Miscellaneous, Science and Research

If they can’t see you… they can’t eat you!

The epic battle of predator and prey in the jungle

by: Max Villalobos, Land Conservation Manager


Snake captures an unsuspecting frog. Photo by Manuel Sánchez.


It’s almost midday, and the forest is drowsy with the intense heat and humidity that you find during the rainy season in the Osa Peninsula, where the temperature can easily surpass 90 degrees. I direct all of my attention to the forest floor in search of the sweet and fleshy fruits of the Zapote tree. The spider monkeys that also eat from this tree are not disturbed by my presence here; only a few centimeters away from my foot one of the thousands of leaves that cover the forest floor flutter for a brief second, showing the silhouette of an amphibian that disappears again, scampering across the fallen leaves.



A Gecko attempts to conceal itself on the bark of a tree. Photo by Manuel Sánchez.


The relationship of predator and prey is determined in great measure by the defenses upon which the prey rely and the predator’s ability to overcome them. Diverse defense mechanisms exist in the animal kingdom; chemical methods, for example, are amply used to repel predators through the production of foul-smelling odors or liquid irritants. Toxic substances or poisons are also popular defense mechanisms and can be obtained in one of two ways – indirectly through ingestion of plants or other animals, as is the case for many arthropods, or directly synthesized by the animal, as is the case for many snakes. Many physical defense systems also exist, such as the armadillo and its shell, or the porcupine and its sharp quills that are able to deter even the most capable of predators.


This eternal evolutionary war between predator and prey has been brought to the level of an art in the tropical forest, where the ability to be invisible, or to appear to be something else, can mean the difference between life and death. This adaptative method of defense is what has filled the forest with “dry leaves,” “twigs,” and “dry flowers” that can fly, or jump, to disappear entirely as quickly as they appeared. It becomes pretty clear that these “leaves” and “twigs” aren’t really leaves and twigs at all, but insects and amphibians adept at disguising their presence.



A green garden snake resembles the branch of an orchid. Photo by Manuel Sánchez.


Myriads of insects, amphibians, reptiles and even birds use the method of mimicry to deceive the senses of other animals and to pass by undetected. Some act as snipers, lying immobile until the perfect moment to leap onto their unsuspecting prey, while others use a strategy of living their lives in anonymity, remaining practically invisible in the forest.


Whatever the tactic employed, it is without a doubt fascinating that this force to cling to life, indelibly engraved in the animal instinct, is the engine that allows each day to change the world.


Community Outreach, Environmental Education, Land Conservation and Forest Restoration, Marine Conservation

The Importance of Wetlands Conservation at Home and Around the World

by Lauren Lipuma, Conservation Outreach Coordinator, and Ándres Jiménez, Wetlands Program Coordinator

Terraba Sierpe wetlands, Costa Rica. Photo credit: Cavu

Térraba-Sierpe wetlands, Costa Rica. Photo credit: Cavu


OC’s conservation efforts in the Térraba-Sierpe wetlands have gotten off to a great start! Our wetlands program, started earlier this year, aims to strengthen the presence of government and conservation organizations in the Térraba-Sierpe National Wetlands and to develop sustainable economic opportunities for neighboring communities. In addition to housing a diverse array of wildlife, wetlands perform important ecological functions – from water filtration to carbon storage. Mangroves in particular can sequester up to four times more carbon than tropical rainforests, making them the best protection against climate change1.

Wetland ecosystems can also act as as environmental buffers – and their role in this capacity was highlighted earlier this month in the form of super typhoon Haiyan, which tore through the Phillippines on November 7. Possibly the most intense tropical cyclone on record, the storm flattened nearly 80% of Tacloban City’s buildings and has killed almost 4,000 people2. Having cut down over three quarters of its mangrove forests in the last century3, the Phillippines have become increasingly vulnerable to storms such as Haiyan. Mangroves provide essential protection from tropical storms, acting as a barrier that can absorb up to 70 – 90% of the energy of wind-generated waves in storms like this one4. If the Phillippines hope to survive an increased onslaught of tropical cyclones, they must act fast to recover their “green belt” of protection.

OC’s Wetlands Program Coordinator Ándres Jiménez recently had the opportunity to spend time with a world-class mangrove scientist from the Phillippines, who shared with him her country’s strategy for protecting their remaining wetlands and restoring what they have lost. Read on for more about her visit and Ándres’s thoughts for the future of wetlands conservation in Costa Rica!


Recently I had the opportunity to spend time with Doctor Georginne Primavera, a world-class mangrove scientist from the Philippines. A quiet yet cheerful scientist, she shows a special glitter in her eyes every time she talks about mangroves. After more than 40 years of working with these trees, she still smiles when showing a picture of herself climbing one.


Dr. Primavera plants a mangrove tree with a local boy.


I have to admit, at this moment I had no idea of what was happening in the Philippines. The only vague concept I had about the country’s natural resources were the awesome coral reefs surrounding the 7,107-island archipelago.  Never had I expected to learn so much from such a short experience.

After one meeting and three mind-blowing presentations, I came to have a grasp on the situation. The Philippines is a country characterized by the protection of its coral reefs with simultaneous destruction of its wetland mangrove ecosystems. Due to overfishing in the oceans and the immense pressure of overpopulation (close to 100 million people in a land area of 300,000 km2 – meaning 308 inhabitants per square km!), vast amounts of mangrove forests were cut down and replaced with aquaculture ponds, among other things. These ponds were meant to supply the growing nation with the protein source they could no longer find in the oceans.

This situation generated a long list of ailments for the country, the main one being increased typhoon vulnerability. By removing the vegetation (in this case, mangroves) from coastal areas, you leave an open path for these destructive climate phenomena to hit cities, towns and human structures directly. Destruction of this “green belt” of protection has dramatically increased the number of damages from these types of phenomena. In 2009, Typhoon Pepeng left up to 375 people dead and cost the country 27 billion pesos (630 million dollars) in damages5. Taking into account climate change and the fact that the Philippines are hit with an average of 20 typhoons per year6, this country is facing a dangerous climatic situation.

However, there is a silver lining to this story. The Philippines has begun to gradually recover its green belt of protection through combined efforts from the government, NGOs, and local communities. Filipinos have adopted a community-based mangrove management scheme, where the community handles a certain amount of mangrove land, looks after it, protects it and profits from it. The government takes charge of regulating and authorizing the use of the land, the communities are in charge of the active management of the land, and NGOs, the third piece of the puzzle, provide the core for articulation of efforts and much-needed community capacity-building. All three groups benefit from the results of these efforts, making it a win, win, win situation – a triple win for the Philippines!

In an ideal world, this system would be perfect, but is it really? Even though this Asian country has been successful, it has also had stories of failure, where the community fails to join in, or a new local government comes into power and the efforts for mangrove conservation get forgotten. In other cases the NGOs involved just think about their own benefit and either exit the project too soon, before the community is ready to handle the challenge, or stick around for too long, crippling the leadership of the locals. My point here is that no matter how you see it, the country is starting to realize mangroves are vital for their well-being and are slowly correcting a historical mistake using very interesting participative models. As a matter of fact, the mangroves are so valuable now, that Filipinos throw massive weddings organized by the local government, where, if you plant some mangrove trees, you get married for free.

What can we learn from the Philippines case? It is clear to me that management needs to, at least, come from 3 main sources –  the government, the locals that live, feed and enjoy the wetlands and the civil society represented by NGOs and even private companies. It doesn’t look so complicated, does it? However, in real life, it has proven to be challenging.


A local boy collects molluscs, a traditional Costa Rican lifestyle in mangrove forests.


Here comes the Costa Rican case, with 25% of the country’s territory under some kind of environmental protection, strong civil participation and a wiling (in most cases) government – yet, in environmental management, Costa Rica is falling behind.  Yes, Costa Rica has been very successful in protecting natural areas but has a different historical debt than the Philippines. The country has only been able to create, structure and implement management systems based on “upward-down models”, where the establishment, management and regulation of national protected areas comes only from the government.  This means that making the Philippines’ model a reality in Costa Rican wetlands is far from happening, as the laws ban the management of government land by civil society. Is this a problem? If you ask me, I think it is. Currently the country, and, I would dare to say, the world, needs for the communities and locals that live and experience the natural resources firsthand to feel empowered for their well being and to understand that good ecosystem health means good human population health.

I think wetlands are a great place to start with “triple win models.” Wetlands provide enormous amount of ecosystem services, act as climate buffers, protect water sources, function as food sources and clearly have a huge importance in transportation, among other things. Even more, wetlands have been an important landscape for humans since ancient times. Certainly the extreme climate phenomena pressure that moved the Philippines to action is not as critical in Costa Rica, but this is no excuse to not move forward in different, more successful management models.

Important changes are necessary to successfully implement this in Costa Rica, such as legislation changes, governmental attitude modification and above all civil society awareness and involvement. With active involvement of the civil society, more effective management can take place. Local capacity-building and awareness will be decisive on the success of these models.


Keep following our blog for  more news and updates on our wetlands conservation program!



(1) http://www.rappler.com/science-nature/40420-ph-mangroves-climate-change

(2) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-24894529

(3) http://www.philstar.com/nation/2012/08/22/840636/phl-mangrove-forests-down-117000-hectares

(4) http://www.zsl.org/conservation/regions/asia/mangrove-philippines/mangrove-ecosystem-services,914,AR.html

(5) www.typhoon2000.ph

(6) Climate change in the Philippines 2000

Land Conservation and Forest Restoration, Miscellaneous, Science and Research

What’s new with Osa Conservation?

by Lauren Lipuma and Florencia Franzini


Executive Director Manuel Ramirez (center) and board members Adrian Forsyth (left) and Craig Thompson (right) survey the Osa Verde property.

Osa Conservation has had a busy summer and fall this year.  From renovations and land purchases to project expansions, the work never ceases to lose momentum here at OC! Here are a few things that have been going on at Osa Conservation this summer and fall:

The Agro-Ecology Farm at Osa Verde has had a huge facelift! OC is gearing up to launch our Sustainable Agriculture program, hoping to provide healthy, organic, locally -sourced food produced in harmony with a biodiversity conservation mission. The site of this new program is Osa Verde, a 500-acre property adjacent to Piro Research Center. Renovations of the property’s facilities have begun, including repainting and installation of a potable water system. Soil sample testing has also begun, and we are anxiously awaiting results!


Surveys begin at the new Osa Verde property.

At Lomas del Sierpe Wildlife Refuge, we recently finished gathering together all the pinewood and materials needed to start construction of a new center at the location, including a classroom, kitchen, and dining room for students and visitors. We have also begun preparing 15 hectares (37 acres) along the nearby Esquinas River for reforestation, using seedlings donated by the Institute of Energy and Brinkman & Associates Reforestation, Central America (BARCA).

tree planting lomas

Tree planting begins at Lomas del Sierpe Wildlife Refuge.

From Piro to Cerro Osa, our new trail system has begun to take shape. New trail signs were designed and implemented in August, new trails have been built, and our existing trail system is undergoing major renovations. The “Turtles’ Trail” leading to the sea turtle hatchery has been completed, and the remaining trail upgrades are scheduled to be completed by December. Piro Biological Station is also receiving a facelift with upgrades to cabin and bathrooms: new paint, new windows and new decorations should add to the already wonderful experience at Osa. We have also begun the construction of new furniture for Piro and landscaping with new plants that will attract local birds.

Our Forest Restoration and Nursery program planted nearly 50,000 seedlings of 30 different native tree species in the Osa National Wildlife Refuge, along a 44-hectare site of recently-harvested teak and pochote plantations. Another 20 hectares are scheduled to be replanted in the next few months!


Volunteers nurture seedlings in our tree nursery.

Osa’s endangered Yellow-Billed Cotingas have a new home! With the help of several partner organizations, OC has established thefirst Yellow-Billed Cotinga Sanctuary in the Osa Peninsula. Officially purchased in July, the sanctuary sits on 23 acres of land adjacent to the mangrove forests and estuaries of Rincón. We are currently working on designs for an observation platform and an educational trail, scheduled for completion by the end of the year! In addition, a film crew from Madison, WI will be conducting a pro-bono film shoot during a Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative-sponsored birding trip in January of 2014. The crew will produce a video highlighting the work of Osa Conservation in protecting the habitat of this critically endangered bird.


Osa’s Yellow-billed Cotinga.

YBC sanctuary

View of the YBC sanctuary from the Rincón river.

Education and Outreach is at an all time high for Osa Conservation! We are currently partnering with 15 schools and have managed to reach 700 students through our programs. Local students have helped reforest by planting over 600 trees, participated in a beach cleanup program from Cabo Matapalo to Carate Beach, and visited our “Rainforest Discovery Trail” around Piro Biological Station. This summer, we also started a new water stewardship program with help from Allegheny College in Pennsylvania. Students can now monitor water samples around the Osa Peninsula by studying water quality and content through nutrient and phytoplankton assessment – essentially becoming stewards of their own water sources.

Sea Turtle Season is in full swing! We had an all time high of 78 sea turtle volunteers visit the Osa this quarter, performing valuable monitoring of nesting beaches between Piro and Pejeperro. Our sea turtle hatchery is now in full operation – 40 nests have hatched there so far, and 600 baby turtles have reached the sea. We have also had a rare visitor to our nesting beaches – a mother Hawksbill sea turtle has come to lay her eggs!

turtle hatchery

Volunteers nurture sea turtle hatchlings at our new hatchery.

In the Osa National Wildlife Refuge, our camera trap network continues to be an important asset for monitoring populations of large cats and other mammals. The Refuge, consisting of Osa Conservation properties and the properties of several local ecolodges, has expanded to include Lapa Rios, El Ramanso and Bosque del Cabo lodges, covering an area larger than ever before. The network of sixteen camera traps throughout the Refuge have captured photos of numerous small mammals and pumas roaming freely throughout this large protected area.

Jaguar (Panthera onca)

A Jaguar (Panthera onca) roams the Osa National Wildlife Refuge.

Finally, our Wetlands Project has gotten off the ground! This program, in its first six months of implementation, aims to strengthen the institutional presence of MINAE in the Térraba-Sierpe National Wetlands and to develop sustainable economic opportunities for neighboring communities. So far, our project team has participated in five community events to facilitate communication with these local residents.

Community Outreach, Environmental Education, Sea Turtles, Volunteers and Visitors

Osa Conservation kicks off its 5th annual Sea Turtle Festival!

by Pilar Bernal, Environmental Education & Community Outreach Program Manager

Video by Lindsay Metz

On October 6th, we celebrated our fifth annual Sea Turtle Festival on Carate beach. Over 150 gusts joined us for these festivities highlighting the past year of sea turtle conservation. The sun shone brightly throughout the event while families began pouring in as early as 8 am and stayed throughout the day.

528300_219913218176957_1811426336_nWe began the festival with the release of infant sea turtles from the Corcovado Turtle Committee (COTORCO) hatchery. Afterwards, we played games and held events encouraging public awareness of sea turtle biology and conservation. These events and games supplemented prior environmental awareness workshops we have been implementing throughout the year with several of our participating students.



1383836_219930191508593_1446306308_nThe kids at the beach enjoyed games such as turtle racing (which tiny turtle will make it to the ocean first?), treasure hunts, face painting, and even an amazing puppet show provided by COTORCO. The Playa Tortuga Reserve hosted an incredible arts and crafts workshop focused on the use of recyclable materials – the creations included sea turtles, whales, and even adorable barnacles. This workshop would not have been possible without the help of Carolina Ramirez, and we would like to extend our thanks to her.

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At the end of the day, we announced the results of the sea turtle conservation projects on Playa Piro-Pejeperro led by Osa Conservation, Carate Conservation and COTORCO. We also highlighted the importance of these beaches as nesting sites for endangered sea turtles and the importance of having joint partnerships to promote the conservation and awareness of these species.

1382433_219910441510568_82074149_n 1383432_219932348175044_75579535_nAnother wonderful sea turtle season has gone by, and we were happy to see so many individuals interested in learning about sea turtle conservation and watching them make their way to the ocean. Seeing so many families together at this community event enjoying themselves and participating in fun events was truly a warming experience.



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