Sea Turtle Patrol on Pejeperro Beach

A blog entry by Vedant Jain (University of California Berkeley)

Hi folks or should I say Pura Vida! Here is a little snippet of one of the adventures we had here. On Wednesday morning, after a nice late start we headed to the Piro station where we met with Manuel Sanchez who gave us an introduction to the four species of local sea turtles and the sea turtle conservation efforts on the Osa Peninsula. Turtle conservation is especially important because sea turtle eggs face dangers from factors such as predators, tidal changes, and especially egg poachers. Manuel explained how different turtles come to Costa Rica at different times to lay eggs. July it turns out is an ideal time for both Olive Ridley Sea Turtles and Green Sea Turtles. We returned to camp ready for our first turtle patrol!


Osa Conservation does turtle patrols at night and in the early morning, relocating nests of turtles laid in dangerous conditions to their 2016 hatchery, or vivero in Spanish (photo by Lara Bogdanovich)


Relocated Olive Ridley nests in the sea turtle hatchery (photo by Ross Kamimoto)

At 8 pm we joined Manuel and hiked to the Pejeperro beach for our night patrol. Manuel explained that the best way of seeing animals at night is to look for eye glow. This is the light reflected when you shine a flashlight into an eye. With this knowledge Manuel helped us spot birds, frogs and crown jewel of them all an ocelot!



Manuel (right) wraps headlamps in red cellophane before beginning our night patrol (photo by Fernando Iglesias)

When we finally arrived on the beach it was honestly like a dream. The clouds had cleared up and the sky was cascaded with stars. Each one glowing with the bright illumination that you can only get without light pollution. When you took a step on the sand it would spring to life with its own vivid color, the bioluminescence complementing the light of the skies. In the background the waves crashed with perfect rhythm, a symphony of their own. It was a beautiful juxtaposition of earth, sea, and sky.

We began walking down the beach. We covered our flashlights with red cellophane because white light can scare the turtles into leaving without laying eggs. Eventually we turned off our flashlights completely, the stars providing more than enough light.

Finally, Manuel tells us to stop and he walks on ahead, he says he saw something. He gestures to come over. There hidden just below sand level is a 65 cm long female Olive Ridley laying her eggs. They say that when a turtle is laying eggs she enters almost a lucid dreaming state, whereby she never realizes that we have seen her. Manuel explains how he puts tags on every turtle they find to keep track of them. We watch as he gets the turtle ready but is unable to put the tag on because the tagging mechanism had a broken part.


The nesting turtle returning to the sea (photo by Ross Kamimoto)


Aluminum tag used to mark nesting sea turtles by Osa Conservation (photo by Ross Kamimoto)

Sitting there next to the turtle I feel like I am witnessing an ancient ritual. Turtles are some of the oldest species dating back almost 125 million years. In that moment I felt so small and insignificant to the enormity of life.


A poem by student Lara Bogdanovich about the night patrol


It’s true we carry the world inside us,

Always present like light

Or instead fleeting like galaxies in the grain

Stirred and strong by inertia


There is a narrowing absorption of the sky

So saturated it can yield no more

It shivers as eyes move across it

Like a flexible blade.

Then end circulates in the wide space of summer

Here we have what lasts;

And the soft perishable mind which doesn’t.

The end circulates in the wide space of summer

Where everything began

And goes on beginning.


A big thank you to Round River for the opportunity given to these small groups of students from study abroad programs who have the chance to experience and learn by participating in awesome field trips.



Breadfuit as Food

What is breadfruit?

As its name suggests, breadfruit is a fruit that has the same texture as baked bread and it has what many call a potato-like flavor. Part of the Mulberry Tree family that originated in the South Pacific region, almost 300 years ago, this overlooked flowering tree has recently become a hot topic in discussing hunger, poverty and nutrition. With multiple health benefits and the nutritional value this fruit provides, breadfruit could be the next super food and staple.

History of Breadfruit

Originally from present-day New Guinea, breadfruit has been cultivated for over 300,000 years and was introduced to the Western world by British explorers like Captain James Cook and William Bligh. Each of them, on their respective voyages, began to transport and spread the breadfruit tree to tropical regions like the Caribbean. Once there, the trees were successfully introduced and planted, being able to produce the so desired fruit. In fact, there are places where you can still find some of the original trees cultivated over 200 years ago.


Where Breadfruit Grows?

Breadfruit has a wide range of adaptability to various environmental conditions within the tropics. The best conditions for growth is found in the tropics, where the temperature stays between a warm 70-90 degrees Fahrenheit year round. For example, in Costa Rica the fruit is commonly found along its Caribbean coast, from Tortuguero south through Limon, Cahuita, Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo which are all places that provide the best conditions for its growth. Also, it is locally known as “fruta de pan”. Breadfruit flourishes in areas where there is an annual rainfall of 59-118 inches and soil needs to be fertile, well-drained, and deep enough for optimal growth. However, some breadfruit plants somehow manage to adapt to the shallow, sandy soils of the Pacific. They have even been seen to grow on rocky, volcanic soils in Hawaii.



Nutritional Value

Breadfruit has many health benefits and holds more nutritional value than assumed. Eating this plant you get 102 calories. Within the flesh of the fruit it holds a decent amount of fiber, Vitamin-C, carbohydrates, is an excellent source of potassium, and even contains small amounts of flavonoid anti-oxidants.

Snacking on breadfruit can help reduce blood cholesterol, obesity, blood pressure, and helps regulate heart rate. When preparing ripe, or mature, breadfruit for consumption, it is recommended for the plant to be either roasted, baked, fried, or boiled! This is just to bring out the abundant flavors the plant provides. But, you don’t have to wait until the breadfruit has ripened to eat it. Immature fruits can also be cooked, pickled, or marinated, imparting a flavor similarly to that of artichoke hearts. Thinly slicing these fruits can even be fried or baked to make homemade chips. Yum!

As for the conservation context, the National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG) states that breadfruit also contributes to diversified sustainable agriculture and agroforestry, improved soil conditions and watersheds, and valuable environmental benefits including the reduction of CO2.

Will Breadfruit End Global Hunger?

According to the NTBG, more than 80% of the world’s hunger-stricken communities live in tropical, or subtropical, regions — the type of environment that is perfect for growing breadfruit trees. Organizations like Global Breadfruit and NTBG Breadfruit Institute are dedicated to promoting the super food and spreading it to areas of the world that need it most.

“Every time we plant one of these trees, we’re reducing the susceptibility to famine and starvation in the country where the tree is going,” said Josh Schneider a horticulturist and partner to Global Breadfruit.

Schneider has been working with the botanical scientists and the Breadfruit Institute in Hawaii to reproduce breadfruit trees and transport them to the areas that need the most help. The Trees That Feed Foundation, for example, is planting more breadfruit trees in Haiti in effort to feed at least 1,000 orphans every day. These trees are very easy to maintain and can bear an abundance of fruit for decades. Horticultural partnerships like these help with the outstanding and healthy shipping of young plants that within time will grow into productive trees. Altogether, these alliances surely contribute to the alleviation of hunger issues but also, and not less importantly, they make widespread cultivation and reforestation feasible.

It sounds like there is a hunger, environmental and conservation hero in our midst; so let’s start planting!



Osa Conservation featured by The New York Times!

Cats of the Osa

Osa Conservation has recently been featured in a New York Times article that highlights our Wildlife Monitoring Program.

Our extensive monitoring program captures images of wildlife and their prey in order to research their abundance within Corcovado National Park, Osa Conservation properties and other private landowners and partners in collaboration with the National University of Costa Rica (UNA).

These images tell a story; they helped bring to light that the estimated fifty jaguars (a 2005 estimation) that were found in the Osa Peninsula has dwindled down to between an estimated ten and twenty.

To get the full scoop, to read the full NYT article.


jaguar camera trap

<a href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/14/travel/costa-rica-eco-tourism.html”>NYT Article</a>

For more information on our camera trap program visit our website: www.osaconservation.org  

If interested in donating, visit our donate page: www.osaconservation.org/donate/ 

Community Outreach, Uncategorized

Payment for Ecosystem Services: Conservation Incentive

What are Ecosystem Services?

The concept of ecosystem services was developed in order to express the value that nature has to people and the benefits we derive from it.

Types of Ecosystem Services

There are three types of ecosystem services:  direct services, indirect services, and cultural/aesthetic services.

Direct services are the resources that we directly benefit from extracting from nature.  Drinking water, timber, natural gas and oils, plants such as cotton, and numerous other plants for medicinal benefits.  We depend on these resources so heavily that it is unfathomable to think that we could live without inputs from nature.  The chair you sit in, the clothes you wear, and even the medicine you take in the morning probably comes directly from provisioning services.

Indirect services are the benefits provided by ecosystem processes that moderate natural phenomena.  Think of these services as the “unsung heroes” of  ecosystem services.  They are necessary for the production of all other ecosystem services.  For example, pollination, photosynthesis, decomposition, water purification, erosion, and even flood control.  These services maintain the natural ebbs and flows of ecosystems. While humans have, in past years, done a lot to influence these processes, they are overwhelmingly natural and our technology has not caught up to the scale that nature naturally produces.  Pollination is a great example.  Pollination is not only crucial to the reproduction of plants, but also impossible for humans to artificially create on the necessary scale.

Cultural services are the non-material benefits that contribute to the development and cultural advancement of people.   In other words, nature is beautiful–there is no price tag on the beauty of nature. Recreation, mental and physical health, tourism, aesthetic appreciation and inspiration for culture, art and design, spiritual experience and a sense of place are just a few aspects of nature that are central to the world as we know it.  While we cannot attach an accurate monetary value or economic impact to the depletion of this type of ecosystem services, it is important to understand that we must not leave a depleted world to the next generation.  

Ecosystem Services in Action

Ecosystems are by definition interconnected, codependent, and constantly evolving.  As a result, changes at any level of an ecosystem can lead to the collapse of the whole thing.  Because this can be hard to visualize, let’s take mangroves, an especially important ecosystem, as an example.  

The Mangrove is an immensely important type of tree that lines coastlines around the world.  Most plants cannot live where the mangroves do because of the constant pounding of waves, salt water, and often extreme winds.  However, mangroves have evolved to be ideal for this environment and actually thrive in these conditions.  As a result, they protect coastlines from erosion and have large, cage-like roots that serve as a nursery for many different species of marine organisms.  The mangroves provide a relatively safe, protected space for important species to lay their eggs or raise their young.  This means, that without the protection of the mangroves in the early stages of life, many of the marine species that we rely on for food such as some types of Grouper, Trout, Tarpon, and even Snapper would cease to exist.

Mangroves provide an indirect service to humans, supporting a variety of marine life that fill the bellies of millions around the world.  Despite this, people often destroy mangrove groves to develop the prime oceanfront land that they occupy–often for an oceanfront hotel or a shrimp farm.  In these cases, it is useful to have a monetary value assigned to the mangrove environment as a defense against “development” of the shoreline.  That way, the value of ecosystem services, both direct and indirect are taken into account.


What is Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES)?

Payments for ecosystem services (PES) are payments to farmers or landowners who have agreed to take certain actions to manage their land or watersheds to provide an ecological service.  The idea is that the payments assign a monetary value to the land that is for something other than the direct services and raw goods of the land.  As the payments provide incentives to landowners and managers, PES is a market-based mechanism, similar to subsidies and taxes, to encourage the conservation of natural resources.

PES in Costa Rica

Twenty years ago, Costa Rica began to pioneer programs that allow landowners to be paid for the value of the ecosystem services of their land.  This created an opportunity for landowners to earn an income while working to protect rainforests, conserve wildlife, regulate river flows, and store carbon.

Since 1997, nearly one million hectares of forest in Costa Rica has been part of these ‘payments for ecosystem services’ (PES) plans at one time or another. Meanwhile, forest cover has returned to over 50 per cent of the country’s land area, from a low of just over 20 per cent in the 1980s.

PES at Osa Conservation

Osa Conservation has been able to enroll some of our properties into this program and benefit from the country’s incentives to protect habitat. These funds allow us to pay key staff that patrol the land and ensure that there are no poachers, miners or loggers present. These same staff help us restore degraded land by collecting native tree seeds for germination, planting trees and maintaining the new tree plantings. PES does not cover all the costs associated with protecting the land in the Osa but it helps.

If you are interested in supporting our work, please donate.










Walk Through This Journey With Us: A Picture Narrative

Author/Photos: Janelle Cannon

Woke early one morning to join in on a sea turtle nest census. As our group walked the beach, I saw dozens of freshly
dug crab burrows.

crab borrows

These fast-moving crabs are digging machines!


Manuel, who works at Osa Conservation, has been monitoring sea turtle nests for 14 years.

The first nest we came upon had been pillaged by coatimundis.

turtle conservation

It was a thorough job.


Only one intact egg remained. Most nests contain 100-150 eggs, so these are treasure chests of delicious protein for
any hungry predator. Humans used to be the primary predator, but ongoing education for over one generation has
eased the pressure a bit. Poaching is not as common as it once was, allowing turtle populations to recover.

sea turtle egg

A fresh new nest, intact.

turtle nest

Mom’s tracks going back out to sea.

turtle tracks
As we moved on, we saw fresh raccoon tracks…

raccoon tracks2 raccoon tracks










…coatimundi tracks…

camoudi tracks


…vulture tracks…

vulture tracks

…raccoon AND vulture tracks…

vulture and raccoon tracks

…then in the distance we saw a full-scale nest robbery in progress by coati, black vulture and cara cara.

egg robery

As we approached, they persisted in digging and hunting.



egg robbery 4egg robbery 3egg robbery 2


They all fled when we got closer, leaving a scattered chaotic mess.

nest remains

Manuel searched for survivors, but there were none.


We went to the egg hatching shelter.

sea turtle shelter

Manuel shows the grid system which is how the eggs are reburied and spaced in such a way as to avoid possible
disease transmission, and to control temperature of the incubating eggs.

grid system

Eggs incubated in full sun hatch as mostly female, while those hatched in the cooler shaded half emerge mostly male.

grid system2

The spots with white bags contain eggs.

turtle eggs


The following morning I set out with three others, led by Osa Conservation’s Juan Carlos, cat specialist. I thought he looked a bit like a jaguar. He says that they have not seen jaguars in this area, but several pumas inhabit Osa. He sees ocelots on his rounds here, too.

juan carlos

This pathway goes near many stately primary growth trees.












This is a puma scratching near the trail. They clear away a spot and urinate on it to create territorial markers. We saw three on this trail.


Motion detecting cameras capture the passing of wild creatures.

camera trap

Near the end of the trail, a rain storm broke and we took shelter at another station. We sat with others in the ACT group
who were staying there, and watched the rain and listened to constantly rolling thunder.

CR storm

This hawk sat patiently in the drenching storm, seemingly not too uncomfortable. The sun eventually broke through,
and he began to shake off his rain-soaked feathers.


Steam rose from the forest as the temps soared as the sun’s rays beamed down.

steam rolling



Tree Cameras: The Eyes of the Osa

Author: Rachael Eplee


As the Osa Conservation Wildcat program has shown us time and time again, cameras are an extension of our eyes into the forest.  They sit there quietly, waiting to witness what wildlife happens to unfold before them.  Our cameras on the ground have allowed us to track animal populations throughout the Osa Peninsula, giving us new perspective on the tendencies and patterns of the animals with whom we share a home.

But are we missing something?  Look up!  As anyone who has been to a tropical rainforest knows, some of the most exciting wildlife extends far above the forest floor and into the dense and diverse canopy.  Birds, monkeys, and even some species such as porcupine, kinkajou, coati, and the allusive margay spend much of their lives out of sight, but certainly not out of mind of scientist everywhere.  In an effort to better study these incredible species, Osa Conservation is starting a Canopy Camera Trap Project in conjunction with DANTA; a nonprofit focused on education based conservation. As a long term friend of Osa Conservation and supporter of the camera trap programs, DANTA hopes to help Osa Conservation in extending our eyes upward to start producing baseline research in order to better understand populations of arboreal mammals.  The most active species in the canopy are, to no one’s surprise: monkeys, which are of particular interest to DANTA director and primatologist, Kimberly Dingess.  This project will seek to aid DANTA research as well as assist visiting students and organizations in better understanding all the action occurring above our heads.

But the scope of the project does not stop there!  As any nature lover knows, a quiet set of eyes in the rainforest can expose a wealth of information and has implications far beyond the fauna.  With a long term monitoring program, we will be able to utilize long term cameras to observe the flora of the Osa forest, allowing us to document shifts in phenology, or blooming and fructification, of the trees.  This new technology will provide new data with regards to climate change and the affect it has on the distribution of both arboreal and terrestrial mammals.

The videos were captured in our first trial run with a camera about 15 meters up in a tree on our Cerro Osa property.  The first video features a Capuchin monkey, one of the four species present on the Osa Peninsula. These particular monkey species are highly intelligent and social animals which tend to travel in troops of up to 40 individuals.  On a trip to the Osa you are very likely to see these little guys climbing, playing, or eating any number of tree fruits!  The second video features a kinkajou, a mostly arboreal mammal most closely related to coatis and raccoons.  Seldom seen by humans due to its nocturnal habits and the fact that it rarely touches the ground, this footage allows us to gain new perspective on the adorable nature of this curious species.  As our camera trap programs grow, so does the potential for new questions, answers, and most importantly, new ways to work towards conservation of the beautiful Osa Peninsula.  Stay tuned to see what comes of the canopy camera trap program!!


Amazon Conservation Team in Osa: Birds of a Feather…

Photo Credit: Crisbellt Alvarado

The Amazon Conservation Team (ACT) recently held a major international, intercultural planning meeting last week in the Osa Peninsula. Attendees gathered from offices in Colombia and Suriname and also the ACT Headquarters in Arlington. Tribal representatives from six different partner communities also traveled from far and wide to participate.

The meeting was the brainchild of Liliana Madrigal, Vice-President and Co-Founder of ACT, who also serves as Osa Conservation’s Board President. A native Costa Rican, Liliana helped found the Nature Conservancy’s International Program and Conservation International. She was also one of the very first winners of the prestigious Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship.

Liliana and Kogi Elder

Liliana Madrigal passes a reflective moment with Santos Sauna of the Kogi peoples

The Osa Peninsula was chosen for the setting of the meeting because it is “halfway to everywhere” and ideal for bringing together people from Brazil, Colombia, Suriname and the U.S. More importantly, it was decided that Osa was a place where both indigenous (and non-indigenous) people from South America could see first-hand rainforest conservation success stories since Osa has an intricate and complicated mosaic of different landscapes (national park, research station, private lands, etc.) that are managed in sync, thanks primarily to Osa Conservation and other local colleagues.

All the attendees were very impressed: by the forest, the research stations, the infrastructure, and – most of all – the fierce dedication and generous hospitality of the Osa Conservation staff. We will return!

Mark Plotkin, President, Amazon Conservation Team

Aquatic Health, Marine Conservation

Aquaculture: A Sustainable Solution to the Global Seafood Crisis?

By: Clara Gomez

The world’s seafood stocks will have completely collapsed by the year 2050, scientists say.  According to a study done by a group of economists and ecologists, the growth of the human population combined with unsustainable fishing practices and the devastating loss of biodiversity will lead to the collapse of fish populations in the next 35 years, if trends continue on their current path.

If the idea of losing all of the world’s fish scares you as much as it scares me, then you’re wondering how we disrupt the current “trend” of unsustainable overfishing.  One option is through the use of aquaculture.  Aquaculture, also known as fish or shellfish farming refers to the breeding, rearing, and harvesting of plants and animals of water environments including ponds, rivers, lakes and the ocean.  

Although the global community is just beginning to think of aquaculture as a potential solution to the dilemma of depleted oceans, the fact is that it’s not a new practice. In fact, although historians say that the cradle of aquaculture existed in China 4,000 years ago, recent archaeological evidence (2003) suggests that the Gunditjmara tribe of Australia already had a system to raise and cultivate eels in in the southeast of the country 8,000 years ago.  The system was so efficient (after being designed as an alternative method for procuring food) that traditional practices remained stable throughout history!! Or at least not until Stephan Ludwig Jacobi appeared on the scene, at some point in the early XVIII century.

Thanks to Jacobi and his article ‘Von der künstlichen Erzeugung der Forellen und Lachse’, aquaculture became a part of mainstream science due to the success based off of his experiments in the external fertilization of trout and salmon. Not only in terms of self-sustainability, but also of commerce at an industrial level. From then on all manner of projects and investments began, and thus was born the second generation of aquaculture─ the modern aquaculture we all know today, and which is currently reinventing itself to adapt to a society increasingly aware of its impact on the environment.

Part of this shift in the way aquaculture utilized is the utilization of what’s called Integrated, multi-trophic aquaculture.  While it sounds complicated, it’s an idea that involves the raising of diverse organisms within the same farming system, where each species utilizes a distinct niche and distinct resources within the farming complex.  This allows the fish to be raised in a much more biodiverse, nature-like setting. Additionally, this system utilizes a circular economy–the idea that the waste from one product serves as nutrients for another.  So, raising plants and fish together both cuts down on cost and waste. This current of change, in conjunction with the holistic approach that Osa Conservation has in regards to conservation, is what prompted the organization to plan the future fusion between a multi-trophic aquaculture project (still in development), and its already successful sustainable agriculture program. A large number of scientific publications (many published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) support these projects, and the tropical climate of Costa Rica is perfect for local breeding of sea creatures.  What’s the harm in trying?aquaculture, circular economy

If successful, this new project of integrated, multi trophic aquaculture would be extremely beneficial in the following three areas:


The integrated, multi-trophic aquaculture system mimics the relationships among organisms in the natural world (not just by raising aquatic organisms and terrestrial plants together, but also by using one organism’s waste as input for others).  It also ensures both the optimal use of resources and the reduction of water pollution and eutrophication levels.


This new and improved system of aquaculture represents a positive step towards the self-sufficiency of Osa Conservation, and as such also represents a reduction of costs in terms of food imports from San Jose. Likewise, the implementation of a new food cultivation system could mean new employment opportunities for locals.


Not only is the integrated, multi-trophic aquaculture system is easy to understand, but it has the potential  to include human waste as part of its cycle. That means that both the system’s facilities (eg tanks external fertilization, duck ponds, rice fields, etc) as food produced through it (eg shrimp species, and native fish) have potential to serve as educational material for both the local community and visitors of Osa. What better way is there to learn about aquaculture, than to see how everything works and then personally taste the final product?  Adopting a system of aquaculture in the Osa will allow OC to expand upon its teaching capacity and further embody its own standards of sustainability.  



1.“Aborigines may have farmed eels, built huts” ABC Science Australia:http://www.abc.net.au/science/news/stories/s806276.htm

2.“Analysis of the Aquaculture Market in the Costa Rican Metropolitan Area. Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuicultura (2010): https://www.wpi.edu/Pubs/E-project/Available/E-project-121410-115309/unrestricted/Analysis_of_the_Aquaculture_Market_in_the_Costa_Rican_Metropolitan_Area.pdf

  1. “At a Crossroads: Will Aquaculture Fulfill thePromise of the Blue Revolution?” (SeaWeb Aquaculture Clearinghouse report, PDF): http://www.seaweb.org/resources/documents/reports_crossroads.pdf
  2. “Biomass Accumulation and Water Purification of Water Spinach Planted on Water Surface by Floating Beds for Treating Biogas Slurry”Journal of Environmental Protection (2013, PDF): http://file.scirp.org/pdf/JEP_2013111911133739.pdf

5.“Contribución de la pesca y la acuicultura a la seguridad alimentaria y el ingreso familiar en Centroamérica” Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Agricultura y la Alimentación — FAO  (2014,PDF): http://www.fao.org/3/a-i3757s.pdf

6.“Culture of Fish in Rice Fields” (FAO, WorldFish Center. 2014) PDF:http://www.fao.org/docrep/015/a0823e/a0823e.pdf

7.“History of Agriculture” FAO Corporate Document Repository. http://www.fao.org/docrep/field/009/ag158e/AG158E01.htm

  1. FAO “Animal-Fish Systems: Integrated Fish-duck farming”


9.“Food from the sea. Remarkable results of the experiments in cod and lobster,(Pittsburgh Dispatch. aquaculture, 1890): https://www.newspapers.com/clip/3798097/food_from_the_sea_remarkable_results/

  1. Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture: What it is, and why you should care…..

and don’t confuse it with polyculture. (2006, PDF): http://www2.unb.ca/chopinlab/articles/files/Northern%20Aquaculture%20IMTA%20July%2006.pdf

11.National Oceanic and Atmospheric Atmenistration (NOAA): http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/aquaculture/what_is_aquaculture.html

  1. All Seafood Will Run Out in 2050, scientists Say (Charles Clover, 2006)



This Continga Is On Its Way: To Extinction

Once, the idea that animals would go extinct was unthinkable; it was believed that the world’s resources were so vast that they could never be extinguished.   Yet, the dwindling numbers of so many well-known species such as the ferocious Tiger tell a different story.  Extinction is a natural phenomenon and should occur at about 5 species per year.  However, human intervention, climate change, and other factors, that rate is much accelerated and has been estimated by the Center for Biological Diversity to be 1,000 to 10,000 times the rate that it should be. In other words, the rate of extinction is terrifying and means that thousands of species are going extinct each year.  Because of a few high-profile extinctions such as that of the famed Wooly Mammoth and Carrier Pigeon, people often use these stories as a framework for thinking about human impact.  In fact, the threat of extinction is one of the most powerful drivers to action in the environmental world.  Perhaps it’s power is rooted in our sense of loss, the idea that a familiar animal will be unknown to our children. Perhaps it’s the finality of extinction–the idea that those animals are never coming back.  Whatever it is, extinction is more than a threat–it is rampant in our world.

Extinction is extremely hard to document, and measurements of the overall health of the planet and its inhabitants is much more complex than the binary: “extinct” or “not extinct.” Not only is it difficult to track rare and undiscovered species, but there are many, many factors that go into such a general measurement. As Robert May, a leading extinction-rate expert, put it, “If we are to meet the challenges facing tomorrow’s world, we need a clearer understanding of how many species there are.” So…what to do?

Well, it actually is possible to come up with an estimate of existing species, based on estimates of habitat loss and how many species are known to currently exist, and how many (we think) have existed in history. These estimates are relatively accurate and can be used in all types of research.  Additionally, because thousands of new species are discovered every year, scientists are constantly discovering new ways to track important information about unknown and rare species.  For example, the Yellow Billed Cotinga has been historically difficult for scientists to track, as it is exceedingly rare.  However, thanks to the Yellow Billed Cotinga Sanctuary in the Osa and some hard work, more and more is being discovered about these illusive birds daily!


The Yellow Billed Continga

The Yellow Billed Continga

The Yellow Billed Cotinga (Carpodectes antoniae), the Snowy cotinga (Carpodectes nitidus), and the Black-tipped cotinga (Carpodectes hopkei) are all considered “white” cotingas.  Of these three, only Yellow Billed and Snowy cotingas live in Costa Rica, but in different regions, making it very unlikely that their habitats will ever overlap, as if they weren’t difficult enough to track!

In fact, everything that we know about this highly endangered Costa Rican resident bird species comes from a single source: a series of telemetry studies beginning in 2009.  Despite the fact that the Yellow Billed Cotinga has a population of a mere 250-999 individuals and is found only on the southern Pacific coastal slope of Costa Rica, advanced technology has allowed scientists to conduct some pretty in-depth research.

In order to conduct this research, researchers captured three separate Yellow Billed cotingas (one adult female and two adult males) from a small population living in the mangroves of the Osa Peninsula and fitted them with small radio transmitters.  This allowed ornithologists (in collaboration with Osa Conservation as well as the American Bird Conservancy) to follow all three birds using nothing but their radio frequency signals and a hand-held GPS unit.  From these studies, scientists learned the actual distribution, habitat use patterns, daily behavior, and even spatial/temporal movements during the reproductive and non-reproductive times of the year.  


We will not compile all of the data from those studies here, but there were a few interesting findings.  The Yellow Billed cotinga grows to about 8 inches or 20 centimeters long and is often described as looking somewhat like a dove.  These birds spend most of their time in the tops of trees and move in relatively small groups.  Additionally, they eat mostly fruit and possibly some insects.  Mating for the Yellow Billed cotinga is very interesting. In fact, courting rituals are fairly complex and, like a gymnast on parallel bars,  males perform fancy flying maneuvers between leafless branches.  After mating, the real teamwork kicks in and as the female becomes a 24/7 housewife, males spend time feeding and making their territorial rounds.  


Another major finding about the Yellow Billed cotinga is the fact that it uses two habitats: mangroves for nesting, foraging, and roosting; and lowland forests for foraging.  This finding is perhaps the most significant as it is critical information for conservation purposes.  If we understand where these guys live and what is special about that specific habitat, then we know the most significant pieces of the rainforest to protect.  Coincidentally, the Pacific coast of the Osa Peninsula is a perfect habitat for the Yellow Billed cotinga, as mangroves and lowland rainforests are in close proximity to each other.  The fact that the Yellow Billed continga depends on the mangroves for nesting, foraging, and roosting is no surprise. In fact, the more research done about mangroves, the more scientists discover the specific and crucial role that these plants play.


A mangrove forest is a coastal forest made up of salt tolerant trees (halophytes) that are specifically adapted to life in harsh coastal conditions.  The roots of these trees contain a complex salt filtration system in addition to an interesting root system to cope with salt water immersion and wave action.  Not only do mangroves provide an important erosion buffer on coastlines around the world, the complex system of roots is often used as an ideal location for many types of animals to lay eggs, create nests, raise young ones, and even hunt.  


The Yellow Billed cotinga also depends on the lowland ‘moist’ rainforests, also present  in the Osa.  This is a very specific habitat that exists only in areas that bet between 1500 and 3000 mm of rainfall annually.  Because of the specific climate, lowland rainforests contain taller trees than other forests and has a unique animal species distribution that changes rapidly over short distances.

Mangroves as well as lowland rainforests are microclimates with high specificity and massive importance to many species not only in Costa Rica, but around the world.  Research on the organisms that rely on these microclimates is critical to understanding the real impacts of climate change and habitat destruction for future prevention as well as rehabilitation.


It is with this research and other studies like it that conservationists have the knowledge they need to effectively make a difference in long term conservation efforts.  Understanding the threats to the Yellow Billed Cotinga as well as their key habitats, behaviors, and preferences has allowed their final remaining stronghold, the Osa Peninsula and Golfo Dulce to become a Yellow Billed Cotinga Sanctuary.  This is designed to protect the cotinga from threats such as habitat degradation due to deforestation and agricultural runoff.  The sanctuary itself is located near the town of Rincon on the eastern side of the Osa Peninsula and is a 11.8 hectare property frequented by more than just the Yellow Billed cotinga. The Prothonotary Warbler, Northern Waterthrush and Yellow-throated Vireo have all been seen by birders on site.

The Yellow Billed Cotinga Sanctuary helps connect the mangrove forests of Rincon to the lowland forests located more inland.  Additionally, its location near the Rincon River helps ensure passage of Cotingas moving from their nesting grounds in mangroves to their feeding grounds in the rainforests.


With efforts like the creation of the Yellow Billed Cotinga Sanctuary, Osa Conservation hopes to conserve critical biological regions of the rainforest and begin working towards the stabilization of the Yellow Billed cotinga population, currently so low that the species is listed as endangered by both the IUCN’s Redlist and Birdlife International.  With the help of research and a comprehensive understanding of the deeply interconnected nature of the rainforest, we can strategically map out a plan for effective and cohesive conservation for the many animals, plants, and insects facing extinction.

yellowbilledcontiga3Note: Osa Conservation conducts annual avian monitoring and surveys in the YBC Sanctuary and its other properties in order to have a record of species and change over time, and to measure the success of their efforts.





Encyclopedic Entry, National Geographic: http://nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/rain-shadow/

How many animals are really going extinct?: The fierce scientific debate over whether our estimates are right, and whether even discussing it could hurt conservation efforts (The Boston Globe, 2014): https://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2014/10/04/how-many-animals-are-really-going-extinct/ZBURDtG4MxGHiRAPQRTafP/story.html

Osa’s Yellow-billed  Cotinga http://osaconservation.org/projects/wildlife/birds/osas-yellow-billed-cotinga/

Planet of Birds: Yellow-Billed Cotinga http://www.planetofbirds.com/the-yellow-billed-cotinga-sanctuary-in-costa-rica

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Yellow-billed  Cotinga (Carpodectes antoniae)  http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/22700907/0

Trees of Panama and Costa Rica, by Richard Condit, Rolando Pérez & Nefertaris Daguerre http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s9289.pdf

Race Is on to Study Rare Costa Rican Bird : Discovery News, 2011 http://www.seeker.com/race-is-on-to-study-rare-costa-rican-bird-discovery-news-1765195108.html

Sighting of Yellow Billed Cotinga (2014, OC Blogpost) http://osaconservation.org/2014/10/sighting-of-the-yellow-billed-cotinga/

Yellow-billed Cotinga Conservation and Research (2011, OC Blogpost): http://osaconservation.org/2011/06/yellow-billed-cotinga-conservation-and-research/

WWF: Central America – Western  Costa Rica http://www.worldwildlife.org/ecoregions/nt0119


Wonder-Bats: Answering the Call for Conservation

Bats Around the World

When you hear “bat”, what do you think of? A small, hairy creature that is active  in the darkest hours of the night and who sleeps upside down? (That’s what I think of!)  And it’s true! But there is so much more to bats than that. Did you know that bats are the second largest order of mammals in the word? In fact, there are more than 1,300 bat species worldwide and they represent about 20% of all classified mammal species! And, they play a huge, often underappreciated role in ecosystems across the globe.  Humans may have a lot to learn from these nighttime predators as they are critical to pollination, reforestation, and even pest control.

First, a little background.  Bats are categorized into two groups.  The first are the fruit-eating megabats (also known as flying foxes).  This group makes up 30% of bat species, and, as their name suggests, they consume various types of fruit.  The second group is the echolocating microbats, which makes up the other 70% of bat species.  The bats in this group use echolocation, a sort of  night vision to hunt and consume small insects.



Not only do bats make up a huge chunk of mammals, but they are found worldwide.  34% of all bat species are found in Asia, 26% in Latin America, 21% in Africa, 13% in Oceania, and 6% in the US/Canada and other regions. While often overlooked, bats are key to the ongoing success of many ecosystems–both as pollinators and predators working to keep insect populations under control.

Bats in the Tropics

The warm weather and constant availability of fruit in the Tropics makes it a paradise for fruit-eating bats who live there in abundance.  However, insectivorous bats, vampire bats, and nectar-feeding bats are also very common in the rich, warm, biodiverse ecosystems of this region.

Fruit bats vary in size, from around two inches in length up to a whopping 16 inches with a wingspan of over five feet at their largest! The tiniest bats weigh a few ounces while the biggest ones can even weigh a few pounds. Additionally, fruit-eating bats have very large eyes and excellent vision, so they depend mostly on sight and their sophisticated sense of smell for daily activities such as foraging for fruit.

Photo by Merlin D. Tuttle

Photo by Merlin D. Tuttle

Non-fruit-eating bats, or the echolocating microbats eat mostly insects.  Insectivores and other carnivorous bats lack the superior eyesight of the fruit-eating bats and rely on echolocation to find and consume their prey.  Surprisingly, this lack of eyesight is not at all a disadvantage for these bats.  In fact, a single echolocating bat can consume over 3,000 insects in one night!  

Nectar-feeding bats are important pollinators of tropical rainforest plants. Like fruit-eating bats, nectar-feeding bats rely on sight to locate their primary source of food: flower nectar. To gain access into those hard-to-reach flowers, these bats are equipped with a long, thin tongue, like that of a hummingbird!  As they rub up against the flowers to reach the prized nectar, they become vital pollinators for the rainforest.

Vampire bats have a reputation as the scary creatures from horror films, but in reality they feed on farm animals in tropical regions.  They use their chisel-like incisor teeth to make a tiny incision in the animal’s skin in the darkest hours of the night to avoid predators.

Why are Bats Important as Pollinators?

Plants Need Bats

Bats pollinate many ecologically and economically important plants around the world. In fact, there are at least 500 species of flowers that rely on bats as their pollinators. While more common pollinators like butterflies and birds are general pollinators (meaning they collect pollen from many different plants), bats have specific preferences when it comes to which flowers they pollinate.  Many of these unique flowers have even evolved to attract bats as opposed to other, general pollinators.  Some of these adaptations include always being open at night (ready for pollination and closed during the day), large in size, pale in color, and very fragrant with a fermenting or fruit-like odor.  Often times, the flowers offer a copious amount of dilute nectar to attract the bats.  

Long Nosed bat

Long Nosed bat

In addition to the beautiful flowers, bats do great favors in pollinating other plants. In Australia, flying foxes, nectar, and fruit eating mega bats, pollinate the dry eucalyptus forests that produce timber and oil for human use. Mexican agave plants, a source of fiber and a key ingredient for tequila, are additionally dependent on the pollination services of several types of nectar-feeding bats. Thanks to bats, we have a variety of excellent resources.


Not only do bats love eating fruit, but they are also crucial in providing humans with a variety of fruits.  Mangoes, bananas, guavas, and peaches are just a few of these delicious fruits that are predominantly pollinated by bats.


Bats and Reforestation

Deforestation of the Tropics is a huge, worldwide issue. And, believe it or not, fruit-eating bats play a critical role in dealing with this issue!  Bats are super effective in that they widely disperse seeds to degraded, deforested areas.  The bat world is exceptionally diverse and abundant, with a variety of canopy and understory feeding habits.  Their ability to fly (and quickly!) allows them to cover large distances during their nightly foraging flights, allowing them to reach deforested and degraded areas of the forest more easily than any human.

Some German scientists have done related research, further reiterating the fact that bats are crucial to reforestation efforts.  In one study, artificial bat roosts were installed in some deforested areas to attract  more bats to the region.  Evidence from the study showed that that there were, in fact, significant increases in seed dispersal over this wide range of sparse forest!  Bats are a fantastic and natural way to help us speed up forest regeneration.

Bats in the Osa!

There are many bat species in Osa. According to the research done by Doris Audet at Osa Conservation’s Piro BioStation, 33 species of bats from six families have been identified over the course of  32 nights of sampling. Phyllostomidae (leaf-nosed bats) were the predominant family in the captures. The presence of a diverse bat population in Osa Conservation’s old growth properties demonstrates that the forest is strong and healthy.  Additionally, their presence will be a huge aid in the regeneration of some of the previously degenerated areas.


Bats are potentially some of the most overlooked and forgotten about creatures of the forest, yet they play a huge role.  Not only do they keep pest populations low, but they also pollinate our plants and help restore the forest.  Understanding their role in both the ecosystem and the human world is crucial to their conservation and continued success and appreciation.  Thank you bats!!