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Osa’s Healthy Rivers and the Future of Water in Costa Rica

The Nation: http://www.nacion.com/vivir/ambiente/Ticos-agua-persona_0_1550044983.html

“Costa Ricans will have 65% less water per person by the year 2020”

March 22, 2016, Michelle Soto M.

 

Osa’s Healthy Rivers has been working to conserve the water quality in the Osa Peninsula.

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Figure 1. Group from The Gamba School monitoring The Gamba River, close to the Golf, May 2016.

This march in 2016, The Nation published an important article about the quantity and quality of water in Costa Rica, the critical theme in the work of Osa’s healthy river project, which monitors the quality of water in the river and ravines of the Osa Peninsula with the help of the participation from community groups. The article titled “Costa Ricans will have 65% less water per person by the year 2020”  shares the incredible news that each costa rican will use 19,000 m3 when in 1970  they used 55,000 m3. This critical decrease is due to all of the changes in the climate, the deterioration of the environment, and the growth in demographics. It is not only the quantity but also the quality of the water is diminishing, as Gueillermo Calvo of the Institute of Technology of Costa Rica show us in his two year experiment. He and his team of scientists took samples in the 10 river basins of the country, using the dutch index to measure the biochemical demand of oxygen, dissolved oxygen, and ammonia nitrogen in the water. They also measured phosphates, nitrates, turbidity and fecal coliform, this type of analysis also are carried out by the groups from Osa’s Healthy River Project.

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Figure 2. Members of Osa’s Healthy Rivers participating in a workshop in Osa Conservation’s Piro Biological Station, December 2015.

The results indicated a relationship between the population density and the contamination of water. They discovered that there was a notable exception with the Ricon and Tigre rivers on the Osa Peninsula, which do not have big populations around them but are contaminated by the produced pollution of fertilizers and human activity. Those two rivers are monitored usually by members of Osa’s Healthy Rivers, who monitor the state of the rivers in the time. Calvo’s experiment emphasizes the importance of Osa’s healthy river, not only in monitoring the rivers and streams of the Osa Peninsula, but also in educating and gain the participation of the members of communities in that region.  

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Figure 3. Group from the Piedras Blancas School monitoring in the Piedras Blancas River, April 2016.

Today, Osa’s Healthy Rivers monitors 10 rivers and includes 8 community groups monthly,  it is expected that this number will increase in the future with the interest and participation of more people. The members of Osa’s Healthy Rivers perform visual, chemical, and biological monitoring, measuring parameters such as dissolved oxygen, turbidity, nitrates, conductivity, temperature, pH and coliform bacteria. The groups also evaluates the biological health of the monitoring sites using an index to measure the diversity of the species of macroinvertebrates in the river. With the support of a coordinator, who assists a lot of the monitoring, the groups collect high quality data and learn how to analyze and communicate the results.

The last discussion in The Nation article emphasized the role that the trees play in the quality of the water. The roots of the trees maintain the water in the soil and trap contaminants and nutrients before they arrive at the rivers and ravines. A new direction for the Healthy Rivers Project will focus more on the aspect forests and planted trees on the bank of the rivers. The members of Healthy Rivers, with the support of Osa Conservation, hope to continue and expand their work around the peninsula. Monitoring monthly in the rivers, planting trees, educating our young and neighbors… Healthy Rivers is fighting against pollution and wear of the water of our region, which are so important to the human race and their own environment. Please help us in this fight!

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The Return of the Jaguar

The lush and enchanted forests of Piro, Osa Conservation saw the return of their majestic King of the Jungle after two long years.

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The Jaguar Is Back!

In the late hours of 23rd March 2016 the first images of this beautiful creature was captured on the camera traps on the Ajo trail. Since the last sightings of the jaguar on the camera traps here was back in 2014, his return is very exciting. Especially for the big cat programme and its researcher Tabea who ran out screaming “JAGUAR JAGUAR” when she was processing the data. With this hard evidence that the big cat was on Osa property and probably somewhere close by I suddenly had a strong desire to go hiking in the hope to witness this rare beauty of this endangered animal. So a few other volunteers and I planned numerous ‘jaguar hunts’ on most of Osa Conservation’s forest trails.

After two weeks and with more and more images capturing the jaguar on nearby trails we still had no luck finding him for ourselves. So being very unsuccessful at tracking the jaguar I decided to stop looking. I believed in the philosophy that if I stopped trying to find him, he would find me. And so with my new profound realisation, I carried on with my normal routines of morning and night sea turtle patrols.

Early last week a volunteer, Kate, and I were walking along the beach around 10pm after a rather successful turtle night patrol where Kate was able to see her first nesting Green turtle. We were still on the beach so we weren’t using our flash lights, there was only a slight glimmer of moonlight lighting up the beach ahead. Nearly 100 metres from the exit of the beach is Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 4.52.33 PMwhen I stopped. I noticed a large dark silhouette only five or so metres in front of me. Moving fast up from the ocean to the vegetation. I cry out to Kate “What was that?!” grabbing her arm and experiencing a weird sensation of all the hairs on my legs standing up at once. We stood in silence for a couple of seconds allowing our brains to figure out what our eyes had just witnessed, trying to conjure up different possibilities.

“It’s too big to be a dog….it is too small to be the water buffalo?”

We both turn our white lights on and scan the sand, hoping to not find anything and to accept being fools of our own imagination. Alas, we walked forward and discovered large, rounded big cat prints that had been prowling the beach ahead of us. By now all fear had disappeared or turned into pure amazement and adrenaline. Still in disbelief we thought it would be a good idea to take pictures of the prints for identification and to have as evidence of our encounter.

Once we were back at the station we were able to compare our pictures and measurements with that on the track board which gave us enough reason to believe it was the jaguar we had been searching for. Later that week we collected the images from the camera trap by the beach and we got 100% confirmation it was a jaguar that night.

Hopefully this particular jaguar will stick around for some time as it is a great sign that our forests are heathy and diverse!

It’s safe to say that my philosophy does work. If you are looking for something …Don’t look for it!

 

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Healthy Soil for Healthy Food

Bokashi: Improving the Soil through Solid Waste

By Yngrid Espinoza

In a time of unparalleled consumption, intensive agricultural production, mass exploitation of raw materials and countless other activities that advance ‘development’ – we in Costa Rica are generating an enormous quantity of solid waste daily. According to the University of Costa Rica, each individual produces a staggering 1.3 – 2.4 pounds of waste daily. 45% of this ends up in illegal dumps and approximately 50-60% of this waste is biodegradable material.

With this in mind, the vision of Osa Conservation’s Sustainable Agriculture Program is utilize organic waste to generate organic fertilizer for our farm. It is essential to consider the sufficient input of nutrients to the soil and rather than reply on external inputs (like non-organic and chemical fertilizers), we are working with bokashi. Bokashi is a Japanese word that means “organic fermented material ” and is a method that differs from traditional compost.

 

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Figure 1: production of bokashi at Osa Verde Farm

To prepare Bokashi, we add substrates from the rainforest soil to the organic waste in order to inoculate the waste with beneficial microorganisms that accelerate the organic microbial diversity, improve the chemical and physical conditions and maintain a healthy soil that supplies nutrients needed for crop development (Shintani, et al. 2000). In order to accelerate the decomposition process or fragmentation of the waste particles, we will be using a chipper.

In this way, soil nutrients are cycled through each growing season, taking advantage of waste that otherwise would end up in landfills. With this model we are using an integrated system of production with less dependence on external sources for nutrients and are more sustainable.

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Figure 2: diagram of nutrients in the soil

Healthy soil is vital to creating healthy food and we aim to demonstrate that farmers can create great, productive soil without having to purchase agricultural inputs that are damaging to ecosystems and to the health of wildlife and humans.

Sources:

UCR, 2011. Expertos analizan el manejo de la basura en Costa Rica. Información on line [http://www.ucr.ac.cr/noticias/2011/11/17/expertos-analizan-el-manejo-de-la-basura-en-costa-rica.html].

Shintani, 2000. BOKASHI: Tecnología Tradicional Adaptada para una Agricultura Sostenible y un Manejo de Desechos Modernos. Costa Rica 24p.

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Plants, Bats, Katydids, and Alberta Kids – a Research Journey to Osa

Written by: Evan Whitfield and Tye Dubrule

In February 2016, 13 undergraduate students and faculty members from the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus in Camrose traveled from snowy Canadian winter, to the Osa Peninsula as part of a year-long tropical ecology and conservation course. This trip was the culmination of five months of preparation that included learning about neotropical biota, developing our field research proposals, and organizing trip logistics. For most of us the dream of an adventure to Costa Rica was many years in the making, and for all of us it became a trip of a lifetime.

After a day-long drive from San Jose, we experienced a world unlike anything we had previously known upon our late afternoon arrival at Piro. Following a delicious first supper, we donned our headlamps and entered the forest guided by our curiosity and the long anticipated first-hand view of the ecology that we had thus far only learned about in the classroom. We walked from leaf to leaf in utter amazement at all we saw, including spiders, scorpions, and insects. With our first sighting of a katydid we were confident that our project inventorying these insects would be a success. The sounds of the Osa peninsula were equally stunning. Between the restless bird and insect calls, we could barely hear ourselves think. However, once these calls subsided, we were made aware of a much more powerful sound; the ocean in the distance ceaselessly crashing upon the shore had us looking to the skies in fear of thunder showers that never came.

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As a welcome to Piro, on our first night we witnessed a katydid molt right before our eyes.

Even more impressive were the sounds experienced during our first early dawn where the ocean’s booming waves created a remarkable backdrop for the chorus of howler monkeys whose calls could easily be mistaken as some terrifying creatures of the night. These sounds only added to the mystery of the Osa.

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The katydid research team (aka katydids) , Samuel (left) and Emily (right) were excited to find many different species of katydid on the Piro trails.

Our first full day was incredible. Between our early morning beach walk and our fun around the research station, we had already seen three of the four monkey species (spider, squirrel, and capuchin), many hermit crabs, pelicans, and hatched turtle eggs. As if our introductory day was not good enough, we ate the freshest fruit and had the coolest showers, which quickly became staples of the trip.

 

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The bat research team excited to catch and release their first bats. From left to right: Evan, Jonathan, and Kieryn.

While our trip to Costa Rica promised to be an adventure, we could not forget about the research projects that we had spent so much time developing prior to our arrival at Piro. We were grouped into four research teams. The katydid team set out to create the first katydid inventory on the Osa Peninsula. The bat team focused on evaluating the local abundance of leaf-nosed bats in comparison to broader neotropical trends. The understory vegetation group investigated the relationships between plant diversity and environmental factors (e.g., canopy cover, soil moisture). The forest structure team evaluated habitat characteristics (percentage of understory density and canopy cover) and their relationships to old growth, secondary, and gallery type forests. Up to this point in our university studies, we had not anticipated the unpredictable and adaptive nature of research that we experienced at Piro.

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The vegetation group, Jaynita (left) and Carly (right), posing next to one of their first survey plots.

While we progressed further into our research, we were surprised by how busy the days became with three to four simultaneous project activities; there was little time to rest between activities. One of the benefits to being in such a large and tight-knit group was the many helping hands. Our tailgate meetings every morning allowed us to identify the course of action for each day. Hard work and enthusiasm to share in each other’s research were important characteristics of our time spent at the station.  

Despite the rapid pace of our sampling, we continued to make time to appreciate the Osa Peninsula’s beautiful sights, sounds, and smells throughout our trip. Early morning starts allowed us to look for sea turtles with our volunteer hosts. The beaches at pre-dawn were beautiful, and these treks gave us the opportunity to feel the soft sand on our toes, see some falling stars, and even experience a small earthquake first hand while others were still sleeping. Through our early morning hike on the discovery trail, we encountered a diversity of wildlife including cheeky monkeys and a quickly fleeing curassow who, like us, must have been in a hurry to get to breakfast. We also enjoyed our guided tour of the Osa Verde farm with Beatriz. Coming from rural Alberta, it was incredible for us to see the amazing diversity of agricultural plant life and sustainable practices, in contrast to large scale monoculture farming. This experience was enhanced by Lassie (the lovely farm dog) and Hermes’ hospitality in providing us a snack of freshly cut coconut.

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The habitat characteristics research group, Shane (left) and Tye (right) taking a break from their survey and admiring the mighty ajo tree.

There were times when we could not help but feel a spiritual connection to the land. We felt the age and experience of the large ajo trees and the vulnerability yet surety of the newly hatched turtle that we guided to the ocean. In doing so, we were constantly reminded of our place within the universe. Being present within every waking moment, and actively engaged with the natural environment rather than a passive bystander was a much needed change from our hectic lives back home.

During our final day at Osa we hiked up (both ways) to the Greg Gund Conservation Center. We were amazed to see how quickly the forest is regenerating from its past use as pastoral land and teak stands. Our journey also highlighted what a fantastic group we had. On the hike, as on any other day, we always managed to laugh (editor’s note: this may not be helpful when trying to spot elusive wildlife) despite being hot, sweaty, and smelly. We even had enough steam to play a game of bocce ball at the peak! Although the trek was long and the heat was intense, it was worth every moment just to see, from a new perspective, the whole preserve where we had been studying and learning. With the view from Greg Gund Conservation Center, we understood the magic of the Osa, and its conservation value. We also appreciated how our research project contributions may also contribute towards the goal of conserving the Osa Peninsula.

We are grateful to the OC staff for sharing their knowledge, time, and their generous hospitality. See you next time Piro!

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One big happy group at the top of the Greg Gund research station.

What a view! (Professor Doris Audet (center) and professor Anne McIntosh (far right)

 

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What are BCATs? Why is their conservation absolutely critical?

Written by: Adam Parr

Black-cheeked Ant-Tanagers (Habia atrimaxillaris) may not be most glamorous bird on the Osa Peninsula.  They lack the striking colors of a Scarlet Macaw, or Fiery-billed Araçari, and are mostly dull black, with just a splash of salmon in the throat and breast.  Their vocalizations won’t send a chill down your spine like the eerie pan flute-like songs of a Common Potoo, and consist instead of a slurred two or three note whistle of a song.  However, these superficially lackluster attributes belie a truly fascinating species, and one that is important to conservation on the Osa Peninsula.

BCAT

Black-cheeked Ant-Tanagers, or BCAT, to use the four-letter bird banding code and save a little breath, belong to the genius Habia.   This genus of birds’ common name, Ant-Tanagers, comes from their behavior of joining the mixed flocks of birds that follow swarms of army ants in order to catch the insects and other small invertebrates that attempt to escape the relentless predatory ants.   Some other members of Habia are obligate ant followers, which means following ant swarms is their main strategy for finding food.  BCATs will follow ant swarms if they are present, but that strategy is not their primary source of food, so they are classified as opportunistic ant followers.  They mostly feed by foraging at the lower levels of the understory of primary and well-established secondary forests.  Intently cocking their heads while searching, sometimes comically falling about on broad palm leaves, and snatching up the insects, spiders or even small lizards that they find.  BCATs also occasionally eat the fruits of some understory plants.  They usually live in small family groups, consisting of a breeding pair, and often at least one of the offspring of the previous year’s successful brood.  They keep in contact with frequent noisy chatter, and when they are nesting, it seems everyone chips in to help feed the new hatchlings.

Perhaps most importantly, BCATs are endemic to the Osa Peninsula and the lowlands along the coast of the Golfo Dulce.  “Endemic” means they cannot be found anywhere else in the world, or even elsewhere in Costa Rica.  Their very limited range, and shrinking habitat have led them to be listed as Endangered by the IUCN.  Any threat to the region is a threat to the health, and even the survival of the entire species.

As with many tropical bird species, little research has been done on BCATs, and there is much that we don’t know about them.  I came to Piro Research Station and Finca Osa Verde in an attempt to assess the density of the BCAT population here, and to gain some insight as to their habitat preferences.  This involves repeatedly visiting randomly chosen points in different forest types, and counting the BCATs I can detect by sight or sound during a ten-minute period.  I also carefully estimate the distance at which I first detect them with the aid of a laser rangefinder.  I am still early in this process, but with enough data, and careful analysis, I hope to add to our understanding of this species’ health, and any threats there may be to its stability.

The wonderful people and scientific resources here, as well as the pristine old-growth forest, long-standing secondary forest, and even the sustainable farm and reclaimed pastureland that are protected by Osa Conservation are essential to my study, and many others like it.  I hope that my work can be a small part of the critical efforts being made at Osa Conservation to better understand and preserve this uniquely beautiful, and remarkably biologically diverse corner of the planet.

 

Photograph courtesy of: Manuel Sanchez Mendoza

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Pollinators in decline

IMG_7236By Ali Stahr

The world has recognized that there is a new major environmental concern: the decrease of multiple bee species. This is extremely concerning because of the vital roles bees play in pollination. However, bees are not the only species suffering – there is an overall decrease in pollinators. Other such pollinators include butterflies and some species of vertebrae (hummingbirds, bats, etc). The U.N. has shed some light on the dilemma in a recently released report that analyzed 3,000 scientific papers. From the reports, they concluded that 40% of invertebrate and 16% of vertebrate pollinator species are at risk for extinction.

Pollinators are important from two main standpoints. First, food security is weakened when there are fewer pollinators. One third of all agricultural output depends on pollinators. The UN report found that 75% of the world’s food crops depended, at least partly, on pollinators. This statistic translates into $235 billion to $577 billion worth of global crops being affected. Such crops include chocolate, coffee, apples, and almonds. Sadly, these impacts are not just projections for the future, they are happening now. China, for example, has already experienced food insecurity because of the sharp drop in pollinators from pesticides. To try to counteract these impacts, they have resorted to hand pollinating the apple trees. The impacts are also visible domestically. In California, many farmers needed to rent bee colonies to ensure that their almond crops remained healthy. These effects will negatively impact food prices as a whole, especially in developing countries.

Pollinators play a vital role in the food chain and support a habitat’s biodiversity. When plants are not pollinated they are unable to reproduce and this inability causes plants to produce less and eventually to go extinct. Plants serve many important purposes for the environment and their extinction would be catastrophic. They are used for medicine, decreasing erosion, as well as being the beginning of the food chain as energy for primary producers.

The UN cites many reasons for why the pollinator populations are decreasing. All of them appear to be human related. IPBES Vice Chair Robert Watson found that the primary causes are due to “changes in land use, intensive agricultural practices and pesticide use, alien invasion species, diseases and pest, and climate change”. The intensive agricultural practices are replacing more sustainable indigenous practices which help to protect numerous habitats. Then, there is also the issue of global trade allowing for the spread of invasive species and diseases.

However, there are possible solutions to this dire situation. We need sustainable farming practices to ensure a healthy pollinator ecosystem and secure food production. Both directly impact our well-being and health. There are such options such as pesticide control, which is relatively easy to do. The UN report also cites options such as adopting indigenous and local farming techniques, with an emphasis on diverse habitats for sustainable agriculture, crop rotation, reduction in pesticides, and improving bee husbandry.

Sources:

Picture Credit: Manuel Sanchez

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Happy International Day of Forests!

Happy International Day of Forests!!

Although we didn’t really need an excuse to talk about forest conservation, the fact that today is dedicated to forests seemed like a good opportunity to remind everyone why forests are so incredibly important!

Why are forests so important you ask? Well there are many reasons ranging from habitat protection to climate change.

  1. One of the most important global contributions a forest can provide, is their ability to absorb and store carbon. Trees use energy from the sun and carbon dioxide from our atmosphere to produce carbohydrates and oxygen through the process of photosynthesis. This carbon stays bound up in the trunks, roots, leaves, and soils for years. Tropical forests store 30% of all the global carbon, and the Osa Peninsula has the highest carbon storage observed in the NeoTropics!
  2. Trees significantly help offset climate change and global warming. Since trees are major carbon sinks, they contribute to the storage of excess CO2 entering our atmosphere from the burning of greenhouse gasses. However, deforestation accounts for 12 to 20 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions that are contributing to climate change.
  3. Forests provide habitats for almost half of the world’s species! The heavily forested Osa Peninsula is one of the most biodiverse places on Earth, harboring 2.5% of the biodiversity of the entire planet in less than a thousandth of a percent of its total surface area. However, due to deforestation and loss of habitat, many of these species, including jaguars, leatherback turtles, and manatees, could possibly go extinct.12401826_10204736644085955_3488962916741441730_o
  4. Trees are also an important part of the water cycle. By helping slow runoff and allowing water to filter into the soil, they can preserve groundwater supplies that are important both to people as drinking water and to fish and other aquatic life in nearby streams. During times of heavy rainfall, lowland forests such as those in floodplains help to absorb water and slow flood flows, preventing damage to soil, property and buildings.
  5. And last but certainly not least, trees and forests are sources of beauty and symbols of life. According to a poll by The Nature Conservancy, more than 90 percent of Americans report that trees give them a feeling of peace and tranquility.

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Sources:
http://blog.nature.org/conservancy/2010/12/04/top-ten-reasons-why-forests-matter/
http://www.un.org/en/events/forestsday/
http://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/deforestation

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Volunteering for Cat Conservation

Written by: Alex Rudee

The stars overhead were fading into the pale blue dawn as we entered the jungle. Under the thick cover of the canopy, darkness had not yet given way to sunrise, so we relied on the beams of our headlamps to illuminate our path along the Ajo trail. I hiked behind Tabea, who manages the wildcat monitoring program in one of her many hats at Osa Conservation. Just a few minutes down the trail, Tabea stopped short, her light trained on the blanket of fallen leaves underfoot. “There,” she pointed to a gap in the leaf litter, where the leaves had been pushed back to reveal bare ground underneath. “That’s fresh. It’s a puma scent mark.”

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Tabea and I came across several more scent marks left by a resident puma as we continued on with the purpose of our early-morning hike: checking on camera traps. Osa Conservation has a network of 18 (and counting) motion-sensored cameras deployed on- and off-trail around its property. Data collected from the cameras help to monitor populations of mammals, including wildcats, in a non-invasive way. Camera traps are the cornerstone of Osa’s wildcat monitoring program, which I have supported for a month as a volunteer. So far, I’d seen a few camera trap pictures of ocelots prowling by in the middle of the night, but the puma scent mark was the first sign I’d seen in person that there really were wildcats in this forest (and less than 100 meters from the cabinas where we slept).

We never actually saw the puma on our hike, though we did find a mother and baby tamandua along with two troops of spider monkeys. It wasn’t until later in the day, when we looked at the pictures from the Ajo trail camera trap, that we realized how close we had come to the jungle’s top predator: the puma was photographed walking the trail less than two hours before we started our hike. Truthfully, we could have walked right by it and never known. The puma is one of the most silent creatures of the forest.

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Experiences like that are why I have loved participating in the wildcat monitoring program over the past month. The Osa Peninsula is famed as one of the most biologically intense places on Earth, yet it is impossible to fully witness the scope of that biodiversity when you’re tramping through the forest in rubber boots. (However much we like to think we’re being stealthy, the animals almost always hear us coming before we hear, or see, them.) Viewing and analyzing pictures from motion-sensored cameras allowed me to become familiar with mammal species I would never otherwise have seen in the forest, from the nocturnal paca, to the rare white-lipped peccary, to the elusive jaguarundi.

More importantly, I have been able to make tangible contributions to mammalian conservation efforts in the Osa as a volunteer with the wildcat monitoring program. I logged and organized data on camera trap mammal sightings going back six months and more. I recommended deployment of a new camera trap along the Piro River, to facilitate study of how mammals use one of the area’s only year-round freshwater sources. I crunched the existing camera trap data to determine the estimated abundance of different wildcat and prey species in the area, and presented my findings at the end of my time in the Osa to a group of staff, volunteers, and students. My presentation not only gave a sense of closure to my work as a volunteer, but also created a template for future volunteers to repeat and expand on my analysis.

The lessons that I’ve learned with Osa Conservation will be put to good use as I continue to travel through the spring, volunteering on other conservation projects around the world. Beyond that, I don’t know where my environmental career path will lead. But I do know that my passion for conservation is stronger than ever before, and I will be daydreaming about monkeys, tamanduas, and especially pumas for a long time to come.

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A Peek Into the Life of an Osa Intern

Written by : Emily Deanne

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Walking into Osa Conservation’s DC Office on a sunny day in August I did not realize I was embarking on a new chapter of my life. I was certainly excited to see what the office would look like. I sincerely wondered if the goals of the organization would be reflected in the office’s atmosphere. I was not disappointed as I entered a warm and cozy floor filled with bright colors and images of the rainforest and its breathtaking wildlife. My personal favorite would have to be either the picture of the soaring macaws or the duck calendar. I instantly was soothed, and knew I was in the right place. As an undergraduate at The George Washington University majoring in Environmental Studies, I am extremely passionate about environmental issues and conservation. Osa was the perfect fit for me. Suddenly I was immersed in the world of protecting nature, which is right where I have always aspired to be.

Throughout my time at Osa I was able to actually make a difference in the environmental world by helping to preserve the Osa peninsula. I think my favorite part of my internship at Osa was the outreach work I did. By spreading the message about our stations in Costa Rica I knew I was bringing awareness to our efforts and potentially encouraging another student or researcher to make the trip to the Osa. With each new person who learned our conservation message I felt as if real change was being made to protect the most biologically intense place on the planet. I never imagined that I would get along so well with everyone else in the office. It seems that caring about the environment attracts a certain type of person, one who is open, friendly, caring, and engaged with the world around them. I loved talking to and learning from everyone in our office, the neighboring Amazon Conservation Office, as well as our staff down in Costa Rica.

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My fellow intern, Parita, and I shared a special bond and I am so thankful that my internship not only gave me professional contacts but good friends as well. In this position I gained a better understanding of how an environmental non-profit functions which is extremely valuable experience for me because working for an organization like Osa has always been a potential career path. I am now better prepared for another internship or even a job that involves non-profit work, communications skills, tropical ecology research, or conservation work. It was so refreshing to be doing work that I could directly see the positive results from. In this role I was helping to improve the larger world and make a significant impact on the wildlife, people, and environment of Costa Rica. When I walked into the Osa office I knew I was doing something that mattered and that made all the difference.

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Photo Credit : Manuel Sanchez Mendoza

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A Look into the Life of a Research Assistant on the Osa

By Jane Hamilton:

When I left the Osa Peninsula in the summer of 2014, I thought I might never return. The trip had been a life changing experience for me and the peninsula was the most wonderful and exciting place I had ever been. Unfortunately, it is not the easiest place to get to from Scotland. I assumed life would lead me down other paths.

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Last June I graduated from university with a degree in zoology and little idea of what to do next. All I had was a vague notion that I wanted a job in active conservation work. Six months later I found myself boarding a plane to Costa Rica, to return to the Osa Peninsula where I had had my first experience of wildlife conservation.

As a research assistant on the sea turtle programme at Osa Conservation, I monitor the beaches daily; collecting data on nesting turtles, tagging adult females, and helping hatchlings to reach the ocean. Just last week I saw my first green turtle hatchlings. Eleven little turtles had been left behind from a mass hatching, tangled in tree roots that had threaded their way through the nest during incubation.

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Conservation can be a disheartening field to work in. We are faced with so many problems to overcome and it is easy to question whether or not our attempts are actually making a difference. All I can do is hope that my actions as an individual will make a small contribution to the bigger picture.

The data that I collect as a research assistant can be used to protect the population of turtles which depend on these beaches to nest. Each piece of litter I pick up from the beach is one less piece damaging our marine environment and the amazing creatures that depend on it to survive. Every hatchling that I help to reach the ocean is another chance for an adult to return here to nest in 30 years’ time. Every nest I relocate to a safer site could mean a hundred little chances for an adult to return.

As a graduate I entered the ‘real world’ with a hope to make a small difference in the fight to save our environment and the wildlife that shares this world with us. I hope my time spent here working for Osa will be my first step in fulfilling that dream.

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Photo Credit : Manuel Sanchez Mendoza