water, but on logs or rocks along rivers, so these are some places where we have to search extensively.

Droppings left behind by an Otter atop a rock by the  Coyunda River. A pen is placed for size reference.

Droppings left behind by an Otter atop a rock by the Coyunda River. A pen is placed for size reference.

Knowing more and more of the river otters and what are the most important areas for them , their diet and social organization we can make better conservation actions, especially knowing how important they are for the ecosystem and as indicators of their health.

Otter resting on a log along the Piro River.  Photo Credit: Juan Carlos Cruz.

Otter resting on a log along the Piro River. Photo Credit: Juan Carlos Cruz.

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.

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.


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

The Importance of Wetlands Conservation at Home and Around the World

by Lauren Lipuma, Conservation Outreach Coordinator, and Ándres Jiménez, Wetlands Program Coordinator

Terraba Sierpe wetlands, Costa Rica. Photo credit: Cavu

Térraba-Sierpe wetlands, Costa Rica. Photo credit: Cavu


OC’s conservation efforts in the Térraba-Sierpe wetlands have gotten off to a great start! Our wetlands program, started earlier this year, aims to strengthen the presence of government and conservation organizations in the Térraba-Sierpe National Wetlands and to develop sustainable economic opportunities for neighboring communities. In addition to housing a diverse array of wildlife, wetlands perform important ecological functions – from water filtration to carbon storage. Mangroves in particular can sequester up to four times more carbon than tropical rainforests, making them the best protection against climate change1.

Wetland ecosystems can also act as as environmental buffers – and their role in this capacity was highlighted earlier this month in the form of super typhoon Haiyan, which tore through the Phillippines on November 7. Possibly the most intense tropical cyclone on record, the storm flattened nearly 80% of Tacloban City’s buildings and has killed almost 4,000 people2. Having cut down over three quarters of its mangrove forests in the last century3, the Phillippines have become increasingly vulnerable to storms such as Haiyan. Mangroves provide essential protection from tropical storms, acting as a barrier that can absorb up to 70 – 90% of the energy of wind-generated waves in storms like this one4. If the Phillippines hope to survive an increased onslaught of tropical cyclones, they must act fast to recover their “green belt” of protection.

OC’s Wetlands Program Coordinator Ándres Jiménez recently had the opportunity to spend time with a world-class mangrove scientist from the Phillippines, who shared with him her country’s strategy for protecting their remaining wetlands and restoring what they have lost. Read on for more about her visit and Ándres’s thoughts for the future of wetlands conservation in Costa Rica!


Recently I had the opportunity to spend time with Doctor Georginne Primavera, a world-class mangrove scientist from the Philippines. A quiet yet cheerful scientist, she shows a special glitter in her eyes every time she talks about mangroves. After more than 40 years of working with these trees, she still smiles when showing a picture of herself climbing one.

Dr. Primavera plants a mangrove tree with a local boy.


I have to admit, at this moment I had no idea of what was happening in the Philippines. The only vague concept I had about the country’s natural resources were the awesome coral reefs surrounding the 7,107-island archipelago.  Never had I expected to learn so much from such a short experience.

After one meeting and three mind-blowing presentations, I came to have a grasp on the situation. The Philippines is a country characterized by the protection of its coral reefs with simultaneous destruction of its wetland mangrove ecosystems. Due to overfishing in the oceans and the immense pressure of overpopulation (close to 100 million people in a land area of 300,000 km2 – meaning 308 inhabitants per square km!), vast amounts of mangrove forests were cut down and replaced with aquaculture ponds, among other things. These ponds were meant to supply the growing nation with the protein source they could no longer find in the oceans.

This situation generated a long list of ailments for the country, the main one being increased typhoon vulnerability. By removing the vegetation (in this case, mangroves) from coastal areas, you leave an open path for these destructive climate phenomena to hit cities, towns and human structures directly. Destruction of this “green belt” of protection has dramatically increased the number of damages from these types of phenomena. In 2009, Typhoon Pepeng left up to 375 people dead and cost the country 27 billion pesos (630 million dollars) in damages5. Taking into account climate change and the fact that the Philippines are hit with an average of 20 typhoons per year6, this country is facing a dangerous climatic situation.

However, there is a silver lining to this story. The Philippines has begun to gradually recover its green belt of protection through combined efforts from the government, NGOs, and local communities. Filipinos have adopted a community-based mangrove management scheme, where the community handles a certain amount of mangrove land, looks after it, protects it and profits from it. The government takes charge of regulating and authorizing the use of the land, the communities are in charge of the active management of the land, and NGOs, the third piece of the puzzle, provide the core for articulation of efforts and much-needed community capacity-building. All three groups benefit from the results of these efforts, making it a win, win, win situation – a triple win for the Philippines!

In an ideal world, this system would be perfect, but is it really? Even though this Asian country has been successful, it has also had stories of failure, where the community fails to join in, or a new local government comes into power and the efforts for mangrove conservation get forgotten. In other cases the NGOs involved just think about their own benefit and either exit the project too soon, before the community is ready to handle the challenge, or stick around for too long, crippling the leadership of the locals. My point here is that no matter how you see it, the country is starting to realize mangroves are vital for their well-being and are slowly correcting a historical mistake using very interesting participative models. As a matter of fact, the mangroves are so valuable now, that Filipinos throw massive weddings organized by the local government, where, if you plant some mangrove trees, you get married for free.

What can we learn from the Philippines case? It is clear to me that management needs to, at least, come from 3 main sources –  the government, the locals that live, feed and enjoy the wetlands and the civil society represented by NGOs and even private companies. It doesn’t look so complicated, does it? However, in real life, it has proven to be challenging.

A local boy collects molluscs, a traditional Costa Rican lifestyle in mangrove forests.


Here comes the Costa Rican case, with 25% of the country’s territory under some kind of environmental protection, strong civil participation and a wiling (in most cases) government – yet, in environmental management, Costa Rica is falling behind.  Yes, Costa Rica has been very successful in protecting natural areas but has a different historical debt than the Philippines. The country has only been able to create, structure and implement management systems based on “upward-down models”, where the establishment, management and regulation of national protected areas comes only from the government.  This means that making the Philippines’ model a reality in Costa Rican wetlands is far from happening, as the laws ban the management of government land by civil society. Is this a problem? If you ask me, I think it is. Currently the country, and, I would dare to say, the world, needs for the communities and locals that live and experience the natural resources firsthand to feel empowered for their well being and to understand that good ecosystem health means good human population health.

I think wetlands are a great place to start with “triple win models.” Wetlands provide enormous amount of ecosystem services, act as climate buffers, protect water sources, function as food sources and clearly have a huge importance in transportation, among other things. Even more, wetlands have been an important landscape for humans since ancient times. Certainly the extreme climate phenomena pressure that moved the Philippines to action is not as critical in Costa Rica, but this is no excuse to not move forward in different, more successful management models.

Important changes are necessary to successfully implement this in Costa Rica, such as legislation changes, governmental attitude modification and above all civil society awareness and involvement. With active involvement of the civil society, more effective management can take place. Local capacity-building and awareness will be decisive on the success of these models.


Keep following our blog for  more news and updates on our wetlands conservation program!








(6) Climate change in the Philippines 2000

Land Conservation and Forest Restoration, Miscellaneous, Science and Research

What’s new with Osa Conservation?

by Lauren Lipuma and Florencia Franzini


Executive Director Manuel Ramirez (center) and board members Adrian Forsyth (left) and Craig Thompson (right) survey the Osa Verde property.

Osa Conservation has had a busy summer and fall this year.  From renovations and land purchases to project expansions, the work never ceases to lose momentum here at OC! Here are a few things that have been going on at Osa Conservation this summer and fall:

The Agro-Ecology Farm at Osa Verde has had a huge facelift! OC is gearing up to launch our Sustainable Agriculture program, hoping to provide healthy, organic, locally -sourced food produced in harmony with a biodiversity conservation mission. The site of this new program is Osa Verde, a 500-acre property adjacent to Piro Research Center. Renovations of the property’s facilities have begun, including repainting and installation of a potable water system. Soil sample testing has also begun, and we are anxiously awaiting results!


Surveys begin at the new Osa Verde property.

At Lomas del Sierpe Wildlife Refuge, we recently finished gathering together all the pinewood and materials needed to start construction of a new center at the location, including a classroom, kitchen, and dining room for students and visitors. We have also begun preparing 15 hectares (37 acres) along the nearby Esquinas River for reforestation, using seedlings donated by the Institute of Energy and Brinkman & Associates Reforestation, Central America (BARCA).

tree planting lomas

Tree planting begins at Lomas del Sierpe Wildlife Refuge.

From Piro to Cerro Osa, our new trail system has begun to take shape. New trail signs were designed and implemented in August, new trails have been built, and our existing trail system is undergoing major renovations. The “Turtles’ Trail” leading to the sea turtle hatchery has been completed, and the remaining trail upgrades are scheduled to be completed by December. Piro Biological Station is also receiving a facelift with upgrades to cabin and bathrooms: new paint, new windows and new decorations should add to the already wonderful experience at Osa. We have also begun the construction of new furniture for Piro and landscaping with new plants that will attract local birds.

Our Forest Restoration and Nursery program planted nearly 50,000 seedlings of 30 different native tree species in the Osa National Wildlife Refuge, along a 44-hectare site of recently-harvested teak and pochote plantations. Another 20 hectares are scheduled to be replanted in the next few months!


Volunteers nurture seedlings in our tree nursery.

Osa’s endangered Yellow-Billed Cotingas have a new home! With the help of several partner organizations, OC has established thefirst Yellow-Billed Cotinga Sanctuary in the Osa Peninsula. Officially purchased in July, the sanctuary sits on 23 acres of land adjacent to the mangrove forests and estuaries of Rincón. We are currently working on designs for an observation platform and an educational trail, scheduled for completion by the end of the year! In addition, a film crew from Madison, WI will be conducting a pro-bono film shoot during a Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative-sponsored birding trip in January of 2014. The crew will produce a video highlighting the work of Osa Conservation in protecting the habitat of this critically endangered bird.


Osa’s Yellow-billed Cotinga.

YBC sanctuary

View of the YBC sanctuary from the Rincón river.

Education and Outreach is at an all time high for Osa Conservation! We are currently partnering with 15 schools and have managed to reach 700 students through our programs. Local students have helped reforest by planting over 600 trees, participated in a beach cleanup program from Cabo Matapalo to Carate Beach, and visited our “Rainforest Discovery Trail” around Piro Biological Station. This summer, we also started a new water stewardship program with help from Allegheny College in Pennsylvania. Students can now monitor water samples around the Osa Peninsula by studying water quality and content through nutrient and phytoplankton assessment – essentially becoming stewards of their own water sources.

Sea Turtle Season is in full swing! We had an all time high of 78 sea turtle volunteers visit the Osa this quarter, performing valuable monitoring of nesting beaches between Piro and Pejeperro. Our sea turtle hatchery is now in full operation – 40 nests have hatched there so far, and 600 baby turtles have reached the sea. We have also had a rare visitor to our nesting beaches – a mother Hawksbill sea turtle has come to lay her eggs!

turtle hatchery

Volunteers nurture sea turtle hatchlings at our new hatchery.

In the Osa National Wildlife Refuge, our camera trap network continues to be an important asset for monitoring populations of large cats and other mammals. The Refuge, consisting of Osa Conservation properties and the properties of several local ecolodges, has expanded to include Lapa Rios, El Ramanso and Bosque del Cabo lodges, covering an area larger than ever before. The network of sixteen camera traps throughout the Refuge have captured photos of numerous small mammals and pumas roaming freely throughout this large protected area.

Jaguar (Panthera onca)

A Jaguar (Panthera onca) roams the Osa National Wildlife Refuge.

Finally, our Wetlands Project has gotten off the ground! This program, in its first six months of implementation, aims to strengthen the institutional presence of MINAE in the Térraba-Sierpe National Wetlands and to develop sustainable economic opportunities for neighboring communities. So far, our project team has participated in five community events to facilitate communication with these local residents.

Land Conservation and Forest Restoration, Volunteers and Visitors

Osa Conservation partners with Take 3! to fight pollution in the Osa Peninsula

by Katherine Clukey, Sustainable Agriculture Intern


Yvonne Hilterman and Brigid Prouse collect trash during the morning Piro beach patrol.


Pollution in our environment is a serious threat to the balance and flow of our natural ecosystems.  Marine habitats are especially vulnerable to pollution as oceanic currents, gyres, and winds collect and accumulate debris threatening marine life, fishing, and economies.  Being that every river leads to the sea and the ocean is downhill from everywhere, the responsibility of marine pollution comes down to us all.  Plastic, in particular, is a very resilient form of pollution as is does not biodegrade, instead it photodegrades into smaller and smaller pieces but never really disappears. Plastic debris has been found in all the world’s oceans and continues accumulating from polar regions to the equator, from highly populated coast lines to remote oceanic islands.  Marine creatures often mistake small plastic fragments as prey and it has been estimated that over 100,000 marine mammals and one million seabirds die each year from ingesting or becoming entangled in plastic.


Here in Costa Rica, our research stations are situated in the thick rainforest of the Osa Peninsula where we are surrounded by rich biodiversity and many rivers that all lead to the sea.  Everyday we explore our trails, we hike down to the beach, and we walk for kilometers along the coast in search of nesting sea turtles.  We see, feel, and understand the beauty of our natural world everyday.  For that, Osa Conservation has collaborated with Take 3! in Australia in an effort to do our part in the fight against pollution.  Take 3 is a non-profit organization based in Australia and formed in 2009 that aims to raise awareness of marine debris by simply asking each visitor to the beach, waterway or anywhere to take 3 pieces of trash when they leave.  Inspired by this conscious initiative, we as well feel an easy way for everyone in the Osa Peninsula to contribute to the protection of our natural world is by encouraging all of our visitors and all of our community members to simply take 3 pieces of trash when they leave the beach, river, jungle or everywhere.


The Take 3! pledge is simple:

  • NEVER litter and Take 3 pieces of trash whenever you visit the beach, river or anywhere!
  • REUSE disposable plastic products like plastic bags, plastic bottles, coffee cups and straws. Use reusable alternatives instead.
  • SHARE this information with at least 3 people.


Here at Osa Conservation, we are fully committed to the protection of our natural world.  We are excited for this contribution to the wellbeing of our environment and how little by little, together, we are making a difference.


Please visit the Take 3 website to learn more about marine pollution and ways you can help.


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