Uncategorized

National Science Foundation funds new laboratory at our Osa Verde BioStation

Blog post by Hilary Brumberg, Healthy Rivers Program Coordinator

Osa Conservation was recently awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to improve the research facilities, communication and equipment at our Osa Verde Biological Station (Piro), which will position this field station to become a leading center for tropical research, education and conservation. With this new infrastructure, we will increase our capacity to host interdisciplinary researchers, academic groups, and citizen science trainings, therefore advancing scientific knowledge about tropical ecology and enhancing scientific literacy

Location of new NSF-funded laboratory at Osa Verde BioStation. Construction will begin next month.

We are excited to further support the active researchers and education groups visiting Osa Verde BioStation, by providing them with separate, dedicated laboratory and classroom spaces. With the NSF support, we will: 1) Create a dedicated laboratory space, 2) improve electrical power and communications, and 3) outfit the lab with basic wet and dry lab equipment. Meanwhile, the existing lab will become a dedicated educational space for school groups, volunteers, and citizen scientists.

Construction of the new lab begins next month and is estimated to be completed this summer, as will the upgrades to the electrical and communication systems. The following year, the lab equipment and software will be installed. 

These facilities will catalyze innovative and high-quality ecological research, hands-on education and training, and impactful research-based applied conservation. Osa Conservation is fortunate to be collaborating with a dedicated, diverse group of researchers and educational groups who have been visiting the Osa for over a decade to study and conserve its incredible biodiversity. Here’s how a few of them describe how the new research facilities will impact their research and teaching:  

Dr. Andy McCollum

“I have been bringing undergraduate students to the ‘Piro’ Biological Station, now the Osa Verde Biological Station, every year since 2011. For me – and I think for my students – Osa Verde is already an amazing place. My students have been able to learn about conservation practice by working together with Osa Conservation staff and to conduct their own small research projects on a broad range of biodiversity from fungi to sea turtles, big cats to stream invertebrates, monkeys to dung beetles, and herpetofauna to coarse woody debris (and herpetofauna IN coarse woody debris!). The extraordinary biodiversity and breadth of habitats encompassed from the beach up though the farm, secondary forest, and into the primary forest is unexcelled anywhere I have been in Costa Rica … So while I love Osa Verde as it is and has been, I am truly excited about the pending improvement to the infrastructure – a new climate controlled laboratory with basic biological and chemical analytic tools, including DI water (OK, this alone is a big improvement!), compound and stereo microscopes with image capture, electronic balances, hotplate/stirrer, glassware, autoclave, and even a laminar flow hood … If you have never been to Piro, I recommend you give it a look!”

Dr. Andy McCollum, Professor of Biology, Cornell College

Dr. Eben Broadbent & Dr. Angelica Almeyda Zambrano

“The expanded Piro [Osa Verde] station represents the best biological field station on the Osa, in an environment with ease of access to old growth forests, secondary stands, and dynamic fragmented restoration areas. It greatly enhances and expands our ability to pose and address questions of importance throughout the globe, in a safe environment suitable to seasoned field scientists and undergraduate students alike. I applaud NSF investment into Piro [Osa Verde Biological Station] and the Osa, and look forward to using this resource in the future.”

Dr. Eben Broadbent, Co-Director of Spatial Ecology Lab, Assistant Professor of Forest Ecology and Geomatics, University of Florida

“The Osa is much like the Amazon or the Tropics in general, with all the rich biodiversity, grand carbon dense complex forests, and unique species. It also has the myriad land uses, anthropogenic impacts including deforestation, illegal logging and mining, and poaching, and socio-economic challenges. As much as the Osa is a jewel worthy of conserving, it is also an outstanding opportunity to study conservation and sustainability science on a manageable spatial scale, but with full opportunity to scale lessons to global implication. We have been researching in the Osa for over two decades, and we are excited to see the enhanced facilities increase the capacity for high-level research in this incredible place.”

Dr. Angelica Almeyda Zambrano, Co-Director of Spatial Ecology Lab, Assistant Professor of Tourism, Recreation and Sport Management, University of Florida

Dr. Mark Laidre

“Receiving this NSF grant is awesome news! It’s also a recognition of the important role that Osa Conservation serves as a premier field station for cutting-edge tropical research. Having returned to this station each year for over a decade, and also having contributed to the initial version of this grant, I am especially excited about the wonderful opportunities these new funding resources will provide for so many researchers, including continued animal behavior research spanning field and lab by my students and I. We look forward to much more future research in Osa!”

Dr. Mark Laidre, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences, Dartmouth College

Brandon Güell

“The new NSF-funded lab facilities at Osa Conservation will greatly benefit our continued research by providing new ample space to conduct experiments and observations on our sensitive study species, as well as a place to preserve and store invaluable specimens. By adding new wet lab resources and air-conditioned rooms, Osa Conservation is allowing us to broaden the scope of our research and ability in how we ask questions about how and why reproductive strategies, development, and the environment effect embryo behavior and survival.”

Brandon Güell, NSF Pre-doctoral Fellow and Ph.D. Student, Boston University

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A big thanks to volunteers

Blogpost by Mariam Weyand, Sea Turtle Biologist

Osa Conservation relies on the help and support of volunteers to maximize our conservation impact, like many non-profits. Fortunately, we have diverse people coming to discover, help and get involved in our programs. We can separate them into two important groups: short term participants, such as students, families and tourists, and long-term volunteers.

In 2018, we had the luck that many individuals came and helped us with field work in the Sea Turtle Program. They all came to discover the great experience and hard work of relocating sea turtle nests and releasing neonates. They all helped a lot, and I would like to thank them all in this blog, because, after all, what would we do without them?

Volunteers from UNED helping Mariam Weyand and the rest of the Sea Turtle team to reinforce the protective bamboo wall against the strong high tide by filling bags with sand behind it.

Here an example of the great work they did in 2018:

We really enjoy working with groups of volunteers and students, such as World Challenge, UCR (University of Costa Rica) and UNED (State University at Distance). Thanks to their help, we have been able to build a new hatchery! They first filtered the sand on the whole surface of the future building, then built the structure and reinforced it when needed by filling bags with sand behind the protective bamboo wall. They also participated in daily patrols, hatchling releases and beach clean ups.  Every helping hand really counts!

The long-term volunteers, like the groups, participated in many of the other projects at Osa Conservation and were a huge help to each program. The additional manpower they provided to the Sea Turtle Program allowed us to split into two teams, and perform double the amount of work! Moreover, each one shared their own knowledge to improve the different aspects of the projects. At the end of their stay, it was like saying goodbye to full-time team members.

Volunteers from UNED helping the Sea Turtle team to reinforce the protective bamboo wall by pushing a trunk in front of it. Without all of them, we wouldn’t have been able to do it.

Each and every volunteer did a great job at giving a hand in the day-to-day activities. By sharing their energy and knowledge, they participated in the constant improvement of the organization.

So, on behalf of the Osa Conservation Sea Turtle Team, THANK YOU everyone for your help! We hope that we will have the pleasure of working with you again and the opportunity to meet more amazing and dedicated people like you!

Dedicated to Pablo Rodriguez who was an exceptional UNED volunteer. May he rest in peace.

Uncategorized

Necesitamos una transformación cultural permanente para la cacería de la vida silvestre en la Península de Osa

Blog por Marco Hidalgo, coordinador del programa de resiliencia del ecosistema y alcance comunitario

La cacería de animales silvestres, en el caso de la Península de Osa, tiene claras características para ser considerada como un elemento cultural de las personas que la practican. Estas características se cumplen mayormente con quienes practican el monteo y con quienes cazan exclusivamente para consumir la carne. La gran mayoría de estos casos ya no se considera una práctica, sino una costumbre o tradición. Pero esta valoración de elemento cultural no es válido para otros tipos de cacería, por ejemplo, hay quienes cazan, venden la carne o quienes lo hacen como “deporte”, pues median otras razones, que nada tienen que ver con arraigo o costumbre, como es el uso de la carne para negocio o la utilización de la cacería como una manera de canalizar “gustos” como el uso de armas o el solo “placer” de matar animales indiscriminadamente.

Investigaciones en la Península de Osa dan una razón social para entender que la cacería de fauna silvestres es de autoconsumo y no de subsistencia, ya que no es la principal fuente de proteínas,  aunque los mamíferos, tepezcuintle (Cuniculus paca), chancho de monte o chancho cariblanco (Tayassu pecari) y saíno (Pecari Tajacu), son los más cazados.

Los perros son un componente importante para la actividadad de la caceria. Foto: Marco Hidalgo-Chaverri

El protagonista principal de la actividad de caza es el perro, que es criado y entrenado para ese propósito, con énfasis en perros identificados como “tepezcuintleros” o “saineros”. Hay una fuerte valoración y admiración por el “buen perro”. El objetivo principal es observar y escuchar al perro “rastreando al animal en el monte”, y hay una fascinación especial con respecto a la forma como este ladra en tanto está tras el rastro de la presa.

La cacería en Osa es una actividad que se debilita, posiblemente por la generación actividades económicas alternas como es el caso del turismo rural comunitario, y donde la experiencia de conocer nuestros bosques es valorado, y la vida silvestre paso hacer un atractivo del producto que se ofrece, además de haber encontrado un mundo laboral, donde la gente que caza ha encontrado otras oportunidades. Otra posible explicación, es la participación activa de miembros de las comunidades en grupo de monitoreo biológico comunitario, que han dado respuesta al interés de sus pobladores por entender y proteger la naturaleza que heredaron.

El cazador con su perro dentro de una madriguera de Tepezcuintle. Foto: Marco Hidalgo-Chaverri

La cacería como elemento cultural ha resistido el tiempo, sin importar las vicisitudes, ahora es el peor de los escenarios en un contexto de desarrollo que quiere cambiar por el bien de todos, donde la cacería ya no se justifica, por eso Conservación Osa asumió el reto a través del Proyecto de “Prevención del colapso de los ecosistemas: una alianza de vigilancia basada en la ciencia ciudadana” con el financiamiento del International Conservation Fund of Canada, de realizar un esfuerzo integral de acciones de manejo de vida silvestre y restauración de los ecosistemas en buscar con los grupos organizados locales la reducción del impacto sobre la fauna.

Land Conservation and Forest Restoration, Science and Research, Uncategorized

Variety is the spice of life: Monitoring the wildlife in our ecological restoration and rewilding plots

Blogpost by Alice Connell, Restoration and Rewilding Research Field Assistant

Alice monitoring the effectiveness of log piles in attracting amphibian and reptile species to the restoration and rewilding plots. Photo: Sophie Blow

My work is never the same from one day to the next on the Restoration and Rewilding Program, which encompasses many diverse projects that require frequent monitoring. There is plenty to do, I always arrive at lunch hungry and satisfied after mornings of hard work. I want to give you an insight into my first month of being a Restoration and Rewilding Research Field Assistant.

We are employing a variety of approaches and techniques across the rewilding plots in order to “rewild” an array of animals to return to recently reforested abandoned grassland. Our idea is that as the overall species diversity increases, inter- and intra-species interactions within the regenerating areas will begin to re-establish. With some patience and continuous monitoring, we the aim to demonstrate a restored harmonic ecosystem functioning of the Osa Peninsula, and its associated key ecosystem services.

A medium bird box installed to offer shelter for birds. Photo: Alice Connell

One project in the restoration plots is the installation of nesting and roosting boxes to attract birds and bats. To accommodate a variety of species, there are 5 bird box designs, each differing in dimension of the entry hole and the box itself. The frugivorous species belonging to both birds and bats play a vital role in increasing the rate of seed rain, and consequently, the rate of seed dispersal and reforestation.

One day of my week is dedicated to surveying the wonderfully diverse bats that are choosing to use the rewilding plots. The morning’s duty involves erecting mist nets in preparation for the evening’s bat survey. Come the evening time, the team heads back out into the field to open the nets. When the clock strikes six, the monitoring begins, and the excitement of the possibility of catching a new species record ripples through the team.

The species, Micronycteris hirsuta, was recently caught for the first time in one of the rewilding plots. Photo: Alice Connell

The following morning, decaying log piles and epiphytes (such as bromeliads) are translocated to the rewilding plots to increase microhabitat availability, in an effort to rewild amphibians and reptiles. Such microhabitats occur naturally in the primary forests, usually providing refuge for different invertebrates, such as centipedes and millipedes, and for amphibians and reptiles, such as leaf-litter frogs and sun-basking lizards. It is always a pleasure to find a fer-de-lance coiled peacefully within a log pile in a rewilding plot. While the log pile project is relatively new, we have already observed a rapid return and colonization of several amphibian and reptile species within a short period of time, which is highly encouraging.

Undeniably, a huge effort, in terms of time and determination, is required to create a biodiverse and ecologically restored forest ecosystem. Fortunately, the team of highly-motivated and enthusiastic people that constitute the Restoration and Rewilding Program indicates a promising future for Osa’s forests.

A Northern Cat Eyed Snake coiled peacefully within a log pile in a rewilding plot. Photo: Alice Connell

Community Outreach, Land Conservation and Forest Restoration, Sustainable agriculture

Into the wild: Revealing the secrets of wild vanilla

Blogpost by Charlotte Watteyn, doctoral researcher at KU Leuven (Belgium) and the University of Costa Rica, collaborating with Osa Conservation

If you think about vanilla, you immediately start to imagine delicious ice creams, cakes and other yummy sweets. But where does this vanilla come from? Well, it is extracted from the fruits (beans or pods) of orchid vines, producing an intense aroma resulting from a complex of molecules. These orchids belong to the genus Vanilla (Orchidaceae), a diverse group of climbing hemi-epiphytes growing around trees with their aerial roots. The genus contains over 100 species and is pantropic, meaning that they are present all around the tropics. However, the aromatic vanilla species, the ones that produce the lovely smelling pods, are native to the Neotropics.

Overview of the 5 different vanilla species growing in our study region ACOSA (Area de Conservacion Osa). Photo: Adam Karremans

Nevertheless, when you buy vanilla and take a further look at the country of origin, you will probably read “Madagascar.” But Madagascar does not fall within vanilla’s native growing regions, so only the introduced species that was brought over from Mexico a long time ago, Vanilla planifolia, is cultivated in Madgascar. Vanilla cultivators in Madagascar have to pollinate flowers by hand, because natural pollinators are absent, and use intensive production systems. Furthermore, the market chain involves several intermediaries that keep prices artificially high by holding back large quantities, explaining the currently high market prices. As a result, we realized there is a need for innovation in vanilla cultivation.

We want to determine the possibility of contributing to a more sustainable vanilla provision through a joint land sparing and land sharing approach (SPASHA), ensuring the conservation of wild vanilla populations while cultivating the economically interesting ones in a sustainable agroforestry system. There are several wild vanilla species, known as crop wild relatives (CWR), growing in the lowland tropical rainforests of the Neotropics, with presence of pods (that smell very nice!), indicating natural pollination. However, there is very little known about the distribution, biology and ecology of both the orchids and their pollinators. We are interested in determining the potential to cultivate wild vanilla and therefore create an alternative income source for local communities.

Left: The beautiful flower of Vanilla trigonocarpa. Middle: Fruits (green beans) of Vanilla hartii, the result from natural pollination, a mysterious process that we will study in more detail during the coming year. Right: Flower buttons of Vanilla hartii. All three species are native to the lowland tropical rainforests of Costa Rica and are growing within our study region ACOSA. Photos: Charlotte Watteyn & Ruthmery Pillco Huarcaya

As part of the study, we made experimental plots, where we planted four aromatic vanilla CWR—V. hartii, V. odorata, V. pompona and V. trigonocarpa—in both reforestation areas and organic cacao plantations. One of the plots is located at Osa Conservation’s Osa Verde Agroecological Farm. We will measure growth and survival rate over time, as well as production and pollination processes during later stages.

We will be monitoring the vanilla’s success over the next few months and keep you updated with the first results of this exciting (and delicious) research!

 

The planting team at Osa Verde (Marvin, Johan, José, Ruth and Charlotte). We planted 120 vanilla plants, 30 plants of each of the four species, in our experimental plot within a 3-year old reforestation area with a mix of native tree species that act as tutor trees. Photos: Charlotte Watteyn and Ruthmery Pillco Huarcaya

Science and Research

Massive treefrog breeding aggregations at Shampoo Pond

Blog Post by Brandon André Güell, NSF Pre-doctoral Fellow and Ph.D. Student, Warkentin Lab, Boston University

Brandon Güell observing a breeding aggregation at Shampoo Pond. Photo: Brandon Güell

It was about 06:00 after night-long heavy rains ended a short dry spell, and already you could hear a deafening chorus of creatures gathering at the pond. Though sleepless and mosquito-ridden, we trudged chest-deep through the murky swamp waters with notebook and camera in hand to reach the source of the chaos. That’s when we saw it: One of the largest aggregations of treefrogs likely ever to be witnessed.

Tens of thousands of adult gliding treefrogs (Agalychnis spurrelli) literally poured over each other in attempt to breed and lay eggs. And for two Costa Rican tropical biologists and herpetologists, this rare biblical magnitude of frogs was like heaven on earth. This is Costa Rica. This is Osa. This is “Shampoo Pond”.

Agalychnis spurrelli breeding aggregation on palm leaf at Shampoo Pond. Photo: Brandon Güell

 

Since 2015, I have been studying how frog embryos use environmental cues to change their behavior. My current Ph.D. research in the Osa aims to understand how specific reproductive strategies interact with both environmental cues and development to affect embryo behavior and survival. For these gliding treefrogs, tens of thousands of reproducing adult frogs mean hundreds of thousands of frog eggs and embryos. And in this species, embryos are left alone to fend for themselves after they are laid. That means this event leaves behind a massive all you can eat frog-egg buffet for hungry predators

Why have a massive population lay their helpless eggs all at once in one location? That’s a great question, and it’s one I hope to answer!

In some cases, an overwhelming amount of prey can function as an antipredator adaptation if, for example, the overabundance of frog eggs decreases the probability of any one egg’s chance of being eaten. Basically, it can serve as a form of “safety in numbers”. This is known as predator swamping (or predator satiation). Shampoo Pond offers a pristine ecosystem where this hypothesis can be tested using these treefrogs.

In 2018, with the assistance of Katherine González, a Costa Rican tropical biologist, we conducted initial egg clutch monitoring studies in the hopes of determining whether this reproductive strategy has any impact on offspring survival. But this system has even more to it!

If undisturbed, gliding treefrog embryos develop and hatch into the pond as tadpoles in 6 days. But with so many threats, many wouldn’t survive that long.

Brandon Güell and Katherine Gonzalez headed out to the field from the research station. Photo: Brandon Güell

How can frog heaven get any more interesting, you say? Well, what makes these treefrogs particularly interesting is their ability to respond to threats by hatching prematurely!

That’s right! These embryos can hatch almost 40% early to escape the jaws of a hungry predator like snakes, wasps, and even monkeys! However, many of them don’t hatch early, and thus will die during predator attacks. We know the embryos have the ability to hatch early, but sometimes they don’t. Why?!

In addition to predation, these embryos are susceptible to desiccation, fungal infection, and flooding. These threats provide unique cues, which the embryos use to inform their decision of when best to hatch. This is called environmentally cued hatching, and it’s presumable a very adaptive embryo behavior— it increases their survival and fitness. But for the gliding treefrog, this behavior may not be as plastic or adaptive as in other species. Here in the Osa, another focus of my research is understanding the mechanisms which cause these embryos to hatch or not to hatch in these contexts at different developmental stages.

Our work has only begun at Shampoo Pond, and we hope that it will elucidate the conservation importance of this fragile ecosystem and its inhabitants, particularly amidst the current anthropogenic environmental changes in Neotropical rainforests.

 

Above: A series of gliding treefrog (Agalychnis spurrelli) embryo developmental stages. After embryos undergo early and late cleavages (cell divisions with visible nuclei), they form the dorsal lip and the yolk plug becomes visible. Later, embryo bodies rise and begin to show muscular response as the external gills form. Then, their hearts begin to pump blood throughout the body and external gills, and they begin to develop pigmentation. At three and four days, embryos begin to respond to environmental cues and can hatch prematurely to escape flooding and predators respectively. In the last picture, Brandon collects eggs in the swamp to study. 

 

Land Conservation and Forest Restoration, Science and Research

Restoration’s exciting night life

Blog Post by Elène Haave Audet, Restoration and Rewilding Research Field Assistant

 

Elène holding a Noctilio leporinus, the Greater bulldog bat, which fishes from streams. Photo: Doris Audet

For many of us, the creatures of the tropical forest that dare venture at night remain elusive and mysterious beings, their ways of life foreign to us daytime dwellers. Among these enigmatic animals are bats, the group of mammals with the second largest number of species in the world, whose charismatic presence in the tropics will not go un-noticed to the keen nocturnal observer.

Like many sensitive animals, bats are particularly special as a group, since many species require natural areas that have not been disturbed by human activity to find food and places to live. Thus, the presence of many different bat species can provide information about the health of an area. For this reason, Osa Conservation has started sampling the diversity of bats in areas that are being actively restored into forest, after years of use by humans. Overtime, the presence of different types of bats in these areas will help determine the success of restoration.

Vampyrodes caracciolli, the Great striped-faced bat, the second of two new fruit eating bats on the OC property, enjoying a well- deserved fig. Photo: Hilary Brumberg

After seeing the restoration plots for the first time this May, I was convinced that the bat diversity in these areas would not be exciting: that is, I expected to find very little diversity, since the restoration areas are in their infancy and have very little forest cover.

Was I ever wrong! The bat life in the restoration plots is teaming with diversity. After four months of sampling, we have recorded 24 different species of bats, ranging from those that eat insects, fruits, nectar, fish, and yes, even blood. To add to this excitement, two species of fruit eating bats recorded in the restoration areas had not been previously detected on the Osa Conservation property!

Why, then, has the bat nightlife been much more exciting than anticipated? Although the restoration areas have very few trees, the surrounding areas are lush with tropical forest, providing ideal habitat for these endearing creatures. This is very encouraging news for restoration initiatives, as connecting the surrounding forests with restored habitats will continue to support the diverse lifestyles of our nocturnal friends, so they may continue hunting insects, fishing bats, and snacking on figs.

Now every night of sampling is an adventure, and I cannot wait to see what other bats we will encounter in these deceptively rich areas!

Chiroderma villosum, the Hairy big-eyed bat, one of two new fruit eating bats encountered on OC property, posing handsomely. Photo: Elene Haave Audet

 

Uncategorized

The Prevention of Ecosystem Collapse Project

Blog Post by Marco Hidalgo, Coordinator for Prevention of Ecosystem Collapse

Our tropical forests, including the extensions of mangroves that slope down the south pacific, suffer a constant threat from different man-made factors. One of the most significant threats is the lack of predators and their prey, which have decreased due to recreational and cultural hunting in the Osa Peninsula.

In the search for practical solutions on the ecosystem-level, Osa Conservation’s Prevention of Ecosystem Collapse project hopes to increase the resilience of ecosystems in the Osa Peninsula through the use of citizen science and rewilding practices. Osa Conservation also aims to connect their existing science network with the local ecotourism industry.

This initiative implements acoustic devices that detect the remote activities of the biodiversity in the Osa, which provides us with unique biological data, fast answers, and reliable wildlife monitoring from the canopy of our forest.

The project also offers education workshops and seeks to develop alternative opportunities with the goal of transforming hunters and their children into defenders of wildlife. This project has hosted talks in educational centers where our researchers and local hunters come together to learn about the importance of wildlife in our forests.

Uncategorized

Connecting Golfo Dulce’s Fish Populations

Blog Post by José Luis Molina Quirós, Alvaro Ugalde Scholarship Awardee

Costa Rica has a great diversity of species and marine ecosystems that protect and provide food to hundreds of organisms in various phases of their life cycle. For example, El Golfo de Papagayo and Golfo Dulce are just a few of the many hot spots that harbor this diversity of marine species and ecosystems, but these species have not been completely protected.

Sampling of species (Lutjanus guttatus, L. peru and Centropumus viridis) product of artisanal fisheries.

Currently, our country lacks the basic information necessary to evaluate the population structure of bony fish species, which have been exposed to heavy fishing pressure that make a natural recovery of their populations impossible. This problem not only afflicts Costa Rica but also all of Latin America, since there is no scientific data that gives real support and defines the units of a given fishery. For this reason, it is critical to clarify the degree of genetic connectivity among fish populations throughout their geographical distribution in order to maintain the productivity of the populations and ensure the sustainability of fishery resources over time.

Sampling and release of Sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus) in offshore sport fishing with Crocodile Bay in Puerto Jiménez.

Therefore, the present research proposal aims to study the genetic connectivity of several species of teleosts that play a critical role at the ecological and economic level (tourism, sports, and crafts), such as roosterfish (Nematistius pectoralis), snappers (Lutjanus peru and L. guttatus), bass (Centropomus viridis) and sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus). Through the use of nuclear molecular markers (microsatellites), it will be possible to define regulations and estimates of the maximum sustainable level at which a stock can be exploited.

Sampling and release of Roosterfish (Nematistius pectoralis) in inshore sport fishing with Captain Roy Zapata in Quepos.

The results of our research will allow us to generate the first biological-fishery information of these species along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica and establish baseline information that could suggest possible fishery management strategies and measures.

Uncategorized

Research Field Assistant Journals

Blogposts written by Research Field Assistants Mariam Weyand, Bryan Graybill, and Alexandra Mörth

Rewarding Research

Working as a research field assistant (RFA) for the Sea Turtle Conservation Program with Osa Conservation is really different from the other places I have worked for, and so far, it has been really rewarding.

Every day, we conduct morning patrols to register any activity from the previous night and relocate nests that are at risk to the hatchery. I wake up between 3:45 and 5:00 a.m. depending on which beach I am going to patrol and on the presence of groups. At first, it was a bit hard to get used to the rhythm, heat, and humidity, but now that it’s been a month and a half, I only see the bright side of this job.

Every day is different; the diversity and abundance of fauna on the Osa peninsula is amazing and surprising, not to mention the breathtaking sunsets. When it comes to releasing baby sea turtles and protecting them from predators, it is the best reward I could get and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Moreover, it is really satisfying to be able to share our experience and knowledge with groups and volunteers, spreading awareness about sea turtles’ status.

It is also really interesting to work with Osa Conservation due to its diversity of projects and conservation programs.

-Mariam Weyand

RFA Mariam taking care of olive ridley babies after releasing them.

 


The Importance of the Work

Six days a week, I wake up around 4:00 a.m., get dressed, slip on my rubber boots, turn on my headlamp, and begin the day with a hike through the jungle to one of two beaches that the research field assistants (RFAs) patrol. Along the way, I am greeted by the sounds of frogs’ mating calls, howler monkeys’ gravelly morning bellows, and bats swooping in and out of my vision.

When my co-RFAs and I reach the beach, we begin the patrol looking for sea turtle nests laid the night before. If we find nests in a vulnerable location, we’ll open the nest, delicately extract all 60-130 eggs, and move them to a walled off hatchery where they will be protected from the tide and predators. When the patrol finishes a few hours later, I’ll hike back through the jungle to the Biological Station for breakfast with the other researchers living at the station, praying that today is pancake day.

Though the ability to participate in sea turtle conservation is a reward in and of itself, the surprises and differences between each day are what make the work truly special. It could be a sunrise that fills the sky with colors, a miniature blue jellyfish that has washed up on shore, or a sea turtle making a nest in the sand for a new hatchery we haven’t started using yet. The holy grail are the days when we enter the hatchery and, after opening the mesh net that covers each nest, we see a teeming mass of newly hatched sea turtles, full of energy and eager to get to the ocean.

Of course, there are also the days when we get to the beach and find mostly empty nests, either poached by humans or dug up and eaten by dogs or coatis, or we find the whole beach littered with garbage that has floated across the ocean from countries as far away as China. But these are the kind of daily experiences that remind me why conservation is such an important field right now, and why we all need to constantly strive to be more responsible consumers.

-Bryan Graybill

RFA Bryan with an olive ridley going back to the sea after nesting at Piro Beach.

 


Self-discovery in the Osa

My time as a Sea Turtle RFA has been an intense experience—rewarding and challenging at the same time.

Waking up every morning between 3:30 and 4:30 and hiking straight to the beach for the morning patrol before breakfast is quite a change of lifestyle, especially for a “night owl” like me who is used to going to bed late, getting up late, and can’t start the day without a cup of coffee.

We start the day with a hike through the still, dark rainforest and arrive to one of the beautiful and wild beaches we patrol. Watching the sunrise with this breathtaking view while patrolling the beach for sea turtle nests makes waking up so early more than worth it. During morning patrol, we relocate nests from critical spots to our hatchery, triangulate nests in non-critical parts of the beach, check predated nests, and hope to find nests hatched the night before in order to enjoy the best part of the job: releasing baby sea turtles into the wide ocean.

After morning patrol, we head to the Biological Station for breakfast. The rest of the day we work on the database or on our own projects. In the afternoon, we check if any nests have hatched, and if the season and weather allow, we go on a night patrol to look for females nesting. In the late afternoon we usually have time to enjoy this incredible place and hike at one of the various trails, spot animals, go to the beautiful Laguna (Kalman included) and the beaches, or just rest in a hammock and read a book. Every day is different!

A great thing here is definitely the community. There are many young researchers, assistants, farmers and kitchen staff living near each other in various houses and camping platforms. At lunchtime and in the evening it’s a great chance to spend time with very different people from countries all over the world.

I came here because I was looking for a life more connected to nature and to become a part of protecting the two ecosystems I love most, and which are, in my opinion, the most important to protect: the rainforest and the ocean. So, I started living the life I dreamed of here, although I really wasn’t expecting it to be so challenging. Arriving from cold Germany just three days before starting my position here, it took quite a while to get this European used to living and working in the jungle.

While becoming friends with my new roommates, cockroaches, ants, wasps, toads, geckos, a tarantula and fungus, worked out very well, the heat, humidity, and getting sick at the beginning really gave me a rough start. But by hiking, sitting in the middle of the rainforest and at these wild beaches, taking in the incredible biodiversity of giant trees, various frogs, monkeys, birds, and of course, sea turtles, and listening to the sound of the jungle and the waves of the Pacific Ocean gave me so much energy and peace that after a while I felt fitter than before and learned to adapt to everything.

This place has taught me a lot about nature and conservation as well as about myself. Seeing how many threats a sea turtle has to face during her lifetime—from the risk of rising sea levels, the exhausting first trip to the ocean, and predators and poachers, to the the dangers in the giant ocean—and knowing only one in a thousand survives, showed me how important our work is here. I am really happy that I am able to contribute to this hard work. Now, after two months, I can’t imagine a life without walking back at night through the rainforest in the moonlight surrounded by lightning bugs, crossing a river to get to my mosquito-net-sheltered bed, listening to the tropical rain while falling asleep and starting the day early with the sounds of the Howler Monkeys and a hike, all before having a coffee.

-Alexandra Mörth

Data Entry Services India