Environmental Education, Science and Research

The Osa Peninsula: A unique place for research and education

Located in southwestern Costa Rica, the Osa is hailed by many as Costa Rica’s “last frontier” as it remains a largely untouched, remote wilderness. The Osa’s high level of biological diversity coupled with its unique combination of 13 distinct tropical ecosystems have made it a high global conservation priority. With a total area of only 300,000 acres, the Osa is home to 50% of species found in Costa Rica, including many endemic species. When one considers the small size of the Osa, there are few places left on earth that rival its intense biological diversity. It is here one can find the largest intact mangrove ecosystem in Pacific Mesoamerica, the most significant remaining areas of lowland Pacific tropical rainforest, and one of only four tropical fjords on the planet, the Golfo Dulce. These ecosystems, and numerous others, provide habitat that is essential for the Osa’s plentiful wildlife.

Piro Research Center

Tree samples waiting to be process by Greg Asner´s working team, January 2010.

Piro Research Center is our Costa Rican biological field station and has:

  • Three cabins, each with three rooms and a bathroom (total capacity 36)
  • Laboratory/classroom area
  • Reference library
  • Dining hall/common area

Staying here will give you quick access to mature rainforest as well as to the coastal habitat along the Pacific, making this campus ideal for researchers, field biology student groups, and sea turtle volunteers.

Greg Gund Conservation Center

The Greg Gund Conservation Center is an educational campus located on the Cerro Osa property. Here you have the option to stay in the bunk house or on a camping platform; no matter which you choose, you won’t regret the breathtaking view looking west to Corcovado National Park and the Pacific Ocean.

  • Bunkhouse with two bathrooms (total capacity 12-16)

    View for the GGCC

  • Three screened-in platforms (total capacity 12)
  • Dining area
  • Education Center (under construction)

The Cerro Osa property where this campus is located, is a 1,500 acre tract of land that is contiguous with the Piro Research Center property. You can get here either by walking the Cerro Osa trail or by car on the access road. While the Greg Gund Conservation Center isn’t as close to pristine rainforest as the Piro Research Center, the land use history of Cerro Osa makes it an ideal location to study tropical forest regeneration since the forest directly surrounding the campus is recovering plantation.

If you’d like to book a stay with us, or if you have questions about accommodating a group, please visit www.osaconservation.org or email our Station Manager: carlosmonge@osaconservation.org

Environmental Education, Volunteers and Visitors

An Unforgettable Educational Adventure: Enamored with the Osa

By: Vickie Buisset

Volunteering with the FOO Sea Turtle Research Program was a wonderful experience.  My observations and field notes taken while on the Osa Peninsula were used to complete the final independent study project of my Master of Environmental Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU).  The topic of my independent study project was Global Threats of Sea Turtles.  I graduated from VCU in December of 2010 and feel very lucky to have had this volunteer/research opportunity on the beautiful Osa Peninsula.  The personnel at the FOO Sea Turtle Research Center were very helpful in my data collection and field studies, even after I returned home to finish my independent study.  I couldn’t have asked for a more hospitable and professional research program.

Jesus Christ Lizard

Getting from San Jose to the research center was quite an adventure.  Visiting the Osa during the height of the rainy season made it a bit tricky, but it was well worth the effort.  I spent nine thrilling days and nights at the Osa Biodiversity Center from the end of October through early November of 2010.  I participated in four night beach patrols and two day beach patrols with the sea turtle research program.  Watching the sea turtles nest at night was a magical experience that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

With several FOO conservation projects underway, I had the opportunity to learn a lot about the local biodiversity of the peninsula.   I stayed busy, practiced Spanish a bit, received plenty of rest, and filled my belly with wonderful home-cooked meals served onsite at the research center.  The people of FOO were a lot of fun and I enjoyed working with them.   I’d do it all over again! Thanks for everything FOO. I’ll be forever grateful.

Sincerely,

Vickie Buisset Jones

Sea Turtles, Volunteers and Visitors

Sea Turtle Conservation Program: October Update

We’ve completed another month of the sea turtle conservation program on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica and we’re getting close to the end of the nesting season. After 4 months of tireless work by our field coordinators, field assistants and volunteers, we have registered a total of 1233 sea turtle nests, between Piro and Carate (Fig. 1). As I mentioned earlier, for logistical reasons, we cannot gather daily information from all beaches and visits to Rio Oro beach have been very limited, so this number of sea turtle nests should be considered a minimum; i.e., the actual number of sea turtle nests on these beaches is higher than reported here.

Figure 1. Total nests registered, according to month, beach and species. CM: Chelonia mydas agassizii, DC: Demochelys coriacea, EL: Eretmochelys imbricata, LO: Lepidochelys olivacea

Of these 1233 recorded nests, we know that at least 242 (20%) were predated. Of predated nests, 43% were by humans, while the remaining 57% were predated by dogs, pigs, crabs and other animals. We can reasonably estimate that approximately 10,600 eggs have been illegally removed between Piro and Carate for human consumption (assuming that each nest had 100 eggs and they were all taken).

If we focus on the Olive Ridley sea turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea), the most common sea turtle species on the Osa Peninsula, not taking into account the Rio Oro data, as the data that we have doesn’t appear to be representative of the real situation, we can see that during the 2010 season, Carate beach is where we find the greatest amount of illegal harvesting of eggs (Fig 2). Throughout the season, more than 50% of reported predation is caused by humans, a situation that hasn’t occurred on Piro and Pejeperro beaches.

Figure 2. Percentage of Olive Ridley sea turtle nests predated by humans and other animals according to month and beach.

Remember that you can help us save sea turtles that visit the southern part of the Osa Peninsula in several ways: 1) tell others about our project and the importance of protecting sea turtles, 2) by volunteering with sea turtles or 3) by making a donation to support our sea turtle program or the other conservation work that Friends of the Osa does on the Osa Peninsula.

Science and Research, Sea Turtles

Let´s have a bad joke!

By Phoebe Edge, Research Field Assistant (RFA) , Sea Turtle Conservation Program.

What turtle has the best eye sight?

A SEE TURTLE!

And that´s why it´s so important that we make sure on night patrols that we spot the ladies before they spot us…the last thing we want to do is scare them back to the sea. A good turtle detective just doesn´t do that. An Olive Ridley could have swum thousands of miles to get to this specific beach  which is why here at Friends of the Osa we do what we can to ensure we have minimal impact on beach patrols- especially at night. Females can be deterred from nesting and the hatchlings’ important journey to the sea can be disrupted just by the presence of white lights. For this reason, we only use red light on the beach. Sea turtles, like many other reptiles, don´t actually have the color red within their visual spectrum so it means we can work safe in the knowledge that they don´t feel like a criminal fleeing from the scene of a crime!

Volunteering with sea turtles on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

We´ve just said goodbye to the lovely Brandy and Nick who were volunteering  with us for 2 weeks, staying at Finca Exotica in Carate. Their second day it was unnecessary to use ANY  artificial light to spot a turtle as on an afternoon stroll to the lagoon at around 3:30pm, we  discovered a solitary uptrack and on the top…an Olive Ridley covering a nest! It was a beautiful day anyway so this just completely topped it off. Most sea turtles come up during the night to lay their eggs as they feel it´s safer but this individual obviously had other ideas! It was a real treat to see her in natural light.

Of course, night patrols aren´t always a walk in the park.  We are in the peak of the rainy season, and it’s not uncommon for there to be times when the rain has penetrated every ounce of clothing, sand has made its way into every crevice you never thought possible and throughout the patrol, one can´t help but feel like you’re on the losing side in World War III against the elusive sand flea. But the second you catch a glimpse of a turtle, watching each egg drop into the nest she created ever so carefully, we are reminded of how much energy has been invested in this process and just how vital our efforts are to protect nesting sea turtles. Our efforts here on the Osa seem so small- but nest by nest, day by day, the data we gather can be interpreted and contributed to the global effort for sea turtle conservation, and together we can make a difference.  Besides, who wouldn´t care to swap the office for this?

Science and Research

The OBC and studies into microhabitat preferences of focal group taxa

By: Zia Mehrabi, University of Oxford.

The Osa Biodiversity Center (OBC) provided a brilliant opportunity for biological research at an accessible location bordering Corcovado National Park (CNP). CNP represents the largest remaining tract of tropical lowland forest left standing on the pacific coast of Central America. The Osa Peninsula is phytogeographically unusual with high floral species diversity of an estimated 500 species of woody plants and exhibits high primate abundances as well as being home to charismatic large felids such as puma and jaguar.  The work undertaken at the OBC during April 2010 primarily aimed to clarify insights into the microhabitat preferences of particular dung beetles (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae: Scarabaeinae) identified in earlier study investigating the fidelity of ecological methods used for inventorying insect functional groups at Sirena Biological Station (CNP) during the months of July and August 2009.  In order to efficiently and cost effectively map diversity it is widely recognised that the use of indicator groups is necessary. The sensitivity of Dung Beetles to light, soil type, moisture, temperature, leaf litter, structural complexity, vegetative cover, and resource type are widely recognized, advocating their utility as an indicator of the influence of abiotic environmental parameters on patterns of diversity in tropical ecosystems on a global scale. In order to map spatio-temporal distributions of biological organisms it is important to measure habitat variables on the scale at which they influence the taxa studied. If the habitat is not defined from the perspective of the organism then inference made from data reporting environmental influences on distribution of populations may be inaccurate.  The material generated during the study at the OBC will be identified at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. It is an exciting prospect that the work at OBC may back earlier work that has identified a microhabitat preference of dung beetles on trap placement, work that potentially has serious implications for sampling methodologies currently employed in comparative ecological work which  aims to report the influence of deforestation and habitat degradation on tropical biodiversity.

All photography by Zia Mehrabi on night walks at OBC during April 2010

The accommodation facilities at the OBC are superb, with comfortable beds, clean running water and delicious food. Furthermore the staff are extremely friendly and helpful, facilitating communication with the local community and achievement of research objectives. In addition, accessibility from the nearby town of Puerto Jimenez and contact via satellite connection ensure ease of logistics. There is a nicely set out trail system that provides some great tracks for night walks where a plethora of insects , arachnids and reptiles may be easily observed and photographed. Overall I was very happy in the time I spent at the OBC and would recommend it to other researchers wishing to explore this interesting region of the world.

Science and Research, Sea Turtles

Friends of the Osa – Protecting the Wildlife of the Osa Peninsula

Welcome to the new weblog of Friends of the Osa. Here we will post news and updates about our programs, activities and important developments affecting the ecology and wildlife of the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica, Central America.

Friends of the Osa (FOO) also known as Amigos de Osa, runs a research station and field programs working to protect the globally significant biodiversity found on the Osa Peninsula.

At the Osa Biodiversity Center work centers around supporting scientific research and environmental education, as well as hands on programs like the Sea Turtle Conservation project. Each year researchers and volunteers follow the arrival of several species of sea turtles that nest on the nearby beach, tagging turtles, protecting nests and hatchlings, and compiling important data on the numbers of animals and the success of their nests.

At the Cerro Osa Station, FOO is working to reforest areas adjacent to the Osa National Wildlife Refuge (ONWR), a stewardship program in partnership with local landowners. This important refuge forms a biological corridor through the privately held lands outside the protection of the nearby national park. Managing this important corridor for the Osa’s monkeys, jungle cats and other species is another of our projects.

At our offices in Puerto Jiménez, the small town where most of the local population live, our Costa Rican staff are involved in several programs designed to help the region deal with rapid development, and the rising amount of trash and pollution that come with it. Here our work on clean water and recycling efforts have had the most impact.

Osa is a rare and exceptional place, for it’s beauty and because of the high diversity of species, one of the most biodiverse places in the hemisphere. Despite this world class status, it is a remote and often ignored corner of a developing nation. It is under extreme threat as pressure to develop and modernize reaches Costa Rica. Threats include projects for industrial scale fish farms, increase in the scale of gravel mining, efforts to reopen old gold mining operations, even within protected areas, over-development for tourism including increased air traffic, new airports, water use by and sewage from hotels. Meanwhile, global climate change and increased pressure on species outside the peninsula threaten to make Osa a biological island. There is a dire need for the completion of the plan to create protected corridors between Corcovado Park, the major national park on the peninsula and the Piedras Blancas Park on the mainland.

In Washington DC, our staff work to provide funding and to raise awareness about our programs. We have worked to build strong alliances with local, regional and international partner organizations including The Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, ACOSA, MINAET (Costa Rica’s Ministry of Energy and Environment) and others.

Your support is important to us, too, and by signing the email list and keeping in touch, by fanning our facebook page and getting your friends to do the same, or by becoming a volunteer and helping us in our work, or by donating and showing that you think what we are doing is important.

Any way that you can join us means a lot. So keep reading this blog, check back and comment on what you see.