Environmental Education, Volunteers and Visitors

Changing the world with ‘people power’

By Ted May, General Volunteer

Many environmentally-aware people, including myself, are attracted to Costa Rica because of the awesome biodiversity there. One has opportunity to explore part of a country that houses 5% of the world’s biodiversity in 51,100 km2– mid-way in size between the U.S. state of West Virginia and the European country of Denmark.

Ted May climbing a tree to install an owl box, to create microhabitats to help bird populations.

When I arrived as a volunteer at Osa Conservation this March, I was able to explore part of this area, and—with my limited time and familiarity with “seeing” birds in Costa Rica—I still managed to find more than 135 different bird species.  It was amazing, and delightful in many ways.

But what stands out in my mind the most is the experiences I had with the people at Osa Conservation.  It is incredibly inspiring to see the people power of the many dedicated volunteers, staff and visitors.

Visitors and volunteers assisting with a sunrise patrol with the Sea Turtle Program.

Mariam, Shannon and Dylan teamed up to oversee the Sea Turtle Program. Their dedication is exceptional. Not only do they walk 10-20 km daily (much on the beach), but they also record data to monitor their progress and make exceptional presentations to various publics to help others see not just the beauty of the turtles, but the important roles they play in the global seas (control of sea grass and jellyfish, food source for many others, and so much more).

Marina – who I call the Poison Dart Woman— is conducting research into the fascinating lives of these unique frogs, to help us understand them,and how they can at times serve as barometers to the health of the tropical rainforest ecosystem. Her enthusiasm bubbles over when she shares “her” frogs, excited to be working with fragile and yet widely-recognized critters.

There were many others: Jo from Belgium, the Costa Rican cooks (great local food!), the friendly greeting faces of Lucía and Karla and many other Costa Rican staff.  I also was able to meet some of the visitors there, including an awesome team of people from National Geographic, and some wonderful returning volunteers from varying countries.

Ted May and Andreas Aere collecting fluff from the balsa tree fruit to create beds for orchids.

I was grateful to be able to commit 2.5 weeks of my life helping with various projects in this awesome place. In the process, I learned a lot and was greatly inspired, having met some incredible young people who are investing their lives in our global future – thank you each and all.

So, thank you for allowing me to explore the richness of the Costa Rican diversity; I found it very valuable to be able to interact with a small part of it.  Even more-so, thank you for being able to attract such a rich variety of people there in various roles – people who are working to “change the world” in many ways with Osa Conservation, and who will, I am confident, continue to do so in their lives after Osa.


Birds, Community Outreach, Land Conservation and Forest Restoration, Science and Research, Sea Turtles, Volunteers and Visitors

Repeat volunteers reflect on growth of restoration plots and science programs

Blogpost by Robin Morris and Steve Pearce, General Volunteers

It seems like yesterday when we walked through the gate to the Osa Verde BioStation (Piro) for the first time in January 2017 and were greeted by a group scarlet macaws in the trees snacking and squawking.  We’re here now for our third winter excursion, and I have to admit we’ve done some cool things the last couple years.  

Robin enjoying a two-year-old balsa forest. During Robin and Steve’s 2018 visit, they helped clear plants around the small balsa saplings, and in 2019, they helped preparing bird boxes to bring wildlife to the young balsa forest. Photo: Steve Pearce

One of the projects we’ve helped with here is reforesting abandoned farmland.  Seedlings of balsa trees have been planted, and on a previous stay we were given small machetes and told to clear the plants around the seedlings, a project we lovingly christened ¨Weeding the rainforest.¨ It felt somewhat silly and hopeless, but when we came this year, we found new forests of balsa on the former farmland, proving conservation work frequently requires patience to see results.  Part of the reforestation process is creating habitats for animals, so this year we helped set up bird boxes to encourage birds to move into the new forest, sort of like opening a piano bar to lure lounge lizards.  

“Conservation work frequently requires patience to see results.”

Robin helping Manuel relocate a sea turtle nest on a patrol with Manuel Sanchez. Photo: Steve Pearce

One of the great lures to volunteering here is the Sea Turtle Program.  A newly hatched green or Olive Ridley turtle could give cuteness-lessons to puppies or kittens. When we first came here two years ago, the program was led by local legendary naturalist and photographer Manuel Sanchez.  Last year we even got to checked on the hatchery in the afternoons so he could have a vacation.  The Sea Turtle Program, like much work in conservation, is a steady commitment. Now the program has several dedicated enthusiastic staff members, frequently assisted by volunteers like us.  But the work is still the same, patrolling the deserted beach on breathtaking mornings, finding and relocating nests to the hatchery, releasing the hatchlings to the sea, as well as excavating nests to determine mortality rates among the eggs.  And after releasing young turtles for three years, it’s fun to watch people melt.

“The Sea Turtle Program, like much work in conservation, is a steady commitment… And after releasing young turtles for three years, it’s fun to watch people melt.”

The Osa features a splendid variety of wildlife, from squirrel monkeys and scarlet macaws to cane toads and green turtles.  Each trip has brought new sightings or exciting moments of discovery.  But one creature has almost brought our marriage to an end each year.  No, a jaguar has not attacked us on a footpath.  Snakes have not ambushed us in the bathroom.  And no, a crocodile has never attacked us on the beach. The problem is that Steve always falls in love with the paraque.  

Steve’s girlfriend, a paraque, resting in the pavilion. Photo: Steve Pearce

A nocturnal species, the paraque birds frequently sit along the paths of the research station and even in the pavilion, occasionally sweeping through to feed on insects drawn by the light.   They make an assortment of whistles to other paraques in the area and flop about when people walk near.  They sometimes make cooing ¨bwot¨ sounds.  Local folklore includes tales of the paraque calling travelers into the forest to get them or their children lost.  A paraque sometimes follows us to our cabina and bwots to lure me outside.  Attempts to photograph them at night usually yield nothing but a red dot in the darkness, further evidence of their supernatural nature.  

The paraque is a heartbreaker though, for when we asked another volunteer what her favorite mammal and bird of the Osa were, she replied ¨squirrel monkeys and Steve’s girlfriend.¨  We hope to leave at the end of the week without Steve pining for his girlfriend at the airport.

Uncategorized

Osa Conservation’s hidden treasures

Blotpost by Sophie Blow, General Volunteer

I came to Osa Conservation as a volunteer as part of my year abroad from university to improve my Spanish. I study French, Spanish and Portuguese at Warwick University in the UK and I couldn’t think of anywhere better to immerse myself in a different culture and way of life, while improving my Spanish at the same time, than the beautiful Osa Peninsula. During my spare time as a volunteer, I try to explore the site as much as I can, to discover what’s hidden in and around my new home.

Here are my four favourite spots around the Osa Conservation site to immerse myself in the breath-taking nature that surrounds me on a daily basis:

  • The rocks at sunset

Behind the plots of the finca lies the perfect hideaway for looking out over the ocean during sunset. Whether I fancy a dip in the rock pools, doing some yoga as the sun falls or having some quiet time to reenergise after a busy day, the rocks is the tranquil setting I head to. 

  • The beach at sunrise

A 4:30 wake-up call for morning patrol along Piro beach can be difficult for me to stomach, but once I see the vivid paint strokes of deep reds and burnt oranges illuminating the morning sky, I know I made the right decision not to snooze my alarm. 

  • Cerra Osa at sunset

Cerro Osa might seem like a bit of a trek to watch the sunset, but once I sit on the patio, you’ll understand the beauty of this remote location. There’s no better way to watch the sunset than sat on the rocking chairs, everyone in stunned silence by the amazing site that fills the sky. Overlooking a clearing filled with thousands of trees, it’s hard to find a better viewpoint to watch the blazing reds of an Osa Peninsula sunset. 

  • The bat roost on the Ajo trail

Osa Conservation site boasts many trails through the primary forest for you to explore. If you decide to delve deeper into your surroundings, put the bat roost on the Ajo at the top of your Osa bucket list. In one of the biggest and oldest trees on the trail, a small opening at the base of the tree opens up a whole new world for you to discover. Nestled away inside hides hundreds of frog eating bats that have made this ancient treasure their home. 


Sea Turtles, Volunteers and Visitors, Wildcats

More than a green patch on a map: Osa’s biodiversity and charm must be experienced in person

Blogpost by Thomas Kao, Volunteer, Age 14

In this modern day and age, we often forget there is more on this planet than just your home. As a young student with a love for maps, I have always set my eyes on this little corner of the world, an untouched paradise: Osa Peninsula.

As I mentioned, I absolutely love maps. I have laid my eyeballs over thousands of them, hungry for locations and searching for something new. However, maps can only tell you so much, and in reality they are portals to the lands they project.

Thomas and his mother, Lynn, taking a break under a giant old Ajo tree while hiking the Ajo Trail. Photo: Lucia Vargas

For Christmas, Santa delivered me a beautiful atlas, however, this atlas was a very recent edition. Thanks to the work of scientists in the field, preserving the ecosystem has never been more highlighted in history and this new atlas revealed every single National Park in the world. While browsing the atlas, Costa Rica really stood out. National Parks practically litered the page, and the Osa Peninsula was drowned in a sea of green labels. One minute I found myself staring at a page in a book and in the next I found myself in a plane leaving Los Angeles. Life can be hilarious sometimes.

Once at Osa Conservation, we participated in hatchery checks where we released hundreds of sea turtle babies. Everyday, I watched them crawl into the ocean with a smile on my face. Once the turtles made it home, we would trek back to the camp through a beautiful rainforest, and we could see tons of different animals that Osa provides with its limitless biodiversity.

A happy group of volunteers and Sea Turtle Research Field Assistants headed back from a morning sea turtle patrol of Piro Beach. Photo: Shannon Millar

The forest is never quiet and is always so full with life and magnificent greenery. Butterflys float around the fields and birds soar across the blue sky with grace. Monkeys of all types leap across the forest canopy whilst snakes slither across the forest floor. In the rivers and swamps you can find basoliths, lizards capable of walking on water, and small schools of fish swimming through the clear water. In California, almost none of the animals found here exist; the two enviroments are polar-opposites. If there is something I will never forget about Osa, it must be the local fauna and plantlife.

While living at the Osa Verde BioStation was at first out of my comfort zone, it quickly became a lovely and comfortable second home. The first day, I found a large spider sitting on a counter the size of my hand, that certainly give me a heart attack! However, each night the sky is covered with stars, a view I never saw in the USA. When staring at the stars, you will always hear monkeys, insects and birds, a non-stop noise but not an annoying one. It gives the surrouding forest livelihood and soul, showing you just how active Osa is.

Thomas excitedly holding a butterfly he encountered at the Osa Verde BioStation. Photo: Lynn Kao

Once in bed I fell asleep, the living quarters were extremely clean, something you definently wouldn´t expect. In fact, I have never slept better in my life; I was sound asleep like a baby. Three times a day meals were served, and all of them were delightful. All things considered, the food served here is best I´ve had in a long time.

I have been in other countries before with rainforests, but Costa Rica´s Osa Peninsula tops the list as the best one. I definently will have plenty of stories to tell my friends, I´m very glad and grateful that I had the opportunity to set foot in this foreign land.

Maps can only take you so far; there are no turtles, stars and monkeys on a map. It is only when you set foot in a new location, will you actually feel and experience an entirely new world.

Volunteers and Visitors

A First Impressions of the Osa

Blogpost written by Sawyer Judge, Volunteer

Before going to the Osa for the first time, I was looking forward to seeing rare big cats, incredible crawling insects and of course the famous scarlet Macaw’s that thrive in the region. But the Osa was so much more than I could have ever expected and it amazed me from the moment I got here!

Photo by CIFOR on Flickr

Photo by CIFOR on Flickr

The taxi ride to Osa Conservation’s biological station is bumpy, but with taxi-driver Andi (a man from Germany who has lived in the Osa for 10 years) as your guide, there’s plenty of interesting things to learn. Andi has an incredible eye. Even while driving he can spot a family of tropical screech owls sleeping in a shady branch. In response to my awe, he replied, “when you’ve been here as long as I have, things become easier to see.”

Some things are easier to see than owls, even to the untrained eye. Closer to the biological station we passed something out of Dr. Suess. With skinny trunks about a dozen feet high or more, and wide, almost pentagonal leaves, the trees rise from the ground erect like a field of a telephone poles. “What are those?” I asked. “Oh, those are teak trees – young ones, too – maybe 6 years old,” Andi answered.

Photo by Feona on Flickr

Photo by Feona on Flickr

Andi went on to explain that teak trees are among some of the fastest growing tree species. Their wood is highly durable and makes good construction supply for exteriors and boats, due to the wood’s water resistant properties. Although not native to Costa Rica, these trees are doubly used here for quick forest cover and lumber supply – a good resource for quick wood, whether you want to keep it or chop it.

The fact that teak trees are a prominent source of lumber here is a double edge sword. As natural teak tree forests throughout Southeast Asia dwindle, commercial farms in places like Costa Rica increase to meet high demand. And, unfortunately, this is becoming an increasing threat to conservation throughout the country. Although reliance on teak means less exploitation of endemic tree species, teak requires a lot of land and resources which can harm and often pollute the environment. Teak could be a healthy alternative to lumber but only when managed responsibly.

I have been amazed by the things I have seen and learned in my first few days here. I can only image what the next few weeks will bring. Stay tuned for future blogs as I delve into experiencing the Osa!

Sea Turtles, Volunteers and Visitors

We're Excited to Announce Registration for Our 2011 Sea Turtle Conservation Program!

Sea Turtles have been around for over 100 million years, but all over the world their survival is being threatened. Volunteers are crucial to protect the sea turtles during their nesting season.

Our program conserves and protects 10 miles of sea turtle nesting beach on the Osa Peninsula—a largely untouched, and amazingly beautiful tropical rainforest located in southwestern Costa Rica. This rewarding program allows you to monitor sea turtle movements, protect hatchlings and learn about sea turtle conservation—all on some of the most incredible beaches in the world, from Matapalo to Carate. Our sea turtle program relies on volunteer support to increase our presence on these beaches and help reduce poaching pressure. Spaces are available from July through December – please visit our sea turtle volunteer page to sign up, or send this info to people you think may be interested. Volunteering is a great way to experience this unique place while giving back through valuable conservation efforts. Read More »

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