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

The Continued Threats

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

Sea Turtle Conservation in Protected Areas

Park guards and lodge employees on the beach for the sea turtle workshop

On all of the morning and night patrols we collect quantitative data from the turtles we encounter, as well as from their tracks and nests. This year we have also begun taking a more active approach protecting as many nests as possible from both natural and unnatural predators. Metal mesh nets are used to cover each nest we find on Piro beach- so far this method has proved extremely beneficial, as all of the covered nests have shown a high rate of success. All of the protected nests have been left unharmed by predators in the area, giving us at FOO a real incentive to extend this method to surrounding nesting areas.

While we are learning more effective ways to curb natural predators of sea turtle eggs, human poaching continues. Having a larger presence on the beach day and night is yet another battle we are looking to conquer. Last week we invited workers from local lodges and 9 members of MINAET, the government body for environmental matters in Costa Rica, for a 2-day course all about our ancient shelled friends. Organized by our environmental education coordinator, Pilar Bernal, the information was focused on sea turtle behavior, current issues regarding their well-being, and what we are doing here at FOO to ensure the longevity of these species… As well as being an extremely informative time, I think we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves too!

Sea turtle research field assistant

Ashleigh and Tomas at the Piro Research Center

Four members of MINAET stayed at the Piro Research Center for four days after the course to night patrol with us to look for signs of recent poaching and possible culprits. We even learned a little ourselves, like how to crack open coconuts on the beach and enjoy a refreshing beverage compliments of mother nature!

We have just welcomed on board Ashleigh from California who will be staying with us at the Piro Research Center until mid-December as an RFA. She recently graduated from California Polytechnic State University and is quite excited to be able to put all of those hours spent in the books to good use. The Olive Ridleys obviously knew about this as just on her second night patrol we managed to collect data from 21 turtles! It was a perfect night for a patrol, with only a little rain and a full moon´s light to guide us.  Let´s hope it´s the first of many for our newby!

A big thank you to Eliécer Villalta Martínez and Geinor Barquero of MINAET for taking the time to help us here at FOO.  Your time and efforts are genuinely appreciated!

Community Outreach, Science and Research, Sea Turtles

Party in the jungle!

By Phoebe Edge, Research Field Assistant of the Sea Turtle Conservation Program

We are officially half way through this year´s turtle season and it has been a very busy 3 months indeed! Within this time, we have been continuously patrolling our beaches morning and night to help our favorite reptiles. There seems to never be a dull moment, even the walks to the beach prove exciting! Already, we´ve been fortunate enough to have encountered jaguarundi, coati, caiman, anteaters, armadillos, as well as a variety of beautiful and rare frogs and snakes. Last week on a morning patrol in Carate, Greivin and Phoebe were lucky enough to see a group of 6 humpback whales pass by. It really is like a party in the jungle at the moment! Apparently whales can be camera shy so a group photo was out of the question but here´s a shot of one of the females:

Photo by Carlos García

Of course seeing these animals is all well and good but it is the sea turtles we are here for and they´ve proved not to fail with appearances. Olive Ridley are commonly sighted here with Green´s following second, but in the last month we´ve also had a handful of the critically endangered Leatherback and Hawksbill coming up onto our beaches – amazing! Due to the incubation period of some Olive Ridley nests being 45 days we are also starting to see more and more hatchlings appear too. For anyone who has been in the right place at the right time, you´ll know how incredibly cute these youngsters are! Sadly only 1 in 1000 makes it to adulthood which is why it´s so important that we use all of our best efforts to do what we can. One of our protected nests just hatched yesterday morning and we caught a straggler on her way to her new home, the sea. Fingers crossed she will be one of the females returning to the beach in the future to continue the cycle.

Picture by Carlos García.

Baby sea turtle making its way to sea

We would like to take this opportunity to say a HUGE thank you to all of the fantastic volunteers we´ve already had come and help us in our conservation efforts this year. This is a critical time in the history of sea turtles and with the help of volunteers we as humans really can save them from extinction. Please don´t standby whilst the last of these majestic creatures disappears.  Come get involved and make a difference too!

Sea Turtles

Sea Turtle Conservation Program Piro-Carate: July Results

This year we started our Sea Turtle Conservation Program with a great challenge, to expand our project to the beaches of Rio Oro and Carate on the southern side of the Osa Peninsula. With an excellent group of Field Coordinators (Geri Cubero, Erick Gomez and Greivin Barroso) and Research Field Assistants (Phoebe Edge, Heidi Montez, Courtney Thomas and Carlos Garcia), under the direction of Manuel Sanchez and Guido Saborio, we have taken the challenge with great enthusiasm. We also have help from Frontier, a volunteer program based in England with whom we have a working agreement that allows these volunteers to participate in Friends of the Osa’s various research projects. It has not been an easy job, because even with the help of volunteers, we are few people to monitor over 18 km of beach. However, the commitment and effort of all participants has allowed us to record a good number of sea turtle visits to the beaches from Piro to Carate in July, the first month of the season.  Without adjusting for people-hours on each beach, Pejeperro beach was the most visited by Olive Ridley turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) during July.  On all the beaches we see the false crawls were the most reported, which could indicate that turtles are making their first expeditions to choose their nesting sites (Fig 1). Although we do not have many reports of East Pacific Greens, or black turtles (Chelonia mydas agassizii), from what we do have, most records are from Pejeperro beach (Fig 1).

July Sea Turtle Results

Unfortunately 39% of depredated nests found in our monitoring is due to egg poaching by humans.To prevent this situation from getting worse during the rest of the season, we will need the support of local people, MINAE (the government authority in charge of enforcing conservation laws), and you.

If you’re asking yourself, “How can I help?”  here are several ways: 1) Let others know about our Sea Turtle Conservation Program and the importance of protecting sea turtles, 2) Sign up to volunteer and 3) Make a donation to allow us to continue our sea turtle conservation efforts in the southern Osa Peninsula.

Sea Turtles

Sea Turtle Conservation Program in Piro-Pejeperro Beach 2009

Friends of the Osa’s successful Sea Turtle Conservation Program continued in 2009 on the Piro and Pejeperro beaches on the southern shores of Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica, Central America. FOO staff, visiting biologists, students and volunteers from around the world participated in working for the protection and study of sea turtles visiting these beaches.

hatchling sea turtle at piro beach - osa peninsula

Hatchling Sea Turtle at Piro Beach - FOO Sea Turtle Program - photo: S DePolo

Manuel Sánchez is the field coordinator for this season, accompanied by his field assistant, Ronald Villalobos; both an example of the efforts of FOO to hire local people for its projects. Manuel was born in the area and has spent his life on these beaches, on the Piro river estuary and the lands of the Osa Biodiversity Center (OBC). Not only is he finely attuned to the rhythms and behaviors of the turtles, he is an expert spotter of all kinds of wildlife and an aspiring photographer.

We would like to send out a very BIG thank you to all of our 2009 volunteers and an even BIGGER thank you to our two Research Field Assistants, Jim Ward and Liam Hogg, who both dedicated three months to FOO’s sea turtle conservation program in 2009.  We couldn’t have done it without you!

In 2009, Friends of the Osa protected 240 nests on Piro Beach and 164 nests on Pejeperro Beach of the Olive Ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea).  We were able to protect all 12 Black Turtle nests (Chelonia mydas – agassizii) we discovered on Pejeperro Beach. No Black turtles were observed nesting on Piro Beach in 2009. As for Green Turtles (Chelonia mydas agassizii), just three nests were reported in Pejeperro. These three turtle species are threatened.

Activities included: two teams doing nightly patrols of the two beaches, monitoring the arrival of the nesting turtles, counting nests and attempts at nesting (false crawls,) marking confirmed nests tagging and measuring of sea turtles encountered while nesting. Patrols visited the beaches each morning, and where possible placed wire mesh over nests to cut down on predation by wildlife, such as coatis, and feral dogs. Nests were visited after the hatching, and shell remains and nest mortality were tallied. In addition the team did daily and nightly collection of sand temperatures at the depths sea turtles bury their eggs. Our presence on this remote beach has also helped to reduce poaching in the area. In response to the concerns about turtle egg poaching, MINAET (the Costa Rican Ministry of the Interior,) has been conducting patrols on roads and on the beach, which have been effective at reducing the presence of egg-looters in the area. Overall predation has been low this season, as a total of 24 nests have been preyed upon in Piro and only two in Pejeperro.

Piro and Pejeperro beaches, extending northwest from Matapalo point, are wild and untrammeled, far from any city or town, facing directly into the powerful Pacific currents. Situated near the OBC campus, they represent a rare habitat in this hemisphere where the rainforest touches the ocean. The sea turtles nesting here are returning to the beaches where they were hatched. They travel long distances across the Pacific in their feeding, mating and nesting. The female hatchlings that leave the beach each year may not return to nest for up to 20 years. Females may need to make multiple attempts to nest successfully, and some will return to lay more than once a season. They face a gauntlet of hazards, from wildlife predation as hatchlings during their first hours on the beach and in the ocean, to suffocation as adults from ingesting plastic bags mistaken for jelly fish. Above all, to nest  they must brave a wall of death off the Pacific Coast in the form of fleets of long-line fishing boats. The turtles face drowning when they are accidentally ensnared.

These magnificent, ancient creatures fascinate with their timeless migrations–yet their long term survival is uncertain. Our efforts will continue on  Piro and Pejeperro beaches, and in conjunction with other local and international efforts, until their survival can be assured.

For the 2010 season, Friends of the Osa, with support from El Tigre Fund and in partnership with Carate lodges, is expanding our Sea Turtle Conservation Program to cover Oro Beach and Carate Beach.  For this effort to be successful, we will need the help of many more volunteers!

Please visit our volunteer page to sign up for the 2010 season.  Volunteers patrolling Piro and Pejeperro Beaches are housed at the OBC’s rustic but pleasant facilities, and give a donation to cover the cost of the three daily meals prepared by the OBC’s staff. Or you can sign up with a partner lodge and help protect the endangered sea turtles on Oro and Carate Beaches.

Measuring Turtle Tracks on Piro Beach

Measuring Turtle Tracks on Piro Beach

Also in 2009, locals from the Carate community, including nature guides, were trained on sea turtle conservation and techniques. The community is getting organized and is considering creating a turtle hatchery, with the help of the Sustainability Committee of Carate, La Leona Lodge, Luna Lodge, Finca Exótica, Carate Wildlife Refuge, El Trigre Fund, MINAET and FOO.

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.