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Journals from Sea Turtle Volunteering

Blog Post by Yoshinari Fukuzawa from Middlebury College

Sunny day on the beach at Osa; Photo by Frank Uhlig

Sunny Day on the Beach at Osa; Photo by Frank Uhlig

Journal 1: The sea turtle eggs were so soft, so delicate.  While we knelt on the warm sand and reached deep into the hole we dug, our hands gently searched for the surface of the eggs.  Once found, we took each out, one by one, clasping the soft shells that individually held a life inside.  Although frightened we might break an egg, we felt thrilled once our fingers came upon the smooth surfaces.  “Mother’s touch,” one of us spoke out, which referenced our roles as a group.  That morning on the beach, we were the mothers of the baby sea turtles.  We were removing them from danger and relocating them to safety.  We were their caregivers.

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Volunteers Searching for Sea Turtle Eggs

However, as we looked east, we saw a coati breaking into another sea turtle nest and eating the eggs inside.  Seeing the animal, our guide told us that we unfortunately couldn’t save the nest.  Even as caregivers, we have our limits.  We could not fend off every animal that preys on sea turtle eggs. Regardless, that experience gave us motivation to do better and try harder while working with Osa.

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Cluster of Baby Sea Turtles Before Venturing into the Ocean

Journal 2: On Friday, we rolled out of the bed at five in the morning and slowly made our way to the beach with our guide and another group.  Taking off our boots and flip flops, we entered the hatchery and walked toward the protected nests containing baby sea turtles. “Olive Ridley species,” our guide told us.  After this brief introduction to the species, we got down to business.  Taking turns, we took the sea turtles out of their nests and placed them into a bucket.

Throughout this process, the sea turtles were scrambling and climbing on top of each other and faced toward the ocean, eager to start their journey into the crashing waves.  Once we placed the last turtle in the bucket, we left the hatchery and headed toward the shore.  A bird cawed above us on a tree.  We took the baby turtles out one by one, hoping that predators would not come swooping down.  Once we placed them on the warm sand, the energetic turtles started making a beeline into the blue water.

The ocean started to tease them by engulfing them but not carrying them along with the tide.  After the sea turtles stroked their flippers a few more times, the waves crashed and covered them once again.  However, this time, the turtles were taken into the water.  We stood behind the crawling little creatures, keeping watch until the last one was finally welcomed by the blue-green sea.  We could then say that we safely sent the sea turtles on their way to their home, the ocean.  I wonder how many of them will survive into adulthood and create more sea turtles to continue the cycle.

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A Baby Sea Turtle About to Begin Its Great Adventure

The sun was shining brightly in the sky and the waves crashed loudly onto the soft sands of the beach.  From there I, along with my group, walked back to the station with the sound of the ocean following us.  I hope for the best for the baby sea turtles as they embark on their new adventure.

 

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Immersion

Blog Post by Sarah Karerat from Middlebury College

The beach during sunset at Osa; Photo by Manuel Sanchez

The beach during sunset at Osa; Photo by Manuel Sanchez

While spending our first night in our cabina at Osa, I awoke in the middle of the night to the noises that surrounded us.  The howler monkeys were screeching, rain was pouring, and I could hear insects and the Pacific Ocean crashing against the coast. I remember thinking that I may as well be sleeping outside.  During my stay, I truly felt like there was no barrier between me and the outdoors.  It felt incredible. What I experienced that night and every other night was total immersion, a term that I think applies to every moment I spent in the Osa.

On our very first day, we put on our rubber boots and ventured out to the trails. With staff member Rachel, we learned about the biodiversity that surrounded us.  On another day, we walked in the humid heat through the fields of balsa trees.  Here, we identified birds in the area for rewilding research.  Then on Monday and Thursday, we helped out at Osa’s sustainable farm with tasks like husking corn for the animals and flipping the soil.  Our work was a small way we contributed to its massive conservation efforts.

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Hummingbird overlooking the dense forest of the Osa; Photo by Manuel Sanchez

 

One of Osa's nature trails through the forest; Photo by Manuel Sanchez

One of Osa’s nature trails; Photo by Manuel Sanchez

None of this was immersion without a purpose.  With every activity came a dedicated, in-depth explanation from a staff member of why these tasks and projects mattered.  We were aware of how every action carried the weight of impact, specifically on conservation efforts.  I am grateful for the patience and care of the staff members who took the time to explain their work to nine college students from various walks of life.

Though we had only a week at Osa Conservation, it was enough time to feel immersed in the heart of the organization.  Our knowledge expanded exponentially in so many directions.  We learned about biodiversity, conservation, ethical community service models, the inner workings of a nonprofit, Costa Rican culture, and more. Not only did we learn, but we also lived immersed in the pura vida lifestyle. We swam in the river during breaks, experienced the patience and flexibility of the staff, and ate delicious central American food for each meal.

When arriving at the remote Osa Peninsula, I was unsure of what to expect.  What could the team and I even achieve in one week?  Luckily, Osa Conservation threw us into the thick of the organization, culture, and environment, which pushed me intellectually and physically.  I will continue to think about the unique ways in which it challenged me to grow.

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A Week in the Life of a Conservation Volunteer

Blogpost written by Sydney Denham, Conservation Volunteer

Underneath Osa's Canopy; photo by Manuel Sánchez

Underneath Osa’s Canopy. Photo by Manuel Sánchez

As a Conservation Volunteer at Osa Conservation, I get the best of every world. I am taking a year off after graduating high school to explore my many interests in an attempt to better understand some of the subjects I am considering studying in college, one of which is biology. What better place to fully experience the life of a field biologist than at a research station in one of the most biologically intense places on Earth, surrounded by scientists in action? By taking a look at just one of my five weeks at Osa, you can get a glimpse of the many fields of study operating in this ecosystem. By participating in many of Osa’s projects, I can see the important connections between various areas of research, and get a taste of what being a field biologist is all about.
One day, I might wake up at 4:30 am to do a turtle patrol. Rain or shine, dark or light, I’ll walk down to one of the two beaches that several species of sea turtles use as laying grounds. Trudging through the sand, we will look for signs of a nest in need of relocating or that has been pillaged by hungry predators. We will put on our gloves and get to digging, then measure, count and carry the sea turtle eggs. In just a single day I will witness some of the most important stages of a turtle’s life cycle.

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Nesting sea turtle on the shore of the Osa.              Photo by Manuel Sánchez

That same day, I might work with the plots, where I tag, plant, and map our future rainforests. I could see spider monkeys climbing through nearby trees, knowing that generations later, their offspring will be eating the fruit and climbing through the now one-meter-tall trees I’ve just measured.

Another day I might go out and observe stingless bees for a couple of hours at the base of a great Ajo tree. I will jot down notes of their behavior, thinking they too will live in the trees of the budding rainforest I recently tagged. During the stroll back to the station, I can see the clear water of Rio Piro and remember the lessons of its importance to the monkeys, bees, and trees that make up a fraction of the peninsula’s biodiversity. 

 

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Volunteer working with Rio Piro; photo by Sawyer Judge

As I continue to help the hard-working scientists in their fields, I gain a better understanding of the interconnectedness of the work done at Osa Conservation. No one field is more important than another, and each step forward in any of the programs is ultimately a success for every project. The regeneration of forests leads to cleaner river water as well as population growth in jungle species. I get the sense that I am momentarily a single muscle in the legs of Osa Conservation, walking toward a greener Earth.

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Collective Action for Conservation: Osa’s Camera Trap Network

Blog written by Juan Carlos Crus Diaz, Feline Program Coordinator

I can clearly remember:  It was a hot but humid morning, which is common in this area during the dry season. As we walk through the rainforest, we struggle to keep our pace on the trail – it is steep and the humidity make us feel like we are running a marathon. We come to the last hill and finally reach the ridge of the mountain chain that goes through Piedras Blancas National Park. We summit the top and can see both the dense forest on one side and the ocean in the other. The views are amazing!

This location on the Golfo Dulce in the Osa Peninsula is part of the property of Saladero Eco-Lodge, where the owners are excited about partnering with us to study Osa’s wildcats. We strategically place a camera trap along their property on the mountain ridge in hopes to obtain photographic evidence of the mammals, especially wildcats, that rely on these habitat routes to travel long distances.

 

First camera trap photo from Saladero Ecolodge of a jaguar on the property.

First camera trap photo (2014) from Saladero Ecolodge of a jaguar on the property.

After leaving the cameras in place for several months, we returned to retrieve the first photographs –  the results were revealing! Pumas and peccaries were easily spotted on the footage, highlighting the ongoing vital predator-prey relationship in the area. There were also an array of different mammals, birds and other wildlife. What biodiversity!

Great Curassow (Crax rubra) caught on an early camera trap in 2014.

Great Curassow (Crax rubra) caught on an early camera trap in 2014.

 

Collared peccary (Pecari tajacu) caught on an early camera trap in 2014.

Collared peccary (Pecari tajacu) caught on an early camera trap in 2014.

Since placing these first camera traps in 2014, more ecolodges have joined this collective effort. In 2017, partners joined forces around the Osa and launched the “Osa Camera Trap Network” –  one of the most diverse and collaborative research efforts in Central America. Year after year, more people have started to notice the importance of monitoring mammal populations that serve to maintain the integrity of these ecosystems. Communities that once only saw ecotourism development from afar, are now becoming a part of it. Community groups have formed important fauna monitoring projects and more locals have brought ecotourism to their communities where more people can benefit. And, most exciting, these local communities –  along with ecolodges, private owners, universities, governmental institutions and tourism agencies-  have joined together to study the wildcats as part of  this important Osa Camera Trap Network.

Members of the Osa Camera Trap Network from “Rancho Quemado” installing camera traps.

Members of the Osa Camera Trap Network from “Rancho Quemado” installing camera traps.

 

But studying wildcats is difficult. It requires covering large areas and a great amount of manpower.  Four years after the installation of the first camera trap in Saladero Ecolodge, I find myself walking through the dense forest in the boundary of Corcovado National Park and the community of “Los Planes.” Guided by two members of the community, we look for a suitable place  to install their camera trap station. As we sit on a fallen tree and discuss placing a camera trap at this location, I think how much we have achieved in the past four years in order to make this collaborative region-wide initiative a reality.

Members of the Osa Camera Trap Network from the community group of “Los Planes” installing camera traps.

Members of the Osa Camera Trap Network from the community group of “Los Planes” installing camera traps.

This year, the Osa Camera Trap Network is setting up more than 200 camera traps all over the Osa Peninsula!  This is the biggest array of camera traps ever carried out in Central America and importantly, it does not just belong to a single institution but rather to a collective group of stakeholders pursuing the same goal: to generate the scientific information necessary to conserve wildcats and prey.

 

2017 camera trap photo of a jaguar on Osa Conservation's property

2017 camera trap photo of a jaguar on Osa Conservation’s property

Times are changing and methods and approaches for research should change as well. We are in a special time to show that collective efforts can bring good results when it comes to solve problems that concerns to everyone. There is a saying in Costa Rica “Union makes force” but the one I like the most states “An image says more than a thousand words.

To learn more about Osa’s Camera Trap Network, as well as Osa Conservation’s Wildcat Conservation Program, please visit our program website.

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Dutchman’s Pipes: Velvet Traps and their Pollinators

Blogpost written by Marvin López, Botanical Specialist

Flowers of Aristolochia goudotii, commonly called pipevine, in its natural habitat. It is a woody, evergreen, twining vine of the birthwort family that produces unusual apetulous flowers, each of which features a calyx resembling a dutchman’s pipe.

Flowers of Aristolochia goudotii, a plant commonly called pipevine, in its natural habitat. It is a woody, evergreen, twining vine of the birthwort family that produces unusual apetulous flowers, each of which features a calyx resembling a dutchman’s pipe.

I have lived most of my life here, in the Osa Peninsula, one of the places with the most extensive forest cover of my country, Costa Rica. It holds a vast diversity of plant species, some of which are still unknown to the scientific world. There have been many changes in the region but, unfortunately, some of them like the population growth and soil degradation have not been good for the local flora and fauna.

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Aristolochia leuconeura, growing in the nursery. This plant is characterized by its pretty glabrous cordate leaves with leaf veins in white.

I started working in the forest almost 9 years ago and since my first day, I have not stopped learning about the flora of the region; every day I learn something new. Last year, I had the honor of joining the staff of Osa Conservation to work on the conservation of plants and their ecological processes. I have spent every New Year’s Eve in this unique place, in the middle of the rainforest, because I like to give myself lots of time to admire the vast diversity of plants. One of them is a vine full of flowers, the genus Aristolochia, commonly known as Dutchman’s pipes.  The species in this genus are characterized by a stunning pollination process. It is also said that these plants are carnivorous, but they only trap flies and other insects for a day then release them.

Birthwort family (Aristolochiaceae) section in the nursery.

Birthwort family (Aristolochiaceae) section in the nursery.

Their flowers have a tubular shape with a wide base that allows them to capture insects. The first flowering day, the flowers emit an intense perfume that smells like rotten meat to attract their pollinators. The flies then travel down the flower tube to where the receptive female part is located. The flies will get trapped inside of the flower, unable to escape due to the hairs that cover the inside. The second day, only when the flower have been pollinated, the smell disappears and the hairs wither as the floral tube widens, freeing the flies that get covered in pollen on their way out. Then, the flies will go inside another flower with fertile female organs, get trapped and pollinate the flower thanks to the pollen they were carrying. Finally, they escape the next day to start the process from the beginning.

Marvin labeling Aristolochia goudotii, in the nursery.

Marvin labeling Aristolochia goudotii, in the nursery.

In the Osa Peninsula, there are approximately 6 species of Aristolochia. We have been able to collect 3 species and plant them in the greenhouse. We will keep looking for more species in order to learn more about this wonderful plant and its ecological interaction with flies.

I would also like to encourage all of you to come and visit the Osa Peninsula during this season because, like this plant, many others develop flowers with beautiful and striking colors. It is a present that nature gives to our eyes. During these hot months, there is nothing better than finding a tree with good shade to lay down under, rest and enjoy the beautiful landscapes and sunsets of the Osa.

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Why Everyone Should Care About Rainforests

Post by Philip Przybyszewski, DC Office Intern.

A view of the far-reaching canopy and the Pacific Ocean from up above.

A view of the far-reaching canopy and the Pacific Ocean from up above.

No, this isn’t just an issue for raving environmentalists. This is a big deal for everyone. Even though they only cover 2% of the Earth’s surface, they are of utmost importance to all species, particularly humans.

Tropical rainforests are the wettest, most vegetation-intense biomes in the world, so densely-grown that a canopy is formed that weaves together the ecosystem into a far-spanning green landscape. Incredibly, this ecosystem is said to sustain over 50% of the world’s species. Often, these species are endemic, meaning they only inhabit these specific regions covered by rainforest. The diversity in the kinds of species present is unbelievable: from primates to felines, amphibians to insects.

A Capuchin monkey scours the tall trees and swing through its habitat in the canopy. Photo by Manuel Sánchez.

A Capuchin monkey scours the tall trees and swings through its habitat in the canopy. Photo by Manuel Sánchez.

For humans, rainforests are vital in diminishing the impact of climate change, as the dense vegetation absorbs CO2 and produces oxygen. Rainforest plants store the carbon emitted from human economic activity and offset the key negative impact of fossil fuels on the environment. Despite the clear service provided by this ecosystem to all species on Earth, their presence is dwindling, with an estimated 78 million acres lost every year, deforested to make room for hydroelectric dams, agricultural development, and mining operations. In the process of these globally-significant economic activities, humans destroy carbon-holding vegetation and simultaneously release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, while eliminating one of the Earth’s best ways of storing it away.

The tropical wet forest of the Osa Peninsula is incredibly rich in vegetation. Here is just one angle covered by a camera trap.

The tropical wet forest of the Osa Peninsula is incredibly rich in green vegetation. Here is just one angle covered by a camera trap.

The Osa Peninsula is predominantly classified as a tropical wet forest, the biome most conducive to the flourishing of a rainforest. This small part of Costa Rica, alone, has over 300 species found nowhere else in the world and has the most intact system of mangrove forests and wetlands in all of Central America. Protecting tropical rainforests has been a local priority with global significance: rainforest health not only preserves the habitat of thousands of species, but also mitigates the negative impacts of unsustainable human economic development. The decisions of a geographically-limited few affect everyone, in the sense that Osa Conservation’s mission to preserve and protect the tropical rainforest of the Osa plays a small, but important part in the reduction of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Massive, rain-carrying clouds form and unleash torrents of water daily in this topical environment. The intensive growth of the rainforest would be impossible without the sustenance provided by the beautiful thunderheads in the distance.

Massive, rain-carrying clouds form and unleash torrents of water daily in this tropical environment. The intensive growth of the rainforest would be impossible without the sustenance provided by the beautiful thunderheads in the distance.

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Buzzing about Stingless Bees

Blogpost written by Sydney Denham, Conservation Volunteer

Sydney's favorite stingless bee nest

Sydney’s favorite stingless bee nest.

Studying bees can be tedious work, but not because of needing to carefully avoid the stingers. The bees I’ve been observing (thankfully) lack them, making it easy to get up close and personal with my little buzzing friends. Rather than getting stung, this work is difficult because the nests are very challenging to find.

I’ve learned that field biology is not just recording data vast quantities of data all day. First, the subject must be found to be analyzed, which is easier said than done. In the case of the stingless bees, romping through the thick jungle searching every nook and cranny for the small tube-like hives is the real challenge. The study is an exploration of the relationship between stingless bees and their local ecosystems and their role in pollinating native plant species, particularly vanilla. More knowledge about these bees could potentially lead to the harvesting of their medicinal honey by local farmers and conservationists.

Johan and Luis point out a bees nest.

Johan and Luis point out a bees nest.

It is as exciting as finding buried treasure when we spot one of the hives. My pencil glides across my field notebook to record the finding, and I get to work observing any behavioral patterns that could be significant to the study. I craftily set up a log bench at the base of a tree and observe a hive to really get to know the bees. Not knowing what might turn out to be important, I jot down any activity that could come across as useful information.

I really feel like a scientist, designing timed experiments and collecting a few small samples to take back to the lab for identification and further investigation. The study is in its early stages, making it very open-ended. Hilary Brumberg (Rios Saludables program coordinator and the leader of our bee expeditions), a few other Costa Rican and international volunteers, and I brainstorm methods to make the study as logical and effective as possible. Having a say in the study design makes me feel involved on a whole new level with the team here at Osa Conservation.

Equipped with my waterproof notebook, sample collection supplies, and hiking gear, the budding biologist in me is ready to take on the jungle and all its buzzing little critters.

Bee team volunteers Sydney, Rachel, Luis, and Johan during an expedition.

Bee team volunteers Sydney, Rachel, Luis, and Johan during an expedition.

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Gliding Tree Frog Frenzy

Blogpost written by Manuel Sánchez, Sea Turtle Program Coordinator and Wildlife Photographer

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The first rains.

After six long months of the dry season, strong downpours have returned at last to wake the forest once more, and with them return the creatures that hid away from the rainless weather. The first glass frogs (Neobatrachia centrolenidae) begin to sing in the creeks and rivers, the water level gradually rising with the first floods of the year. The rainy season advances across in a roaring song, and various amphibian species begin to search for water pools or swamps in which to lay their eggs. Throughout my whole time in the Osa, I most anxiously await the opportunity to watch the reproductive explosion of a species of red-eyed frog, the gliding tree frog (Agalychnis spurrelli). It’s an event that leaves me speechless: thousands of frogs congregate to lay their eggs. The first time I saw the spectacle, I stayed for the entire day, along with other animals that mirrored my interest; predators stayed day and night as I watched. For the past three years, I’ve visited this place annually and every time I stay for hours on end to see these frogs and contemplate the incredible species which we have in our forest.

The rainy season will always be my favorite. And even though the water might be a little much, that’s how our rainforest is sustained!

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Young Citizen Scientist: From Butterflies to Pumas

Blogpost written by Eli Boreth,  9 years old Conservation Volunteer

This Butterfly Isn’t Blue

Courtesy of Active Wild

Credit: Active Wild

 

This is a Blue Morpho Butterfly. This butterfly lives in tropical and neotropical (which are slightly drier) rainforests in Mexico and Central America, and throughout South America.

Although this butterfly looks blue, it has no blue pigment. It appears blue because of how its wing scales are structured. The wing scales are made up of cells that are shaped like Christmas trees. When light bounces off the “branches” of these cells, some of it bounces off the top and some off the bottom of each branch. The colors within the light waves then intersect and cancel out so they don’t reach your eye, except for blue light.  

The wavelength of blue light is the perfect size so that when it bounces off the “branches” the waves travel parallel to each other and reach your eye.

But that doesn’t give them their incandescent blue. That’s because the scales also have cells that absorb green and red light to make it even more blue.

I Built a Cat at Osa Conservation

Puma skeleton

While my family and I were with Osa Conservation, we built a puma skeleton that was found in a tree. The puma was a juvenile. The people who found it think that maybe this puma was hunting a bird or monkey, then it slipped and caught its neck in a “V” of the tree where it died.

When we got to Osa Conservation, the puma bones were in a box. The “wild cat guy” with Osa Conservation, Juan Carlos, helped us start  building the skeleton and was excited for us to finish it on our own. We started the second week that we were volunteering with Osa Conservation, and finished it a few weeks later.

While we were building the skeleton, we learned a lot about the anatomy of cats and how perfectly all of a cat’s bones fit together. We also saw that the front foot was larger than the back foot. Also, behind the rib cage and ALL the way to the pelvis there are no bones! It was also really cool that because the puma was climbing when it died, I could see the retractable claws!

The following week, we were going to construct a Tamandua Anteater skeleton that Juan Carlos had buried a couple years ago, but we couldn’t find where he had buried the bones or perhaps something had moved them!

 

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Happy World Wetlands Day!

Blogpost written by Luis Carlos Solis, Asistencia Técnica

 

World Wetlands Day is celebrated on February 2 of each year, the date on which the Convention on Wetlands was adopted. Wetland is all those areas that remain flooded or at least, with soils saturated with water for long periods of time – thus, water defines its structure and ecological functions. Wetlands are vital for human survival. As one of the most productive ecosystems on the planet, they harbor a biological diversity and water sources on which countless species of plants and animals depend for subsistence. However, the surface and quality of wetlands continue to decline worldwide, so the benefits that wetlands provide to human beings are in danger.

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Mangroves in the wetlands along Rio Esquinas, Costa Rica

Due to the endangered condition of wetlands worldwide, on February 2, 1971, the Convention on Wetlands was adopted in the town of Ramsar, Iran. This convention is the first intergovernmental treaty that serves as a framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands. The convention includes lakes and rivers, underground aquifers, swamps and marshes, wet grasslands, peatlands, oases, estuaries, deltas and low tides, mangroves and other coastal areas, coral reefs, and artificial sites such as fish ponds, rice fields, reservoirs and saltworks. To date, the list includes 2,200 designated “Ramsar sites” covering an area of more than 2.1 million square kilometers, an area larger than Mexico.

 

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The Térraba Sierpe wetlands in Costa Rica from above

 

In the case of Costa Rica, about 350 wetlands are reported, which cover 7% of the national territory; 12 of them are considered of global importance and therefore were declared as Ramsar Sites. One of these sites is the Térraba Sierpe National Wetland, located in the south of the country, which with an area of 32,000 hectares (79,073 acres) corresponds to the largest mangrove area in the country. Mangroves are one of the most productive ecosystems on the planet, offering a variety of services such as recreation, tourism, carbon capture, water purification, shelter for living beings and coastal protection.

 

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Osa Conservation staff assessing wetlands by boat.

Osa Conservation is dedicated to protecting these vital habitats. Currently, we are working in the Térraba Sierpe National Wetlands  on a project to  “strengthen the mangrove ecosystems and improve the quality of life of the coastal populations.” This project will help to actively restore 50 hectares of mangroves, working in conjunction with the Association of Fishermen and Marine Resources of Ajuntaderas y Afines (APREMAA), a local organization that is in charge of establishing mangrove nurseries and preparing the land. In addtion, the project  promotes sustainable practices regarding the extraction, processing and commercialization of mollusks in the wetlands. Efforts of this nature seek to preserve the services offered by wetlands through the sustainable use of their resources for the benefit of coastal marine communities.

 

 

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