Community Outreach, Environmental Education, Land Conservation and Forest Restoration

Water conservation lessons learned from indigenous youth

Blogpost by Jonathan Navarro Picado, Healthy Rivers Program Coordinator

Children teach us new things every day and they are full of surprises; the only thing they need is a bit of motivation. 

The community of Alto Laguna in Osa, the only indigenous reserve on the Osa Peninsula, is full of forest, life, stunning sunsets and inspiring people. The students of the school in the community received a talk about the importance of the rivers. But more than teaching them, they taught us through art the understanding they have of this natural treasure and the community’s connection with water. 

Some children, like Yendry, teach us the importance of watersheds, in which small rivers contribute to a major river, one that reaches the sea. It is said that “rivers are the veins of our planet,” and she understands that very well. Our planet’s water is connected.

The children also represent what they have seen around them. Pastureland also plays a large role in the landscape in this region. But if Angie is able to plant trees around a river in her imagination, why not plant them in reality as well? If these trees are not there in a few years, then perhaps the river will not be either. 

Water flows, yes, of course, and life also flows. Jacqueline, teaches us how there is life in the rivers from the mountains to the sea. But there is something that we have not taken into account: as well as water and life, pollution also flows. It is a very common problem to pollute our rivers; if we pollute this river in the upper part, what is flowing is death. That is not what is in the mind of a school girl who has grown up surrounded by forest, so let’s each do our part to contribute a drop of water to help Jacqueline to keep Osa’s rivers healthy.

Community Outreach, Environmental Education, Science and Research, Volunteers and Visitors

Lessons learned in first annual Costa Rican Restoration & Rewilding Field Course

By Irene Artiñano Banegas, Student in the first annual Costa Rican Restoration & Rewilding Field Course

Restoration & Rewilding Field Course participants travelled across the Osa Peninsula to learn about conservation threats and initiatives in the region. Here, Irene, Osa Conservation staff, other course participants visit the Terraba-Sierpe Wetland. Photo: Michelle Monge

I learned a lot during my two months in the Restoration & Rewilding Field Course at Osa Conservation. Our adventures included installing camera traps to monitor the activity of different mammals, walking through the forest learning (and hearing their crazy stories) from Luis Poveda, entering the cave of a giant tree that is over 100 years old, participating in my first bird count, seeing one of the last coral reefs of Golfo Dulce, and designing and presenting my first project on restoration and “rewilding.” These are just some of the many new and incredible experiences that I had the opportunity to experience here, and I want to share some of my favorite moments with you all. 

I had never worked with bats. I do not know much about them and although they seem cute, their study has never attracted me. However, my perception changed when I learned much more about them during the Restoration & Rewilding Field Course. From the beginning, the talk with professor Gloriana Chaverrí was very interesting. She presents with a passion that is captivating and makes one forget they ever thought that bats are ugly. The importance of them in the ecosystem is very undervalued, and there are many myths and legends about bats that always make us keep them at arms length.

Students in the Restoration & Rewilding Field Course visited the mangrove greenhouse to learn more about Osa Conservation’s mangrove restoration project in the Terraba-Sierpe Wetland. Photo: Irene Artiñano Banegas

Another interesting experience was learning about mangroves. I have always loved plants; I like to learn about how they work, what their names are, how we can use them, and how to grow them. However, I had never thought about mangrove cultivation. Learning about this restoration project really surprised me. 

After the destruction of the mangrove, the land is now being invaded by a type of fern that does not allow the mangrove to regrow. Then, nurseries have been created to reproduce the mangrove plants and plant them in lands where the fern has been removed, with the intention of restoring this ecosystem. As people says, “I take my hat off” to those who have done this work, since the conditions are really hard and I hope that the project will go ahead given the immense importance of the mangrove.  

Irene and other students from Restoration & Rewilding Field Course learning river monitoring and conservation techniques. Photo: Hilary Brumberg

A shared perspective between all of the teachers of the course is that there is still opportunity for change and to reverse the effects of extensive destruction that we have caused. I feel really inspired after seeing so much work that is done (and that remains to be done), as well as motivated to contribute personally.

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.


Aquatic Health, Community Outreach, Environmental Education

“Picnic in the River,” a nationwide celebration of rivers

Blogpost by Kristina Graves, Healthy Rivers Program Research Field Assistant and Masters Student at Imperial College London

Having just arrived at the start of the week, I was really excited to hear that Osa Conservation was hosting a “Picnic in the River” in celebration of Costa Rican rivers and their importance to people and wildlife. I thought it would be a great way to understand the context of rivers in the Osa and community and throw myself headfirst into learning some Spanish. 

“Picnic in the River” is an annual festival in which communities across Costa Rica celebrate rivers as part of the International Day of Action for Rivers. This year, we hosted the largest ever Osa Peninsula “Picnic en el River”, thanks to the 71 community members who come out to our Osa Verde BioStation (Piro) to celebrate rivers. 

The Osa Community celebrated Costa Rica’s rivers, along with 170 groups across Costa Rica, in honor of the International Day of River Action. Photo: Jo De Pauw

The day started off with a buzz in the air and a tangible excitement among the staff in anticipation of the day. It all kicked off when three buses arrived bringing children from local schools and their families to the station. 

After introductions, workshops were led by Hilary Brumberg (Healthy Rivers Program Coordinator), and Mariam Weyand (Sea Turtle Biologist), and Marlon Jiménez Castro (the local aqueduct administrator), to highlight the many uses people have for rivers and how rivers function as a connection between the land and the sea. Marco Hidalgo (Coordinator of Ecosystem Resilience and Community Outreach) explained how the iNaturalist application can be used to register the incredible wildlife found in the Osa. The children, who were initially shy, seemed really enthusiastic as they called out their ideas and got involved in the presentations. 

Participants learned about aquatic biodiversity and competed in a mini “BioBlitz” to find as much wildlife as they could. Photo: Osa Conservation

The children had two dances prepared for the day, and outfits to match! They came dressed as iconic forest creatures and plants and they looked fantastic. It was great to get involved with them at the end and share their enthusiasm for nature and the day in general. 

In the afternoon, families were split into two groups and led to either Piro River or the nearby Piro Beach, where Piro River meets the sea, to get an opportunity to experience first-hand the diversity and ecological importance of their country. The kids participated in a mini wildlife BioBlitz, each competing to find the most different types of wildlife to records on their iNaturalist “nametags.” Nature really showed off with some turtle hatchlings at the beach and lots of shrimp, fish and insect larva in the stream. There was also time for a quick dip in the stream afterwards to cool off!

To celebrate declaring Piro River “healthy” based on a high diversity of aquatic wildlife, the kids celebrated with a dip in the stream. Photo: Jo De Pauw

Overall, it felt great to be part of a “Picnic in the River” celebration on the same day as 170 groups across Costa Rica in honor of the International Day of River Action. I had a great first introduction to the community and streams in the Osa Peninsula and I am so excited to get stuck in to the projects and be a part of the work Osa Conservation are doing here.

Environmental Education, Miscellaneous, Science and Research, Volunteers and Visitors

A little luck and a fun(gi) story

Read about Grace Leppink’s experience in the Osa as she makes exciting fungi discoveries!

Fungi are found throughout the world, but some of the most amazing and diverse fungi are found in Costa Rica.  The combination of deeply shaded forests and a warm, humid climate makes Costa Rica the perfect incubator for fungi.  As a new mycologist, the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica was one that I could not pass up.  On my first day at the Piro Research Station I had an exciting and lucky encounter with fungi.

fungus

Staheliomyces cincta, fresh and erect.

We were in the thick of the forest on the Ajo Trail. As we rounded the corner we found our prey under the canopy of a giant tree. The intricate lacework of its body was accented by the few rays of light the canopy allowed through.  We had come across a stunning specimen – the strangled stinkhorn, Staheliomyces cinctus.  When I first laid my eyes on it, it seemed out of place compared to the brown and green hues surrounding it.  This white alien shape seemed to protrude out of nowhere, like some weird organic artifact. As my professor joked later, it was the best accessorized fungi he had ever met, as it wore a thick shiny black belt – of slime containing its spores.

 

collapsing fungi

Same fungus, same day. Starting to collapse! It was undetectable a day later.

This stinkhorn is uncommon and not well documented. One reason is due to the short time that the fruiting body exists.  The structure rarely lasts more than a day before turning into messy lump of black goo.  If my group had not gone out to that trail on that morning we might only have found a shriveled shadow of its former glory.

In the following weeks I hope to continue my documentation of the fantastic fungi by looking at the secondary and primary forests of the OSA peninsula!

 

Aquatic Health, Environmental Education, Marine Conservation, Sea Turtles, Volunteers and Visitors

The Future of Sea Turtles

turtle picture

The fluttering of papery wings; back and forth, back and forth. They open and close their tiny mouths. Nocturnal hungry bats, paired with the incessant whir of cicada wings and the low, ominous drone of Howler monkeys are the evening calls of the Osa. These sounds signify the awakening of all things that dwell in the night. Usually, it also signifies our bedtime; unless it’s an evening of turtle patrol.

When I took herpetology as a senior in college three years ago, my professor used to joke that, “Herpetologists are the night-owls and ornithologists are the morning people”. But, working with sea turtles breaks the mold. Sometimes, we rise at 3:30am. Donning our headlamps, we make our way down the winding forested trail to Piro or Pejeperro Beach, and scout for turtle tracks and hatchlings as the sun paints purple and pink ribbons across the sky. Sometimes, we have to sip on coffee (like the local Ticos do) post-dinner to keep us from falling asleep before a night patrol. Patrols typically begin at 8:30pm and can last beyond 1:00am. In my three weeks of being here, I’ve seen five Loras (Olive ridleys) and two Verdes (Greens) gingerly crawl from the surf to lay their eggs. I’ve measured their shells and tagged their flippers . And just last night, we saw a white light flashing ever closer to us on Piro—a sign of poachers. We had to abandon patrol.baby turtle

Poaching of turtle eggs is a sad reality here in Costa Rica. For many, it’s a feasible way to make a living and support a family. But through education, the next generation can learn the importance of conserving their country’s already threatened sea turtle species.

As a sea turtle Research Field Assistant, my main responsibilities are conducting patrols, maintaining the hatchery, and providing a steady presence on the beach. But the Carate Sea Turtle Festival last Saturday reminded me of my experience with outreach education. The enthusiasm and receptivity of the children around me was incredible, whether they be Spanish speaking locals or English speaking visitors. All partook in eagerly picking up and exploring local invertebrates with spoons and forceps, and dashing around the beach like a mother turtle (but a little faster). They learned what sea turtles eat (seagrasses, sponges, jellies, ect.), what they accidentally eat (plastic), and how we can keep plastics out of our ocean by using reusable alternatives. Later, we danced to a local band that sang songs about el bosque and la playa and the animals that call them home. Mid-dance, I helped a local toddler collect hermit crabs in a bucket. It didn’t matter that I hardly speak Spanish; our enthusiasm spoke for us. I can only hope that every child I met in Carate shared a similar enthusiasm and will remember the day we celebrated sea turtles, for their future is in all of our hands.

Birds, Environmental Education, Science and Research

Love-songs and Lovebirds in the Osa

Read about Esmeralda Quirós Guerrero’s research on the singing patterns of birds in the Osa. The intense biodiversity around our stations provided her with a perfect place to conduct her research. We love learning more about the incredible birds of the Osa!

Did you know that many species of birds sing duets? Vocal displays are one of the most researched interactions between and within species. There is a great diversity in the structure of singing behavior. I have been investigating the learning process of duets in Osa songbirds. Duets are complex songs that large groups or paired mates sing in coordination with one another to produce a wide array of performances. Not only are duets complex in how they are structured but several species also have a big repertoire of duets that they use non-randomly. For example, a particular phrase from a female is only sung in response to a particular phrase from a male and vice versa. This coordination is not only hard to produce but also hard to learn.

Riverside Wren

Riverside Wren

I chose to study the development of Riverside Wrens, Cantorchilus semibadius which inhabit the pacific slope of southern Costa Rica. Riverside Wrens are found next to rivers and wetlands and they sing elaborate duets. I decided to conduct my research at Osa Conservation because they have a large population of these Wrens right next to their station.

At this first stage of my PhD I am beginning to describe how juveniles from each sex start to learn and practice their vocalizations. So far I am seeing that in the earlier stages vocalizations are quite atypical, in the intermediate stages single individuals are performing whole duets, and in the latter stages individuals are singing with siblings and their parents. Initially, they sing both male type or female type songs interchangeably. In the latter stages individuals mostly stick to one type of vocalization, either male or female depending on their sex. This means that juveniles need a rehearsal period to learn how to duet and that the interactions with sibling and adults while practicing is essential. I believe investigating the relationship between social influences and duets is important in understanding such an intriguing and complex behavior.

banding

Banding the Wrens

 

 

Esmeralda Quirós Guerrero

PhD Student-St. Andrews University, United Kingdom

Environmental Education, Science and Research, Volunteers and Visitors

A Night with Bats

Bats. These nocturnal creatures tend to get a bad rap. Associated for centuries with mythical creatures of the night, and used as Halloween decorations to add eeriness to a haunted house, the real life mammal often gets overlooked. OC aims to change that by collaborating with experts and educating the public on the crucial role bats play in restoration.

Recently, Osa Conservation was honored with a visit from 2 remarkable scientists in the bat world: Cullen Geiselman, bat biologist and board member of Bat Conservation International & Gloriana Chaverri, a University of Costa Rica professor and respected bat biologist who conducts ongoing research at OC’s properties.

Chaverri and Geiselman visited Osa Conservation to brainstorm with OC on how we can help make people aware of how crucial this magnificent animal is to the Osa and the myriad ecosystems they inhabit.

Along with OC Science & Education Director, Jim Palmer, they explored Chaverri’s research sites and visited Osa Conservation’s newest property, Osa Verde. Osa Verde will, among other things, be the site of experimental restoration plots where researchers and students will study the process of forest succession in the Osa to help improve reforestation efforts. (For more information, please visit http://osaconservation.org/visit-the-osa/volunteer/tropical-reforestation/). This site will be important for bat research and conservation efforts as we study their impact on regeneration through seed dispersal and monitor their presence in strategically placed bat boxes.

One night of the visit, under the cover of the dense canopy and the starry Costa Rican sky, these expert bat wranglers set up mist nets to capture and study bats. Volunteers and visitors watched in awe as they collected data on the bats and released them.

It was a fun, successful visit. OC staff and station visitors learned a lot from hearing about the work of Geiselman and Chaverri and taking part in an evening of mist netting. We all gained a great appreciation for these cute mammals and OC looks forward to sharing this information and spreading the message! Bats rock!

Fast Facts About Bats!

  • Bats eat bugs! In the U.S. bats are estimated to be worth more than $3.7 billion a year in reduced crop damage and pesticide use.
  • Bats are important pollinators! Some of the commercial products that bats help provide include: bananas, peaches, cloves, carob, and agave.
  • Bats play a key role in reforestation! Fruit-eating bats help repopulate tropical forests by dispersing the seeds of fruiting trees over wide areas. Bats are important seed dispersers for avocados, dates, figs, and cashews – to name a few.

Source: Bat Conservation International

Community Outreach, Environmental Education, Science and Research, Volunteers and Visitors

Environmental Festivals in the Osa

World Environment Day, 2nd Anniversary of the Luis Jorge Poveda Álvarez Arboretum and inauguration of the Centenary Forest.

In early June, we had three important celebrations: World Environment Day, the 2nd anniversary of the Jorge Poveda Álvarez Arboretum and the inauguration of the Centenary Forest.

World Environment Day was celebrated in early June, and had participation from diverse groups of people. We had students from various educational centers participate as well as people from organizations and businesses with various fields of focus, like mangroves in the case of Fundación Neotrópica, sea turtles in the case of LAST (Latin American Sea Turtles) and sustainable forest plantations in the case of LACT. The support and participation of local farmers and artisans with the exhibition and sale of their products topped off a great turnout.

Furthermore, this y11011808_442506935917583_1591210675148998070_near we celebrated two important events in forest culture. First, the second anniversary of the Luis Jorge Poveda Álvarez Arboretum was on June 14. This museum of trees on the Osa Peninsula includes emblematic and threatened species like the ajo negro (Anthodiscus chocoensis), the camíbar (Copaifera aromatica), the nazareno or purpleheart (Peltogyne purpurea Pittier), the cristóbal (Platymiscium pinnatum) and the breadnut or Maya nut (Brosimum alicastrum).

Lastly, on June 15 was the inauguration of the Centenary Forest. This day pays homage to the 100 years of the institutionalization of National Tree Day by President Alfredo González Flores, and also to honor the people and institutions that have worked toward the conservation of the forests like Don Álvaro Ugalde, Daniel Janzen and Winnie Hallwach. This has been and initiative of the Golfo Dulce Forest Reserve, as a strategy to promote forest culture in the communities of the Osa and to promote an appreciation for the forests and their ecosystem services.

Celebrations like these are crucial to community outreach, especially to the younger generations. By celebrating how far we’ve come and our accomplishments in conservation, we get people excited about nature and inspire more action to protect it in the future!

Environmental Education, Science and Research, Volunteers and Visitors

Bats Abound!

The Magnificent Gleaning Phyllostomines of the Osa

Submitted by : Doris Audet and Elène Haave Audet, University of Alberta, Canada

Slide1 (1)

Among the rich bat fauna to call Osa Conservation home, a select group speaks to the pristine nature of its old-growth forest: the gleaning phyllostomines.  These large-eared members of the highly diverse leaf-nosed bat family favour habitats of high ecological integrity that include mature forests and undisturbed riparian corridors.

They kindly allowed us to take before going on with their lives.

They kindly allowed us to take their photos before going on with their lives.

Phyllostomines are typically found in low abundance throughout their ranges, however since we started surveying the bat fauna around the Piro Biological Station in 2012, eight of the 33 bat species that we identified belong to this special group. This represents about half of the phyllostomines species expected to inhabit the lowlands of the Osa Peninsula.

 

 

Phyllostomines are primarily insectivorous, and their unusual manoeuvrability allows them to forage within the forest understory, either gleaning their prey from the vegetation or catching them in flight. Some of the larger species, such as the frog-eating bat (Trachops cirrhosus), also include vertebrates in their diet.  Their large, sensitive ears allow them to eavesdrop upon the mating calls of frogs and insects. The similar sized white-throated round-eared bat (Lophostoma silvicolum) has the peculiar habit of roosting in live termite nests, making it one of the rare bat species known to dig out its own shelters.

Slide3

Striped-headed round-eared bat

 

The striped-headed round-eared bat (Tonatia saurophila) (shown right), like many other phyllostomine species, occurs in low abundance and is relatively rare throughout its range.  Consequently, we have much to learn about their lives in the wild.

 

 

Slide4

Common big-eared bat

The smallest of them all (shown left), at around 5 g, is the common big-eared bat (Micronycteris microtis). As its name suggests, it is among the more frequently encountered bats of this group;  nevertheless, it is unlikely to appear in highly disturbed habitats. Common big-eared bats are known to include fruit in their diet, as is probably the case for many other more secretive phyllostomines.

 

The star of our bat encounters at Osa, the woolly false vampire (Chrotopterus auritus) (shown below), is the second largest bat species in the New World, with a wingspan of over half a meter.  Ten times the weight of the common big-eared bat, it is one of the top nocturnal predators.

Slide5

Woolly false vampire bat

 

The presence of diverse phyllostomines in Osa’s old growth areas is good news for the outcome of forest restoration, as they will provide the source populations necessary to re-colonize restored areas as they become suitable. On each of our visits to the Osa, at least one additional phyllostomine species revealed its presence, and we are eager to continue discovering what bats call this forest home!

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