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.
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.
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.
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.
Blogpost by Marco Hidalgo-Chaverri, Coordinator of the Ecosystem Resilience and Community Outreach Program
Citizen science is the participation of the general public in scientific research activities. Citizens contribute actively, either through active monitoring or with local knowledge of their environment. This different way of doing science contributes to scientific knowledge through the participation of volunteer and trained citizens who are not usually specialists in the subject to be investigated and who contribute to help solve questions raised in scientific studies.
It is not a new way of doing science. In fact, it has existed for centuries, since the very beginning of science—from the contributions made by astronomers, to the observation of birds in remote parts of the world.
Citizen science projects allow the public, through their own experience, to understand how scientific research is carried out. Participants find that the process of doing science arises from observation and methods for data collection. People are adequately trained in a non-formal setting, contribute to the collection of data, and—if their curiosity catches on—they might even start their own research.
These meetings of participation constitute an alliance between scientists and the general public, forming a great work team, answering the great questions about Earth’s biodiversity.
With this goal in mind, Osa Conservation is supporting the Community Biological Monitoring Groups formed in the Osa Peninsula. We are sharing experiences with organized groups in the communities of Rancho Quemado, Dos Brazos del Rio Tigre, Los Planes of Drake and the Alto Laguna Indigenous Territory. With these groups, we are working on the collaborative construction of knowledge through the Osa Camera Trap Network, who lead the collection of data and assist in data analysis. At Osa Conservation, we believe that the participation of communities to support the monitoring of spatio-temporal trends of biodiversity has special importance in the fight to prevent and stop the loss of flora and fauna species that are susceptible to small environmental changes.
The children of the Osa Peninsula have not been left out in this participatory contribution. Year after year, we have been supporting the Christmas Children’s Bird Count, which is a form of social appropriation of science like no other, since the students of schools and colleges become the main actors of this knowledge construction. The key to this initiative is to take science as an attitude and have the ability to marvel and generate questions with the things or situations we face every day. Our children find a magic in the birds and biodiversity that surrounds them. This information helps analyze traces of climate change and observe climatic phenomena, and these are the same students who will live the solutions.
In support of this effort of Citizen Science, Osa Conservation is promoting the use of global social networks, which are used by people who like to share images of the nature of the region. We are recommending the iNaturalistapplication, a technological tool that connects people with nature to build participatory citizen science, in order to understand the situation populations of our flora and fauna and the changes that affect different ecosystems. If you or members of your community want to be part of this great effort, you can contact us, and support us to create knowledge.
Blogpost by Jonathan Navarro Picado, Healthy Rivers Program Coordinator
Whether we perceive it or not, the forest is alive; there is movement, there is disorder, and—most importantly—there are endless interactions. This last word is the key to help make this hidden world clear to our human “worlds,” which are so short and tiny in comparison to the existence of these forests.
When you walk through the old growth and secondary forests of the Osa Verde BioStation (Piro), you can see everythimg from herbs, seedlings and shrubs to gigantic trees hundreds of years old. Commonly seen are a great diversity of birds and insects, and sometimes one can have the good fortune to observe peccaries or to spot a small wild cat.
Now, there are many other things that we cannot witness, either because they occur at scales unimaginable to the human being (at a microscopic level, like bacteria, or in the heights of treetops) or because it would take months or years to notice the patterns of a certain event. One way to notice these small scale changes that happen in the forest is through observing the difference between day and night. In the night, more sounds are heard, even different events or movements are observed.
Observing a higuerón seems impressive to us all, but the interactions are what fascinate biologists: the complexity of their pollination related to certain wasp species, the presence of hemiepiphytes (a plant that stays in another) that present the majority of fig trees (Ficusspp) and how they affect the development and biology of other plant species. In addition, there is a large number of birds that feed on the fruits of Ficus and are also their dispersers. The Fig tree is related to an endless number of animals and events. This is considering only a specific tree; therefore, the amount of interactions in the forest is unimaginable, more taking into account that over time new relationships will appear.
The sad thing about all this is that as you learn more about the complexity of a forest and the interdependence among all its components, when you hear that people are cutting down a forest, extracting endangered species, polluting of rivers, hunting and causing many other environmental problems, you realize that the impact is at the ecosystem level and that recovering the conditions of a forest with all its interactions will take years or even centuries.
When a person for personal and economic interests cuts down a tree that is hundreds of years old and says “there are many other trees” or even plants a new one, perhaps he or she does not know or does not share the great feeling of entering the cave formed at the base of a great old garlic tree (Caryocar costarricense), of feel part of nature itself. More importantly, perhaps he or she does not see the amount of bats that depend on said cave, the facilitation in the dispersal of seeds, the great source of food for so many animals and all the storage of carbon during decades that helps us to be here today delighting in all these interactions.
That’s why I want to be part of those interactions in a positive way, through inducing positive change. As the change from being a Osa Conservation Restoration & Rewilding Field Course student to being the Coordinator of the Healthy Rivers program here, I hope that this challenge helps to conserve many interactions in the veins of our planet.
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 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
“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!”
“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
“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
“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
Not long ago, the Costa Rican ethnobotanist Jorge Luis Poveda visited Osa Conservation. For me, it was an honor and pleasure to meet him.
A simple and very friendly person, he has so many stories to tell about his personal experiences, plants, and teaching a wide variety of people. Poveda has devoted many years of his professional career to projects against cancer, Costa Rican Trees, and Manual of Plants of Costa Rica, among others. In addition, he is a passionate naturalist, and he writes poems inspired by nature itself.
In one of his walks through Cerro Osa, he saw a small plant that caught his attention that he had not seen before in the Osa Peninsula, Cipura campanulata. It was the first report of this species for the area. Our botanist friend, Reinaldo Aguilar, who lives in Puerto Jiménez, confirmed the discovery.
It is a Monocotyledonous plant, belonging to the family of Iridaceae plants. For the country, Costa Rica, there are 6 generaand 14 species registered, among them the genus Cipura, which consists of 5 species in total.
This plant is found only in the continent of America, with a wide distribution range that extends from Mexico to Colombia and Venezuela and Antilles. In Costa Rica, it is found mainly to the north of the Pacific slope and in the plains of Guanacaste between 0 to 300 meters above sea level. They reach a height of about 20 to 60 cm high, and their leaves have a resemblance to rice plants with white flowers in the shape of a small bell that open very early in the morning and also close in a short time. Because of their small size, they are ideal to have as ornamentals.
This plant flowers once a day. If you get to own one of these wonderful plants, you can be sure every morning that this grass-shaped, bushy plant will have a small flower to brighten the morning, wishing you good morning. Sit with a good coffee and admire the beauty of this fragile and helpless little plant.
One of Poveda’s poems:
“La Montaña Mágica
Sí, eres mágica, eres hontanar de sabiduría, eres pan nuestro de cada día.
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?
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.
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.
Blogpost by Mariana Elizondo Sancho, Álvaro Ugalde grant awardee
Sphyrna lewiniis one of the nine species of hammerhead sharks, and it lives across the tropics worldwide. This species is categorized as Endangered, since its populations have declined more than 50% in the last 10 years, according to the IUCN. This shark is threatened by fisheries, both as bycatch and as directed fishing, since their fins are highly valued in the international fin market.
This shark has an interesting behavior in which females come to coastal waters called nursery areas to deliver their pups. Juveniles remain in these areas for their first years, so coastal marshes and wetlands are an important habitat for their nurturing. In Costa Rica, these areas are threatened both by habitat degradation and by fisheries. One of the most important nursery areas is the Golfo Dulce in the southern pacific of Costa Rica.
After this first stage of life, adults move to open waters and islands, where constant migration is observed. Once in open waters and near the Cocos Island, this shark is specifically targeted for its fins. Protecting this highly mobile animal that can migrate long distances is a hard task since its populations are not in a specific geographic place during their whole lifetime.
Also in the Eastern Tropical Pacific, population structure is not well known. Is it one population or are there several? Do females prefer specific nursing grounds to deliver their pups? Understanding population structure and movements of hammerhead sharks is vital to establish regional management and policies.
I have been researching the connectivity and genetic population structure of S. lewiniin various coastal nursing areas in Guatemala, Costa Rica and Panamá. The results of this research will be important to provide biological information for management plans that will aim to protect specific important geographical areas for this species’ persistence.