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

Science and Research, Sea Turtles

Double Your Donation to Osa Sea Turtle Conservation

Today SEE Turtles launched its effort to raise money for Friends of the Osa’s annual Sea Turtle Festival.  SEE Turtles is a project of the Ocean Foundation that promotes conservation tourism by acting as a resource for travelers to connect with volunteer programs or to donate to organizations protecting sea turtles and educating communities.  Through the matching fund launched today, you can donate to support FOO’s Sea Turtle Festival in 2011.

Kids present a performance on sea turtle life cycle

Children perform the life cycle of sea turtles at the Second Annual Osa Sea Turtle Festival

This past September, Friends of the Osa’s Second Annual Sea Turtle Festival was successful in attracting children and their families to the Osa Peninsula’s Carate Beach to learn about sea turtle species, like Olive Ridleys, Green Turtles, Hawksbills and Leatherbacks.  This annual sea turtle festival has been an effective way to develop community interaction and create local understanding about the issue of sea turtle egg poaching.  Through activities, presentations, and contests for children, Friends of the Osa not only spreads awareness of our work but we also take preventative action by ensuring people don’t participate in sea turtle disturbance and habitat destruction.

SEE Turtles covers administrative costs so that 100% of your donation goes towards our 2011 sea turtle festival that educates the community about sea turtle conservation.  The goal of this matching fund is to raise $2,000.  Because sea turtle conservation is an important aspect of FOO’s mission to protect the globally significant biodiversity of the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica, we encourage you to check out the SEE Turtles website to learn more about SEE Turtles and sea turtle conservation beyond the Osa Peninsula.

Volunteers working with sea turtles on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Volunteers working with sea turtles on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Remember that Friends of the Osa also operates a sea turtle conservation program that is open to volunteers from July to December every year.  Volunteer to help save the Osa’s endangered sea turtles!

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, 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, Sea Turtles

Second Annual Osa Peninsula Sea Turtle Festival

On Sunday September 12 we celebrated the Second Annual Osa Peninsula Sea Turtle Festival on Carate Beach. The objectives of this annual event are to raise community awareness about the importance of joint actions in the conservation of the sea turtle species that frequent the beaches of the Osa Peninsula in the months of nesting, and to share the objectives and results of Friends of the Osa’s Sea Turtle Conservation Program with the community.

Osa Peninsula Sea Turtle Festival Carate

Children made sea turtle sand sculptures

This year at least 120 people from the communities of Carate, Rio Oro, Piro, and Puerto Jimenez participated in the festival.

Puerto Jimenez students presented the play, “Survival of the Sea Turtles,” which told of the dangers that sea turtles are exposed to from the moment they are born. Educational games were played with children in which they acted out different parts of the sea turtle nesting process and lifecycle. Younger children and their parents made sand sculptures of leatherbacks and adults participated in the presentation about the Sea Turtle Conservation Program Piro-Carate.

We also announced the winners of the drawing contest “Survival of the Sea Turtles,” that was held with students from the Piro and Rio Oro schools. On this sunny day participants also played soccer, beach volleyball, sang karaoke and enjoyed a great picnic prepared by the community.

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.