Volunteers and Visitors

A First Impressions of the Osa

Blogpost written by Sawyer Judge, Volunteer

Before going to the Osa for the first time, I was looking forward to seeing rare big cats, incredible crawling insects and of course the famous scarlet Macaw’s that thrive in the region. But the Osa was so much more than I could have ever expected and it amazed me from the moment I got here!

Photo by CIFOR on Flickr

Photo by CIFOR on Flickr

The taxi ride to Osa Conservation’s biological station is bumpy, but with taxi-driver Andi (a man from Germany who has lived in the Osa for 10 years) as your guide, there’s plenty of interesting things to learn. Andi has an incredible eye. Even while driving he can spot a family of tropical screech owls sleeping in a shady branch. In response to my awe, he replied, “when you’ve been here as long as I have, things become easier to see.”

Some things are easier to see than owls, even to the untrained eye. Closer to the biological station we passed something out of Dr. Suess. With skinny trunks about a dozen feet high or more, and wide, almost pentagonal leaves, the trees rise from the ground erect like a field of a telephone poles. “What are those?” I asked. “Oh, those are teak trees – young ones, too – maybe 6 years old,” Andi answered.

Photo by Feona on Flickr

Photo by Feona on Flickr

Andi went on to explain that teak trees are among some of the fastest growing tree species. Their wood is highly durable and makes good construction supply for exteriors and boats, due to the wood’s water resistant properties. Although not native to Costa Rica, these trees are doubly used here for quick forest cover and lumber supply – a good resource for quick wood, whether you want to keep it or chop it.

The fact that teak trees are a prominent source of lumber here is a double edge sword. As natural teak tree forests throughout Southeast Asia dwindle, commercial farms in places like Costa Rica increase to meet high demand. And, unfortunately, this is becoming an increasing threat to conservation throughout the country. Although reliance on teak means less exploitation of endemic tree species, teak requires a lot of land and resources which can harm and often pollute the environment. Teak could be a healthy alternative to lumber but only when managed responsibly.

I have been amazed by the things I have seen and learned in my first few days here. I can only image what the next few weeks will bring. Stay tuned for future blogs as I delve into experiencing the Osa!

Uncategorized, Volunteers and Visitors

Cornell to Costa Rica

A blog by: Cody Stockert

Taking the opportunity to study for a block in Costa Rica is the best decision I have made in my four years at Cornell College.

This beach is located on the Osa peninsula of Costa Rica. My classmates and I accessed it using Osa conservation’s trails.

                       

Why did I go to Costa Rica for class?

Cornell College is unique because we have a block plan schedule, which means we take one course at a time. Right now I am taking Biology 485 which at Cornell is the biology’s department’s senior research block. We do not have to leave the United States to fulfill this requirement, but I paid for the course by dedicating a portion of the income from my summer job. I think you would be a fool to stay on campus when you can have other choices. So while I am enjoying almost a full month in Costa Rica, I am not missing any class, just softball workouts.

My research project is looking at the relationship between the number of fungi and the state of decay of fallen tropical trees. You might think looking at dead trees on the forest floor would be really boring, but it has allowed us to go to the edge of the forest and see many things that we wouldn’t by just hiking a trail. For instance, today as Laurel and I were approaching a tree fall, Kaci gasped and when we looked up we saw a wild cat looking back at us! It was pretty incredible. We stood on the trail astonished it didn’t run away from us, but a couple minutes later saw a little spotted kitten trembling on the log.

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The “wild cat” is known as an Ocelot. Seeing one in the wild is rare; their populations have been depleted because of human demand for their spotted coats. Ocelots are nocturnal, so we probably only saw it during the day because it had a kitten.

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Sea Turtles

My personal favorite thing we have done on this trip is release baby sea turtles. Osa conservation has committed to restoring sea turtle populations by digging up their nests and moving them to their hatchery. The hatchery protects the sea turtle’s eggs from predation and habitat destruction. When hatched, the hatchlings are relocated to the beach and allowed to walk to the ocean. The female sea turtles, will return to their home beach in about 15-20 years to lay their nests. The largest nest we found was 54 cm deep and 31 cm across, with 111 eggs in it. I was amazed by the size of the nests created by animals that are typically half a meter in size!

Snake Encounter

On our first day in the field we were collecting tree fall data. I was climbing across a down tree with the measuring tape to get the height. The log was very decayed so as I was walking to the far end away from my class, the log collapsed and my foot went straight through the log. At the same time a brown coiled snake popped its head out of the log. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever moved faster. I jumped off the log cursing, heart beating, and shouting “SNAKE!” Professor McCollum then went to check it out, and informed me the snake was a fer de lance, also known as a tericopelo in Costa Rica. Fer de lance’s are a species of viper and also the most venomous snakes in Costa Rica. Once bitten, their venom solidifies your blood. Fortunately, I saw it before it saw me.

Small things Matter too!

Studying fungi has given me the chance to see how unique the rain forest is and to take a close look at some of the forest’s smaller organisms.

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For Osa it is a big pleasure to hear back from all the experiences our visitors have! A big thank you to Cody for sharing his own.

 

Sea Turtles, Volunteers and Visitors

Early Arrival – a Sea Turtle Surprise

Sea Turtles Galore!

We just wrapped up the peak sea turtle season here in Osa and are proud to announce that this year we released over 20,000 baby sea turtles! The hatchlings were from nests relocated to our hatchery because they were vulnerable to predation or to the whims of the river that runs along and often through the beach OC monitors. Since these nests were likely to have been lost altogether, our hard working volunteers and staff have given 20,000 more sea turtles a chance to make it in this world. A huge thanks to everyone who visited and lent a hand this year on the Osa Conservation Sea Turtle Conservation Program. 
In this weeks blog, we hear from a long-term research assistant about his surprise discovery one morning at the sea turtle hatchery. 

Written by: Charles Wheeler

turtle

In the early hours of the 2nd November 2015 a clutch of 82 Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) eggs were laid by a female on Piro Beach. This would be the first Green turtle nest to be relocated to the hatchery this year. The overwhelming anticipation to witness the first green turtle hatchlings was endured for 63 days until the joyful day arrived on the 4th January 2016.

My name is Charles Wheeler and I am one of the research assistants for the Sea Turtle Programme at Osa Conservation. I was scheduled for the morning patrol on this day and was expecting a normal routine patrol on the beach with the possibility to release some Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) hatchlings, the most abundant species of turtle eggs within the hatchery. After patrolling the beach and recording three new Green turtle nests, I arrived at the hatchery. I open the door to find some escaped hatchlings crawling around, at first I noticed something different about the hatchlings they were larger and had white bellies. After a few seconds of confusion I realised these were in fact the green turtles and they had hatched seven days early. Unable to control my excitement like a small child on Christmas morning, I hurried around the hatchery collecting all the hatchlings and placing them into buckets. There were a total of 50 Green turtles as well as 70 Olive Ridley hatchlings that had emerged over night. turt2Knowing that this was a rare opportunity to release fifty green babies I couldn’t just stay and liberate them myself. So I left the turtles safely secured inside the hatchery and ran from the beach back to the station 1.6km away to tell everyone else the great news! Being able to watch the liberation of these two endangered species gives immense job satisfaction and I am proud to be a part of this conservation programme protecting these international species.

You may have seen Charles on our Facebook page recently when we shared a selfie he couldn’t resist snapping after coming across a rebellious sea turtles that decided to nest during the day, breaking all the rules. If not, check it out at this link and like our page to follow us.

Charles and Green Sea Turtle selfie

Miscellaneous, Sustainable agriculture, Volunteers and Visitors

Going ‘nuts’ at Finca Osa Verde

lettuce

Our Finca Osa Verde consists of 600 acres of pasture and forest, as well as 1.1 miles of sea turtle nesting habitat. Osa Verde includes a small farm that supplies Osa Conservation’s field station kitchen and dining halls with all types of fruits and veggies; from lettuce, to peppers, yucca, bananas, and rice.

peanit picking

This week we collected peanuts
from the Finca Osa farm and volunteers, research assistants, and staff members joined forces to create organic peanut butter for the very first time. The process is quite simple and the peanut butter is extremely delicious!

 

peanuts

First thing you need to know is that peanuts don’t belong to the nut family, they are actually from the Leguminosae family which includes beans and peas. They develop underground in the plant roots, just like potatoes.

 

cooking nuts
Follow these steps and you will be eating organic peanut butter in no time:

  • Collect the peanuts from the ground by pulling the plants out and collecting the peanuts from the roots. Buying the peanut pods from a supermarket works just as well.
  • Sun dry the peanut: spread the pods on the floor and dry them for a few hours. Be aware of the rain, especially if you are in the rain forest. If you bought your pods, there is no need for drying them.
  • Roast the peanuts: this part of the process was quite fun and challenging since we have to light our own wooden oven. Looking for fallen dry wood, making the fire (which was easier said than done), waiting for the fire to become a bed of coal, and then roasting the peanut pods without burning them was quite an experience.
  • Peel the peanut pods to extract the roasted seeds. This was a daunting job but luckily, everybody at the Station gave a hand with this part of the process. We decided to call ourselves the “nut team”.
  • Grind the peanuts with a food processer.
  • Add salt or sugar according to your preferences.

eatingGrowing, making, and eating your own food is not only delicious, but it’s a way to minimize adverse impacts on the natural environment. We are what we eat. Here at Osa Conservation we care about the food that we eat and where it comes from. Think about the food you eat: how can it be better for our environment and ourselves?

Environmental Education, Miscellaneous, Science and Research, Volunteers and Visitors

A little luck and a fun(gi) story

Read about Grace Leppink’s experience in the Osa as she makes exciting fungi discoveries!

Fungi are found throughout the world, but some of the most amazing and diverse fungi are found in Costa Rica.  The combination of deeply shaded forests and a warm, humid climate makes Costa Rica the perfect incubator for fungi.  As a new mycologist, the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica was one that I could not pass up.  On my first day at the Piro Research Station I had an exciting and lucky encounter with fungi.

fungus

Staheliomyces cincta, fresh and erect.

We were in the thick of the forest on the Ajo Trail. As we rounded the corner we found our prey under the canopy of a giant tree. The intricate lacework of its body was accented by the few rays of light the canopy allowed through.  We had come across a stunning specimen – the strangled stinkhorn, Staheliomyces cinctus.  When I first laid my eyes on it, it seemed out of place compared to the brown and green hues surrounding it.  This white alien shape seemed to protrude out of nowhere, like some weird organic artifact. As my professor joked later, it was the best accessorized fungi he had ever met, as it wore a thick shiny black belt – of slime containing its spores.

 

collapsing fungi

Same fungus, same day. Starting to collapse! It was undetectable a day later.

This stinkhorn is uncommon and not well documented. One reason is due to the short time that the fruiting body exists.  The structure rarely lasts more than a day before turning into messy lump of black goo.  If my group had not gone out to that trail on that morning we might only have found a shriveled shadow of its former glory.

In the following weeks I hope to continue my documentation of the fantastic fungi by looking at the secondary and primary forests of the OSA peninsula!

 

Marine Conservation, Sea Turtles, Volunteers and Visitors, Wildcats

My Experience in the Osa

Hello my name is Kenroy and I am a student at the Professional Technical College Sabalito (Costa Rica), a school in which students can study rural tourism. Over the past three years of studying in this program, I have learned the importance of tourism in Costa Rica.

roy 3At the end of our three year program, students choose a place for supervised practice, in my case I chose Osa Conservation. This organization carries out projects related to volunteerism and research, in addition to the monitoring and conservation of wildlife. Osa Conservation opened the doors for me to practice my skills. I arrived on October 6th to the organization’s field station located in Piro, one of several properties that Osa Conservation has in this area.

Simply arriving was a great adventure, because I took many forms of transportation to get there from my home in Sabalito. One of the most interesting legs of this is the boat leaving Golfito crossing the Golfo Dulce. In the 30 minutes it takes the boat to reach Jimenez you can admire many beautiful landscapes. If you’re lucky you might even catch a glimpse of dolphins and whales!

I also found the “colectivo” to be an interesting and unique travel experience. This is the only form of public transport used to reach the station in Piro and is a large truck with benches in the back. Although the journey is long and bumpy, it’s very important and worth it because it allows tourists and locals to travel around Osa and to Piro.

In this organization, volunteers help with projects such as beach cleaning, turtle patrols, monitoring big cats, working in the nursery, sustainable agriculture, reforestation, and general conservation. One of the most exciting things is the work done with sea turtles.  I have seen very few turtles in my life, so this is a great opportunity to learn many things about them and their conservation.

The work done in the vivero, or sea turtle nursery, is also very important, because each time you find a nest in a vulnerable area, where the tide can expose turtle eggs, they are extracted and taken to the nursery. Here they are in one place safe, in the right temperature and without predators. This is a way to ensure the successful birth of most of the turtles.

turtle nest

It is a beautiful experience because when the turtles hatch they are released on the beach, where they swim out to sea to begin what we hope is a long life. I have also been working with camera traps, which are a form of wildlife monitoring that runs 24 hours a day. Thanks to the camera traps, Osa Conservation can keep track of cats and other mammals that would otherwise be difficult to observe.

These cameras are placed at strategic points throughout the property and Osa Conservation is encouraging and training other landowners of the Peninsula so that they can monitor their properties in order to create a larger network of eyes on the Osa.

Cleaning of the beaches has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have had since I came to the the Piro station. I hope to have many more amazing experiences in the next two months, to contribute as much as possible to this organization and of course the conservation of the Osa Peninsula.

 

Aquatic Health, Environmental Education, Marine Conservation, Sea Turtles, Volunteers and Visitors

The Future of Sea Turtles

turtle picture

The fluttering of papery wings; back and forth, back and forth. They open and close their tiny mouths. Nocturnal hungry bats, paired with the incessant whir of cicada wings and the low, ominous drone of Howler monkeys are the evening calls of the Osa. These sounds signify the awakening of all things that dwell in the night. Usually, it also signifies our bedtime; unless it’s an evening of turtle patrol.

When I took herpetology as a senior in college three years ago, my professor used to joke that, “Herpetologists are the night-owls and ornithologists are the morning people”. But, working with sea turtles breaks the mold. Sometimes, we rise at 3:30am. Donning our headlamps, we make our way down the winding forested trail to Piro or Pejeperro Beach, and scout for turtle tracks and hatchlings as the sun paints purple and pink ribbons across the sky. Sometimes, we have to sip on coffee (like the local Ticos do) post-dinner to keep us from falling asleep before a night patrol. Patrols typically begin at 8:30pm and can last beyond 1:00am. In my three weeks of being here, I’ve seen five Loras (Olive ridleys) and two Verdes (Greens) gingerly crawl from the surf to lay their eggs. I’ve measured their shells and tagged their flippers . And just last night, we saw a white light flashing ever closer to us on Piro—a sign of poachers. We had to abandon patrol.baby turtle

Poaching of turtle eggs is a sad reality here in Costa Rica. For many, it’s a feasible way to make a living and support a family. But through education, the next generation can learn the importance of conserving their country’s already threatened sea turtle species.

As a sea turtle Research Field Assistant, my main responsibilities are conducting patrols, maintaining the hatchery, and providing a steady presence on the beach. But the Carate Sea Turtle Festival last Saturday reminded me of my experience with outreach education. The enthusiasm and receptivity of the children around me was incredible, whether they be Spanish speaking locals or English speaking visitors. All partook in eagerly picking up and exploring local invertebrates with spoons and forceps, and dashing around the beach like a mother turtle (but a little faster). They learned what sea turtles eat (seagrasses, sponges, jellies, ect.), what they accidentally eat (plastic), and how we can keep plastics out of our ocean by using reusable alternatives. Later, we danced to a local band that sang songs about el bosque and la playa and the animals that call them home. Mid-dance, I helped a local toddler collect hermit crabs in a bucket. It didn’t matter that I hardly speak Spanish; our enthusiasm spoke for us. I can only hope that every child I met in Carate shared a similar enthusiasm and will remember the day we celebrated sea turtles, for their future is in all of our hands.

Volunteers and Visitors

Treefrog Breeding Frenzy!

Cesar Barrio-Amoros holds a PhD in biology and is a notable taxonomist, herpetologist, author, and photographer. Following his experience in the Osa, reflected below, Cesar has planned to lead a reptile and amphibian workshop at Piro Biological Station next May or June, the beginning of the wet season.

I have traveled throughout most of Latin America in search of amazing herping spectacles. In the Galapagos, I saw marine iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) and Galapagos giant tortoises (Chelonoidis nigra). I witnessed an astonishing diversity of poison frogs in Peru and made some interesting scientific discoveries on the Tepuis of Venezuela. My curiosity has now led me to one of the tiniest countries: Costa Rica. Here, the herpetological diversity is bewildering and vibrant. Due to Costa Rica’s intense biodiversity, it is not difficult for a photographer to capture nearly all of the herping species in a matter of years.

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The gliding treefrog (Agalychnis spurrelli) was on the top of my herping list after learning about it on a BBC documentary. I have actually seen the individual species in the Caribbean and Pacific lowlands. However, I never saw one of those impressive reproductive aggregations where thousands of frogs gather in a pond and lay millions of eggs in just a few nights.

I was envious of the photographs my colleague, Manuel Sanchez, captured while working at Osa Conservation’s Piro Biological Station in the Osa Peninsula. I immediately scheduled a visit to see the event. When I arrived, Manuel informed me that the area was full of frogs, thousands were laying eggs in amplexus (amplectant pairs).

Around 6:00AM the next morning, we left for our journey along with herpetologist intern and researcher, Michelle Thompson. At the site, we noticed some bushes moving and, upon further investigation, realized there were a few frogs still laying eggs. The great wave was the previous night so only about 10% frogs remained.

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Still, it was a breathtaking sight because they were completely surrounded by millions of eggs! Michelle and I were amazed — this was quite an experience for a herpetologist. Next time, I need to arrive a few days in advance in order to catch the whole spectacle!

Environmental Education, Science and Research, Volunteers and Visitors

A Night with Bats

Bats. These nocturnal creatures tend to get a bad rap. Associated for centuries with mythical creatures of the night, and used as Halloween decorations to add eeriness to a haunted house, the real life mammal often gets overlooked. OC aims to change that by collaborating with experts and educating the public on the crucial role bats play in restoration.

Recently, Osa Conservation was honored with a visit from 2 remarkable scientists in the bat world: Cullen Geiselman, bat biologist and board member of Bat Conservation International & Gloriana Chaverri, a University of Costa Rica professor and respected bat biologist who conducts ongoing research at OC’s properties.

Chaverri and Geiselman visited Osa Conservation to brainstorm with OC on how we can help make people aware of how crucial this magnificent animal is to the Osa and the myriad ecosystems they inhabit.

Along with OC Science & Education Director, Jim Palmer, they explored Chaverri’s research sites and visited Osa Conservation’s newest property, Osa Verde. Osa Verde will, among other things, be the site of experimental restoration plots where researchers and students will study the process of forest succession in the Osa to help improve reforestation efforts. (For more information, please visit http://osaconservation.org/visit-the-osa/volunteer/tropical-reforestation/). This site will be important for bat research and conservation efforts as we study their impact on regeneration through seed dispersal and monitor their presence in strategically placed bat boxes.

One night of the visit, under the cover of the dense canopy and the starry Costa Rican sky, these expert bat wranglers set up mist nets to capture and study bats. Volunteers and visitors watched in awe as they collected data on the bats and released them.

It was a fun, successful visit. OC staff and station visitors learned a lot from hearing about the work of Geiselman and Chaverri and taking part in an evening of mist netting. We all gained a great appreciation for these cute mammals and OC looks forward to sharing this information and spreading the message! Bats rock!

Fast Facts About Bats!

  • Bats eat bugs! In the U.S. bats are estimated to be worth more than $3.7 billion a year in reduced crop damage and pesticide use.
  • Bats are important pollinators! Some of the commercial products that bats help provide include: bananas, peaches, cloves, carob, and agave.
  • Bats play a key role in reforestation! Fruit-eating bats help repopulate tropical forests by dispersing the seeds of fruiting trees over wide areas. Bats are important seed dispersers for avocados, dates, figs, and cashews – to name a few.

Source: Bat Conservation International

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

Environmental Festivals in the Osa

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

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

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

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

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

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