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From the Field: Ríos Saludables Program Update

Blogpost written by Hilary Brumberg, Ríos Saludables Program Coordinator 

Hello fellow nature enthusiasts! My name is Hilary Brumberg, and I am the new coordinator of the Ríos Saludables (Healthy Rivers) program. I just graduated from Wesleyan University in Connecticut a few weeks ago with a degree in environmental science and Spanish, and I am a Princeton in Latin America fellow.

My day-to-day activities here in the Osa Peninsula are very different from those in urban Connecticut. Each morning, I crawl out of my bug net and emerge among the mango trees on our organic farm. I chat with my fellow research field assistants over breakfast about their projects, ranging from releasing baby sea turtles to setting dung beetle traps.

Photo by Sawyer Judge, team testing water quality for Ríos Saludables

Photo by Sawyer Judge, team testing water quality for Ríos Saudables

Here in Osa, no two days are the same. I just finished June water quality testing at our community sites. This includes traveling around the peninsula, meeting dedicated conservationists and families who are curious about the effects of agriculture and roads on their neighborhood water source. The testing has allowed me to meet many friendly faces, including the manager of a farmers’ co-op, a town director of ecotourism, watershed managers, gardeners at an eco-lodge, and families concerned about the cleanliness of the rivers where their kids swim.

Photo by Sawyer Judge, Hilary and Cole test nitrate levels at Rio Corozales

Photo by Sawyer Judge, Hilary and Cole test nitrate levels at Rio Corozales with the Ríos Saludables program

To study the river water quality, we examine both what is dissolved in the water (chemistry) and what is alive in the water (biology). We survey the rivers for our mighty mini-beasts, or macroinvertebrates, whose presence indicate the health of the river because they are sensitive to pollution. While chemical monitoring provides a “snapshot” of the water quality at the time of sampling, macroinvertebrates tell a story about what is happening in the stream over a period of time. Results of the chemical tests and macroinvertebrate surveys indicate that human land use negatively affects the water health.

Photo by Sawyer Judge, Nelson collects leaf litter at Rio Carbonera to look for macroinvertebrates

Photo by Sawyer Judge, Nelson collects leaf litter at Rio Carbonera to look for macroinvertebrates

I am designing a study to look at the effects of oil palm and teak tree farming on river health. Eventually, I plan to expand the study to examine how these processes affect important mangrove ecosystems. I am excited to spend the coming months exploring new rivers and ecosystems around the Osa Peninsula!

For those, such as myself, who love field research, data analysis, environmental education, speaking Spanish, looking for bugs, and splashing in rivers with kids, the Ríos Saludables is a perfect opportunity.

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The Unexpected Values of Vanilla

Blogpost written by Lesley Mould, Intern

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

 

A brief history of Vanilla

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

Photo by Osa Conservation

Photo by Osa Conservation

Fast Facts about Vanilla

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

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

Photo by Osa Conservation

Photo by Osa Conservation

Vanilla Pollination

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

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Photo by Osa Conservation

Vanilla Conservation

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

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

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Why the Osa is Impossible to Forget

Blogpost written by Robert Baker, Volunteer

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

Photo by Bob Baker

Photo by Bob Baker

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

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

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

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

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

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

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

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

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

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

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

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A botanical walk for all 5 senses

Blogpost written by Marina Garrido, Research Field Assistant

A few days ago, part of the staff and some researchers went for a walk with Osa Conservation’s botanist, Reinaldo Aguilar, from the biological station to the wildlife-friendly farm. All along the way, Reinaldo showed everyone different kinds of plants that grow in the Osa Peninsula, and shared his knowledge about the flora. We all had a lot of fun and enjoyed each plant we saw with all five senses. Since the staff is comprised of both Spanish and English speakers, we got to learn the plant names in both languages. Now, we want to share everything we learned with all of you.

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We started by learning about the Bromelia, from the family Bromeliaceae. The flower blooms during the night, and signals the plant to begin growing a new branch. Once the flower has been pollinated by bats and the flower is ready to become a fruit, some of the petals are eaten by crabs. We also learned that palm trees are characteristic of the primary forest, eventhough some species, like the royal palm, can be found in different habitats.

 

Along the way, we met some capuchin monkeys eating the fruits of a tree called Cow tongue, or Lengua de vaca (Liconia argentia). It is not uncommon to see capuchin monkeys, spider monkeys, and white-nosed coatis snacking on the fruit of this native tree on a morning walk around the station.

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Once we were inside the wildlife-friendly farm, Reinaldo introduced us to the marvelous Anacardiaceae family. Within this family, there are some of  Osa’s tastiest fruits: mangos, jocotes, pistachios, and cashews. The genus Pistacia used to have its own family, but was recently added to the Anacardiaceae family. One of the defining characteristics of this family is the resin canals visible on the pith of the plants.

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We had some fun with our confusion between the Guava and Inga trees. The Guava tree is called Guayaba in Spanish (Psidium guajaba). Its leaves are opposite and simple, and the flowers are white and very smelly. Its sweet fruit is a favorite of many monkeys and the leaves possess glands that excrete oil to protect themselves from larvae. When backlit, these glands look like tiny cells surrounding the leaf. On the other hand, a species of the Inga tree is called Guaba in Spanish (Inga edulis).  Its fruit grows in a pod, which can easily be opened by hand. The seeds are found inside the pod along with the characteristic white pulp. These fruits can be found all around the peninsula and are a sweet and delicious snack for every wanderer in the Osa.

An additional tree that we all enjoyed was the Pochote tree (Bombacopsis quinata). This tree is common on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Its thorns cover the entire trunk and its white flowers turn red once they fall. These two unique characteristics make this tree quite easy to identify. Its leaves are edible and, according to some of our assistants, very tasty!

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Celebrating Biodiversity!

Blogpost written by Eleanor Flatt, Biodiversity Research Field Assistant

 

In the Osa, “biodiversity” is an  understatement…

In the human world, we select people to represent our countries, our towns, our villages, our communities; it is similar in the animal kingdom. A flagship species is an ambassador for a specific habitat and normally conservation of that species or the area they inhabit has benefits for other species. Here in the Osa Peninsula, we are home to a staggering 2.5% of the planets biodiversity, living on a mere 0.00000085% of the earth’s total surface area. Now that’s impressive! This biodiversity includes many iconic, endemic, and endangered species, which are ecologically important to this region. Here are 7 of the most interesting and exciting examples you might find during your visit to the Osa.

 

Yellow-bellied sea snake (Pelamis platurus)

Photo by www.golfodulce.org/pelamis-en.html

Photo by www.golfodulce.org/pelamis-en.html

This beautiful yellow-bellied sea snake can be found in the temperate waters of the Golfo Dulce. Its physiological adaptations allows this species to become boat-like, with a tapered belly similar to the keel of a boat providing stability in water, along with a flattened and broadened tail, which performs like a paddle for swimming…this is the Michael Phelps of the snake world!

 

 

Yellow-Billed Cotinga (Carpodectes antoniae)

Photo by Glen Bartley

Photo by Glen Bartley

The Yellow-billed cotinga is an endangered bird whose small population occupies only a tiny area. There are estimated to be 250-999 individuals, and only 150-700 of them are mature. They occur in mangroves, lowland forest, scrub, and occasionally in isolated trees in nearby clearings. After completing a radio-tracking study to understand their habitat uses for breeding and feeding, Osa Conservation is now focusing on protecting this land through the creation of a reserve.

 

 

Mangrove Humming bird (Amazilia boucardi)

Photo by Nick Hawkins

Photo by Nick Hawkins

Mangrove hummingbirds are another vital species in the mangrove habitat. They feed mainly on the flowers of the tea mangrove and are the only birds that have adapted to collect nectar with a specialized tongue. Their diet of carbohydrate-rich sugar nectar is necessary to support the hummingbird’s significant energy demands, as their wings beat 200 times per second. They will feed on between 1,000 and 2,000 flowers each day, allowing the tea-mangrove flowers to maintain high pollination rates. We are in the midst of starting a new project to protect the mangrove habitats here in the Osa.

 

 

The White Lipped Peccaries (Tayassu pecari)

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Populations of White-lipped peccaries are decreasing due to hunting and habitat degradation and fragmentation. Consequently, this species is now listed as vulnerable. Records indicate that they can form groups of as few as 5 to as many as 200 individuals. In conjunction with the wildcat program, Osa Conservation will be radio-collaring and  monitoring the  peccary population, as they are essential prey for large cat populations.

 

 

Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas)

Manuel Sanchez

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

Green turtles, listed as endangered by the ICUN, are one of the many sea turtle species that come to nest here. It is hypothesised that the hatchlings leave the nesting beach and begin an oceanic phase by floating passively in major current systems, which serve as developmental grounds, after several years. They then proceed to seagrass and algae-rich areas where they forage until maturity. In the Osa, we have the Golfo Dulce, which is rich in these foods, and we monitor Playa Peje Perro, which is considered an important beach because  of its high population of nesting female green sea turtles.

 

 

The Spider Monkey (Ateles geoffroyi)

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

Spider monkeys are energetic and agile movers found high in the canopy. Recorded as endangered on the IUCN Red list due to hunting, pet trafficking and habitat fragmentation, spider monkeys are in dire need of protection. Osa Conservation works hard to protect their areas of habitat, including important corridor routes surrounding national parks, and restore other aspects of their habitat. Spider monkeys are typically found in groups of 20-30 individuals, but often split up during the day to forage. In the evening, they all return to a specific “sleeping tree” to be together as a big family.

 

 

Golfo Dulce Poison Dart Frog (Phyllobates vittatus)

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

The Golfo Dulce poison dart frog is yet another species affected by habitat fragmentation and degradation, both of which have caused it to become endangered. As an endemic species here in the Osa (meaning it is only found in this region), this species is all the more special! Females deposit eggs on leaves above the ground, then the males carry the hatched larvae to small pools where they complete their development – a true team effort.

 

These are just a few of the many wonderful and magnificent species you can find here in the Osa Peninsula that we are working to conserve by protecting and restoring their habitats.  These are just a few of the amazing species we can appreciate as we celebrate World Biodiversity Day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Celebrating Endangered Species Day! Endemic and Endangered: Stories of a frog and a tanager.

Blogpost written by Alejandra Rojas, Naturalist Guide and Avian Program Coordinator

 

     black-cheeked-ant-tanager-_low-qualityPhoto 1:  The endemic & endangered Golfodulcean Poison-arrow Frog  and Black-cheeked Ant Tanager (Photo credit: Manuel Sanchez Mendoza)

 

What does a Golfodulcean Poison-arrow Frog and a Black-cheeked Ant-tanager have in common?

Not only are they endemic to the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica, but they are also endangered – a term used to describe when there are so few individuals surviving that the species is at risk of no longer existing in the wild.  There are many reasons that could drive a species to this status, including: habitat loss, illegal pet trade, introduction of exotic species, diseases, illegal hunting or overfishing.

 

Why does the Osa have so many endemic species?

Because of its geological formation where it evolved as an island before merging with the Costa Rica mainland (nearly 2 million years ago), the Osa Peninsula harbors a high level of endemic species. Endemic species are those which are found exclusively in one location in the world. This endemism, together with the immense concentration of life forms found in this region, is the reason why the Osa is globally known as a biodiversity hotspot and has such an important conservation value.

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Why are these endemic species endangered?

Although the Golfodulcean Poison-arrow Frog and the Black-cheeked Ant-tanager can be found in areas close to the Osa Peninsula, populations are isolated, and in the case of the frogs, are considered a rarity. According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (2017) both species are endangered because of their small distribution range, confined to protected areas, where logging and continuously habitat loss around these areas  are the major threats to both species nowadays. In the case of the frog, water pollution due to gold mining in the Osa is also a huge threat.

 

What is it like to experience these endemic & endangered species?

If you have never had the chance to explore nature in the Osa and see these animals, I invite you to go on an imaginary hike: It´s 5:15 am and we embrace an early morning hike into the rainforest. Binoculars in hand, a nice flute-like sound indulge our senses: it is the Black-cheeked Ant-tanager, but we have not seen it yet. This bird performs this particular song only in the early morning, sometimes accompanied by the howler monkeys´ chorus.

Time passes and a chatter-like sound captures our attention. Should we look up to the canopy? No, we better focus in the understory, where this species inhabit. As all tanagers, the Black-cheeked Ant-tanager fly in family groups and forage in the lower levels of the forest in search of small arthropods and fruits- a behavior that makes them important for controlling defoliating arthropods and also for dispersing seeds. Wait! Be careful with these bunch of army ants passing through the trail; let´s find a good place to enjoy the show:  the Black-cheeked Ant-tanagers are following the “ant swarm” with a mixed flock. We watch for 10 minutes until they disappear in the vegetation, following the path of the ants.

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Photo 2: Black-cheeked Ant Tanager (Photo credit: Manuel Sanchez Mendoza)

As we keep walking in the rainforest another sound captures our attention:  the Golfodulcean Poison-arrow frog-  a diurnal species (active both day and night).  We can hear two calls but they are far away; maybe if we move towards a creek we can find them. Indeed, as we approach a small creek, we spot two males calling together on top of a log! These frogs are very territorial and we are witnessing a territorial display. Their colors (known in biology as aposematic coloration) are warning us that they are highly toxic. Continuing our walk along the creek, we find another male, but this time carrying tiny larvae on his back. He will soon deposit them in the water for their next life stage. Our hike concludes and we are thrilled to have successfully found these two endangered species that can only be seen in the Osa.

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Photo 3:  The endemic & endangered Golfodulcean Poison-arrow Frog (Photo credit: Manuel Sanchez Mendoz

Why are endangered species important?

Experiencing nature is one way we can understand the importance of protecting endangered species. Each species, endangered or not, has a role to play in the greater ecosystem, whether by dispersing seeds, controlling other species, or by directly helping other species maintain the ecosystem health. These two endemic species- the Golfodulcean Poison-arrow Frog and the Black-cheeked Ant-tanager- are also important because they act as umbrella species. This means that if we protect their habitat we are also protecting the habitat of other important species, including other endangered animals and plants as the Jaguar (Panthera onca), the Scarlet macaw (Ara macao) and the Nazareno or Purpleheart (Peltogyne purpurea) found in the Osa.

Is it too late? Not yet!

Do we still have time to save the Golfodulcean Poison-arrow Frog and the Black-cheeked Ant-tanager? Yes, but we need ongoing efforts to conserve the vital ecosystems that support these animals and the surrounding biodiversity. Because these species are restricted to protected areas and they know no political boundaries, it is even more important to prioritize the buffer areas, forest patches and biological corridors that connect their habitat and are the last stronghold for their survival.

Please help Osa Conservation continue to save these amazing species and so much more! 100% of your donations goes toward helping conserve the habitats and ecosystems on which these species and so many more rely! You can visit our page here to make a donation or visit here to learn about visiting the Osa and seeing these incredible creatures for yourself! Every effort counts!

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Celebrating Migratory Birds! Migratory birds, wetlands and people in the Osa Peninsula

Blogpost written by Alejandra Rojas, Naturalist Guide and Avian Program Coordinator

Every year, thousands of birds around the world start a long journey that is fundamental to their survival: migration. Each species has its particularity: they fly in flocks or by their own, during the day or the night, they rest or they fly restless, large distances or short distances. Despite their different migration strategies, all of these birds have something in common: they face challenges to survive their “flyway” – a term used to describe the route regularly used by large numbers of migrating birds.

One of the biggest threats to many migratory birds is habitat loss along the flyway due to fragmentation, pollution and human development. Wetlands, in particular, are especially fragile and important areas for a high diversity of migratory birds. Unfortunately, wetlands are also among the most endangered ecosystems worldwide, largely due to loss of forest coverage.

 

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Wetlands, such as mangroves, are one of the most productive ecosystems in the world. They provide key ecosystem services such as water storage, nutrients production, protection against storms, stabilization of coastal areas, purification of water and retention of sediments. Humans also obtain other benefits directly from wetlands, such as fishing, aquaculture and tourism opportunities that provide an economic income for local communities.

Indeed, there is a special connection between birds and mangroves! Because of  their sensitivity to environmental changes and the impacts on their flyway habitats, migratory birds are important biological indicators that help us understand the ecological health of an area and can help inform conservation planning.

The Osa Peninsula has large extensions of mangroves, riparian forests and estuarine lagoons that act as a temporary home for aquatic birds that visit Costa Rica during their migration and stop sites. Ducks (Anatidae), herons and egrets (Ardeidae), plovers and sandpipers (Scolopacidae and Charadriidae), terns and gulls (Lariidae) and warblers (Parulidae) are between the most commonly seen migrants in the mangroves.

 

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Conservation efforts like those of Osa Conservation, which include the restoration of wetlands, help ensure the sustainable restoration of migratory bird habitat on which so many species rely. Through education and local awareness efforts, Osa Conservation encourages the involvement of local communities to help mitigate the negative impacts of human activities and to share the message of the importance of migratory birds and their habitat.  Conserving wetlands for migratory birds is crucial for their survival and ours: Their Future is our Future.

 

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Volunteering with Rios Saludables

Blogpost written by Alexander Cotnoir, Volunteer with Rios Saludables Program

 

Hello everybody! My name is Alexander Cotnoir, and before I share a snapshot of my work at Osa Conservation thus far along with some of the most exciting experiences I’ve had working with the Ríos Saludables Program, I’d like to introduce myself and share why I decided to join the Ríos Saludables Program as a volunteer over the course of the next few months.

 

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I am currently a sophomore at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, pursuing a degree in biology and environmental studies. Despite my current academic pursuits, my passion for ecology and sustainable agricultural/development practices started long before my entrance into higher education. During my childhood, I enjoyed fishing, hunting, swimming, and exploring the great outdoors along the Quebec border in northern Vermont, and later working for a local branch of the U.S.D.A. and birdwatching with my sister. My passion for the intersection between land use practices, native/local cultures, and conservation was fostered through summer jobs (as a Nutrient Management Plan Intern for the U.S.D.A.’s Natural Resources Conservation District), where I worked with farmers to minimize nutrient loading from dairy farms into local watersheds. I have also fostered an interest for conservation and land-use through conversations with my grandfather, who is a Tribal Leader of the Coosuk Band of the Abenaki Nation working to manage our tribal lands in northern Vermont. At Dartmouth, my interests expanded with courses ranging from “Writing Natural History,” to “Climate Change and Agriculture” and “Native Peoples and Environmental Change” which have allowed me to explore the socio-cultural and economic aspects of environmental problems.

 

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(Heading to our first sampling site at a cattle ranch near Puerto Jiménez)

 

As I was searching for an off-term opportunity to gain field experience in biology and environmental science, the Ríos Saludables Program appeared to be the perfect opportunity. Given my previous experiences with macro-invertebrate sampling and hydrological systems, I knew the Ríos Saludables Program would be an ideal opportunity to continue exploring watershed science, as well as to gain new insights into community-oriented conservation initiatives in a foreign country. Aside from my interests in gaining field experience, becoming involved in a community-oriented conservation program, and applying my studies in biology and environmental science, I also saw volunteering with Ríos as an amazing opportunity to practice my beginning-level Spanish, and to explore the amazing flora and fauna that call Osa’s rainforests home.

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(Working at the Osa Verde organic farm to plant native rainforest tree seedlings. These seedlings will be utilized in a number of reforestation plots on former cattle ranching lands)

Although I’ve only been living at Osa Conservation’s biological station for three weeks, I have already observed that the Osa Peninsula rightly deserves National Geographic’s description as the “most biologically intense place on earth.” Within my first week and a half, I spotted scarlet macaws, toucans, black-throated trogans, green and Olive Ridley sea turtles, a false coral snake, four species of monkeys, peccaries, a tamandua, and even a puma that decided to walk down one of the forest trails in front of me (I was told that this is a rare sight that many locals often don’t see in their lifetimes!). Aside from feeling an immediate sense of awe at the plethora of flora and fauna that inhabit the vibrant forests around the biological station, I’ve also found the local community’s excitement about their unique natural landscape very refreshing and conducive for fostering discussions about plants, animals, and conservation initiatives alike. Despite the many mistakes I make using my Spanish, I have never felt embarrassed because the people are all so kind and appreciate the attempts of Spanish beginners.

 

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(Explaining nitrate test procedures to Alex, a local farm co-op employee, at the spring which supplies drinking water to his hometown)

 

 

Thus far, one of the most exciting experiences working for the Ríos Saludables Program was a trip Rachael and I recently took to sample near a springhead feeding water to a community in Venegaz. Aside from the breathtaking beauty of the Costa Rican countryside, with its winding red-dirt roads carving their way through farmsteads and massive ajo trees, I had a great time sampling macroinvertebrates with Rachael and a local community member who joined us at the stream. Almost immediately after we arrived at the sight, I spotted a green and black poison dart frog hopping in the leaves beside the brook, which the gentlemen excitedly identified for us and shared some of his expertise on the animal. The entire time we spent sampling the stream was enjoyable due to the gentleman’s enthusiasm, my attempts to explain nitrate tests in Spanish, and the tangible connection between watershed and community health that was evident as we sampled near the springhead water collection tank.

Over the course of the next two months, I hope to help standardize Ríos Saludables protocols so that the sampling data can be applied to a larger academic context. I also look forward to doing community outreach with students and local community members, and finding ways to better assess the impact of agricultural activities and road crossings near Puerto Jiménez. I am also excited to help establish watershed testing locations along several additional rivers in the area.

Hasta luego,
Alexander

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Interested in volunteering with Osa Conservation? Learn more here about our various volunteer opportunities!

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A Round River Experience, Part 4: Our trip to Corcovado National Park

March 13, 2017

Blogpost by Max Beal, Northland College

 

After packing our bags on the last night of midterms, we all woke up bright and early to catch the 7:00 AM colectivo to start our journey into Corcovado National Park, a little up the coast from Osa Conservation’s biological station. We met up with our guide Maikol on the colectivo and an hour and half later we all got off in the small community of Carate and started our 20 km hike along the beach to Sirena station that serves as the main station for Corcovado.

We first walked 3.5 km to La Leona station where we registered. Soon we took our first steps into Corcovado. The portion of trails running between Leona and Sirena station have historically had the most wildlife sightings and, for us, they lived up to the reputation. In the first half of our day we were able to see spider monkeys, squirrel monkeys, tent bats, and a few tamandua anteaters. Right before we stopped for lunch we ran into a Baird’s tapir resting in a mud pit. After ten minutes of watching it sleep, the tapir got up and walked within reaching distance of the group!

 

photo-1Photo 1: Juvenile male Baird’s tapir seen by students in Corcovado National Park. Photo by Max Beal.

 

We took a lunch break on the beach and watched hermit crabs fight over our avocado pits as we waited for the tide to go down so we could continue hiking along the beach. When the tide was low enough we began to walk on the beach again but were soon stopped by a large rock outcropping. When the waves died down Maikol gave us the signal to run around the outcropping before the next set of waves came in. After our short run (and a little more hiking) we rewarded ourselves by sticking our heads in a river and taking a long drink. As the afternoon wore on, we had the chance to see much more wildlife including:  magnificent frigatebirds, black hawks, three-toed sloths, and even a few crocodiles.

 

photo-2Photo 2: Hiking around rocky headlands on our way from La Leona to Sirena station. Photo by Max Beal.

 

We reached Sirena station just as the sun was beginning to set and we watched it disappear over the ocean before we hiked up Sirena’s airstrip to the station. To protect both the people and the wildlife, visitors are required to camp on the platforms and can’t leave the station after dark. So, after we got in we treated ourselves to a dinner made by the Sirena staff and passed out.

The next morning, we were up at 5:00 AM to start our day hikes on the trails surrounding Sirena. We ate breakfast out on trail and came back around 10:00 for a short nap and some lunch. That evening Maikol took us over to the swimming hole in the Rio Claro just east of Sirena. We swam until the sun began to set and on our way back to the station we ran into a second tapir resting in the roots on a tree. We all sat and watched (and took a few pictures) until the tapir decided we were a little too boring and wandered off into the woods. When we got back to the station we made dinner on the beach and put on a concert for the rest of the station before bed.

The next morning was another early one so that we could fit in one last hike before we left the park. At the very end of our hike, Maikol heard the call of the three-wattled bellbird and, after searching for a short time, we were able to get a good look at one of the rarest birds in the Osa Peninsula.

 

photo-3Photo 3: Three-Wattled Bell Bird. Photo by Chris Smith.

After our morning hike, we walked back to Sirena, packed up our gear, walked to the beach, and caught a boat to take us to the town of Drake Bay just up the coast. We saw plenty of dolphins, birds, and got a good look at the coastline in the hour it took us to get from the park to Drake Bay. We stopped for lunch after the boat landed and then caught a bus back to Puerto Jiménez. After a few days of rest, we will prepare for our next adventure on our first finca.

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For Earth Day, a closer look at restoring forests in the Osa Peninsula: More Than Planting Trees

Blogpost written by Alejandra Rojas, Naturalist Guide and Avian Program Coordinator

As we prepare to celebrate Earth Day on April 22, 2017, we reflect on the conservation work that we are doing in the special region of the world called the Osa Peninsula. This especially includes the importance of sustainable natural resource management and effective strategic forest restoration for protecting the globally significant biodiversity of the Osa Peninsula in perpetuity. Looking back through the years, we see various historical environmental trends throughout the region and how they have shaped the importance of our own goals within Osa Conservation.

 

fullsizerender-36A throwback to the decade of 1930: A time when changes in soil-use in the Osa Peninsula had just started and a time before gold discovery and banana plantations had become widespread. A time when modest human settlements had barely started to attract an influx of new inhabitants to the Osa, which further increased during the next decade from 1940-1950. By the 1960s, large areas of the forests had been cleared for cattle grazing and logging by Osa Productos Forestales- marking a time of intensified natural resource exploitation – historically known as the “Deforestation Age in Costa Rica.”

By the early 1970s, there was an important change to degrading the forests: the creation of protected areas. However, despite the expansion of these much-needed protected areas, many hectares of original forest cover had already been lost forever and simplified into the pastures that remain today. Important buffer areas that are a strong-hold for critical habitat are still affected by forest fragmentation, gold mining and hunting. Thus, we try to understand, how can we revitalize these landscapes for both the people and the earth?

diapositiva30Osa Conservation (OC) is dedicated to strategic restoration initiatives that help restore previously cleared and damaged areas. One main goal of our restoration activities is to transform degraded landscapes into a more “natural status” not only through planting trees, but also through planning the vital connection with the larger ecosystem. For example, we do this by converting degraded areas into biological corridors, a strategy which allows keystone species, such as the jaguar (Panthera onca), move throughout the region and sustain viable populations. Currently, we are working diligently to expand one such corridor from Corcovado National Park, linking to the Golfo Dulce Forest Reserve, and on into the Piedras Blancas National Park.

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Through ecological understanding of Osa’s tropical forests, our restoration process often starts in the field with the help of Agustín Mendoza and his trusty land conservation crew, who are in charge of the ongoing collection of more than 100 species of native trees seeds. The seeds that they collect are propagated in the tree nursery at our agro-ecological farm and are then planted in specified plots. A complete chain of data is collected throughout the reforestation process, including the types of seeds, amount of water, as well as wildcats and bird monitoring- all types of data which provide necessary information for analyzing the restoration success.

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While it is true that restoring a tropical forest may not return degraded land into its original natural state, strategic restoration like ours is one important tool which can maintain and improve biodiversity and ecosystem services in these key areas (such as nutrients recycling, soil fertility, carbon sequestration, water filtration, and livelihood improvements). Thus, on this Earth Day 2017, we continue embracing these restored areas and focus on striving our best to continue protecting and enhancing the forests around us.


Please help us on Earth Day and every day to accomplish these important goals by donating to our mission, volunteering with our projects or visiting the Osa to see the work we do . We would love to have you participate and help us save this amazing part of the world on this day and every day!  

Happy Earth Day 2017!

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