Environmental Education, Volunteers and Visitors

An Unforgettable Educational Adventure: Enamored with the Osa

By: Vickie Buisset

Volunteering with the FOO Sea Turtle Research Program was a wonderful experience.  My observations and field notes taken while on the Osa Peninsula were used to complete the final independent study project of my Master of Environmental Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU).  The topic of my independent study project was Global Threats of Sea Turtles.  I graduated from VCU in December of 2010 and feel very lucky to have had this volunteer/research opportunity on the beautiful Osa Peninsula.  The personnel at the FOO Sea Turtle Research Center were very helpful in my data collection and field studies, even after I returned home to finish my independent study.  I couldn’t have asked for a more hospitable and professional research program.

Jesus Christ Lizard

Getting from San Jose to the research center was quite an adventure.  Visiting the Osa during the height of the rainy season made it a bit tricky, but it was well worth the effort.  I spent nine thrilling days and nights at the Osa Biodiversity Center from the end of October through early November of 2010.  I participated in four night beach patrols and two day beach patrols with the sea turtle research program.  Watching the sea turtles nest at night was a magical experience that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

With several FOO conservation projects underway, I had the opportunity to learn a lot about the local biodiversity of the peninsula.   I stayed busy, practiced Spanish a bit, received plenty of rest, and filled my belly with wonderful home-cooked meals served onsite at the research center.  The people of FOO were a lot of fun and I enjoyed working with them.   I’d do it all over again! Thanks for everything FOO. I’ll be forever grateful.


Vickie Buisset Jones


Threats to the Osa’s Jaguar Population

Finding solutions and alternatives for human and feline coexistence

Since mid 2006, Aída Bustamante and Ricardo Moreno, researchers of the Wildcat Conservation Program, have worked hand in hand with FOO on applied research, education and involvement with key actors (cattle ranchers, hunters, local children and youth, ecolodges, local authorities and NGOs). We recognize the need to address the livelihoods of local human populations so that they are in a better position to care about jaguars.

Camera Trap Photo of Jaguar eating a sheep on Osa Peninsula

The long-term conservation of jaguars and their ecosystem will not be possible with scientific research alone.


Attacks on domestic animals by large cats have triggered retaliation; and at  least twelve jaguars have been killed in the last two years in the Osa peninsula. Hence, the Wildcat Conservation Program decided to sell T-shirts and raise funds to compensate people that have lost their animals by jaguar or puma attacks. So far, we are the only such compensation program in Central America and have paid for 16 animals up to now, including domestic pigs, sheep and calves.

Aida Bustamante and Ricardo Moreno in Panama with Dr. Hirsch

Aida Bustamante and Ricardo Moreno in Panama with Dr. Hirsch

Ricardo Moreno, Dr. Ben Hirsch, Aída Bustamante and a male ocelot in Barro Colorado Island in Panama. Ricardo and Aída went to Panama to collaborate with Dr. Hirsch and Dr. Roland Kays, trying to capture ocelots and tag them with GPS radio collars to detect behavioral changes. They managed to capture two females and a juvenile male, which indicates a high capture rate for the species across its range of distribution. The idea is to use this technology in the near future in the Osa Peninsula.

Jaguars on the Osa Peninsula represent an important isolated population of this ecologically vital species. The long term survival of this local population is uncertain. One important way to help ensure their future would be the establishment of a protected biological corridor between Corcovado National Park on the peninsula and Piedras Blancas National Park on the mainland. Despite years of research and effort by an international group of environmental organizations, this wildlife corridor has not been established. An increase in land development for vacation homes is driving up land values in the lands within and around the Golfo Dulce Forest reserve, threatening Jaguar habitat.

The total number of Jaguars on the Osa is unknown. A study on Corcovado Park published in 2007 suggested through extrapolation, a density of around 30-40 individuals in the area of the park. However, a number of factors make estimation difficult.

Recently Aida responded to a supporter’s question on the number of Jaguars on the Friends of the Osa Facebook page with the following:

“It is really hard to say a “number” because there are not studies for the whole Osa Peninsula and it is not recommended to extrapolate the data, because the conditions (habitat, prey availability, poaching, etc) are very different–even in this small area. But we did a really intensive study in 2007 in the Matapalo-Corcovado area and we found 25 ocelots, 22 pumas and 4 jaguars. Sadly, people still kill them a lot (we know that at least 12 in less than 2 years), mainly when jaguars predate on livestock or domestic animals, when natural prey is scarce in the forest due to poaching.”

Since availability of food limits the population, the Osa can only support so many Jaguars. This makes the loss of the twelve animals Aida mentions a major impact on the total population. Our efforts are vital because the next several years will prove crucial to the Osa Peninsula’s Jaguars.

To support the Wildcat Conservation Project, please visit the FOO website and make a donation.

Science and Research, Volunteers and Visitors

Visitors at the Osa Biodiversity Center in 2009

Three different student groups visited the OBC last year: The Herpetology classes of the University of Costa Rica and Universidad Nacional led by professors Federico Bolaños and Marco Barquero, plus the Natural History and Zoology classes of the Universidad Latina, led by professor Luis Sandoval.

visitors02The Guides and Scouts of Puerto Jiménez, joined by a troop from Pérez Zeledón, went to the OBC to put in practice their camping skills for the first time, in an improvised camp set up by the children.

A group of forestry engineers from the Cartago Technological Institute, in partnership with CATIE and the University of Connecticut, established a series of plots in the surroundings of the OBC to determine forest structure at different stages of succession and document carbon sequestration.

Adrián García, working with bioacoustics in amphibians, has visited the OBC several times to record the songs of various species. His research is part of a project funded by an Evergreen grant.

Stuart Jeckel, of the University of North Carolina, was in the OBC in search of the Túngara frog Engystomops pustulosus, as he is studying their breeding behavior at the neural level.

Guido Saborio keeps impressing volunteers at OBC. He received this message from one of them who spent three weeks at the center:

Dear Guido,
Thank you so much for everything. Our time at the OBC was an absolutely amazing experience; we learned so much and met so many new, interesting people. It also was very helpful to me in realizing what I want to study in college, because I remembered how much I like plants and how interesting botany is for me. Thanks so much for everything you taught us!

-Brook Theis

Karen Masters brought a student group to Cerro Osa for their Sustainability and the Environment course.  They inaugurated the new camping platforms and composting latrines.visitors03

Science and Research

Research Projects at Osa Biodiversity Center in 2009

Here are two of the research projects sponsored by and carried out at the Osa Biodiversity Center in 2009.

Biochar Trials

Friends of the Osa hosted Tyler Reynolds from Purdue University and Ross Eustis from Whitman College this past summer to conduct biochar soil amendment trials in coordination with the Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza (CATIE). Biochar is charcoal created by pyrolysis of biomass, the burning of biomass in the absence of oxygen. The resulting material is a stable solid rich in carbon content, and thus, can be used to lock carbon in the soil for long periods of time.


Tyler Reynolds (Purdue University), Gabriela Soto (CATIE), and Stefan Jirka (Blue Moon Fund) filter biochar to use in reforestation trials on Cerro Osa. CATIE will conduct those trials, where different levels of biochar are applied to native tree species and growth rates are tracked to determine the effects of biochar. Biochar is of increasing interest as a carbon sequestration option to mitigate climate change and also for agriculture as it has the ability to improve soil conditions.

Rugged individualists who help one another find food and shelter

Tropical hermit crabs roam the dry areas of the beach scavenging for an omnivorous diet and shelter in the form of empty gastropod shells. For the Coenobitidae crabs, food can be hard to come by since it lies scattered across the beach, is concealed by sand and is shifted by the tides. If one crab finds some food, others coalesce around it to grab a bite. Hermit crabs are essentially rugged individualists, so this cooperative behavior happens accidentally.


Mark Laidre, a graduate student at Princeton University, is conducting field experiments to study how aggregations of crabs lure solitary crabs to sources of food and shelter. Mark will be following a marked population of hermit crabs, tracking their movements and social interactions day and night, and examining how vital resources like shells are exchanged within the population and are passed down across generations. Photo by Rick Stanley.

Land Conservation and Forest Restoration

Reforestation in Osa Peninsula

Lending Nature a Helping Hand

The Cerro Osa Reforestation Project

The Tree Nursery at Cerro Osa Reforestation Project

The Tree Nursery at Cerro Osa Reforestation Project

Cerro Osa’s local staff, Juan and Agustín Mendoza, worked hard in 2009 to improve Friends of the Osa’s native tree nursery. We now have more than 4,000 seedlings of over 40 native species.

Seeds are collected by hand from the mature forest of the Osa Biodiversity Center.  The seeds that are easiest to find often come in a delicious fruit package, making these trees good candidates to stimulate natural forest restoration by attracting seed dispersers such as birds, bats and fruit-eating mammals.

Many of these seedlings will be used in the forest restoration of Cerro Osa’s teak and pochote plantations.

Treeplanting in Osa PeninsulaIn June we partnered with conservation-minded neighbors to plant 60 trees of 13 native species to return part of their property to forest.  We also donated 100 trees to La Palma high school as part of a senior project.

Environmental Education

Updates from the Environmental Education Program

International Day for the Protection of Mangroves

“In the mangrove there is no place for trash”

“In the mangrove there is no place for trash”

In three days in early August 2009, Friend of the Osa participated in awareness activities in Puerto Jiménez celebrating the International Day for the Protection of Mangroves. The Environmental Coalition of Puerto Jiménez delivered 50 mini waste collection centers to encourage garbage separation in households, and gave a talk about the importance of recycling and the impact of plastic bags on the environment. Pilar Bernal, our Environmental Education and Volunteer Program Coordinator, organized volunteers to pick up trash in areas next to the mangrove and install 15 signs with awareness messages about this critical ecosystem. FOO also organized a drawing and puzzle assembly contest with children.

Sea Turtle Festival

Kids took part in a turtle race as part of the festivalThe Sea Turtle Festival in Playa Carate took place on September 27, 2009 in Carate Beach, organized by Pilar Bernal together with the Scouts from Puerto Jiménez and the Sustainability Committee of Carate. The documentary “The last voyage of Baula the Turtle” was screened, and there was a workshop to introduce the Sea Turtle Conservation Program in Piro-Pejeperro Beach. We also presented the Protocol for Construction and Management of Sea Turtle Hatcheries, supporting community initiatives to protect and manage nesting beaches.

International Coastal Cleanup

The beach cleanup was led by Lapa Rios LodgeOn October 3 2009, FOO staff and sea turtle program volunteers participated in our first Coastal Cleanup day as part of the international initiative by the Ocean Conservancy, the largest voluntary effort of its kind in the world. In 2008, more than 400,000 volunteers collected 3,650 tons of garbage from 6,485 sites in 104 countries.

Along the Pacific Coast in Costa Rica, the cleanup took place along 13 sites in the Osa and Golfito cantons, and a river stretch in Pérez Zeledón.

Sea Turtles

Sea Turtle Conservation Program in Piro-Pejeperro Beach 2009

Friends of the Osa’s successful Sea Turtle Conservation Program continued in 2009 on the Piro and Pejeperro beaches on the southern shores of Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica, Central America. FOO staff, visiting biologists, students and volunteers from around the world participated in working for the protection and study of sea turtles visiting these beaches.

hatchling sea turtle at piro beach - osa peninsula

Hatchling Sea Turtle at Piro Beach - FOO Sea Turtle Program - photo: S DePolo

Manuel Sánchez is the field coordinator for this season, accompanied by his field assistant, Ronald Villalobos; both an example of the efforts of FOO to hire local people for its projects. Manuel was born in the area and has spent his life on these beaches, on the Piro river estuary and the lands of the Osa Biodiversity Center (OBC). Not only is he finely attuned to the rhythms and behaviors of the turtles, he is an expert spotter of all kinds of wildlife and an aspiring photographer.

We would like to send out a very BIG thank you to all of our 2009 volunteers and an even BIGGER thank you to our two Research Field Assistants, Jim Ward and Liam Hogg, who both dedicated three months to FOO’s sea turtle conservation program in 2009.  We couldn’t have done it without you!

In 2009, Friends of the Osa protected 240 nests on Piro Beach and 164 nests on Pejeperro Beach of the Olive Ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea).  We were able to protect all 12 Black Turtle nests (Chelonia mydas – agassizii) we discovered on Pejeperro Beach. No Black turtles were observed nesting on Piro Beach in 2009. As for Green Turtles (Chelonia mydas agassizii), just three nests were reported in Pejeperro. These three turtle species are threatened.

Activities included: two teams doing nightly patrols of the two beaches, monitoring the arrival of the nesting turtles, counting nests and attempts at nesting (false crawls,) marking confirmed nests tagging and measuring of sea turtles encountered while nesting. Patrols visited the beaches each morning, and where possible placed wire mesh over nests to cut down on predation by wildlife, such as coatis, and feral dogs. Nests were visited after the hatching, and shell remains and nest mortality were tallied. In addition the team did daily and nightly collection of sand temperatures at the depths sea turtles bury their eggs. Our presence on this remote beach has also helped to reduce poaching in the area. In response to the concerns about turtle egg poaching, MINAET (the Costa Rican Ministry of the Interior,) has been conducting patrols on roads and on the beach, which have been effective at reducing the presence of egg-looters in the area. Overall predation has been low this season, as a total of 24 nests have been preyed upon in Piro and only two in Pejeperro.

Piro and Pejeperro beaches, extending northwest from Matapalo point, are wild and untrammeled, far from any city or town, facing directly into the powerful Pacific currents. Situated near the OBC campus, they represent a rare habitat in this hemisphere where the rainforest touches the ocean. The sea turtles nesting here are returning to the beaches where they were hatched. They travel long distances across the Pacific in their feeding, mating and nesting. The female hatchlings that leave the beach each year may not return to nest for up to 20 years. Females may need to make multiple attempts to nest successfully, and some will return to lay more than once a season. They face a gauntlet of hazards, from wildlife predation as hatchlings during their first hours on the beach and in the ocean, to suffocation as adults from ingesting plastic bags mistaken for jelly fish. Above all, to nest  they must brave a wall of death off the Pacific Coast in the form of fleets of long-line fishing boats. The turtles face drowning when they are accidentally ensnared.

These magnificent, ancient creatures fascinate with their timeless migrations–yet their long term survival is uncertain. Our efforts will continue on  Piro and Pejeperro beaches, and in conjunction with other local and international efforts, until their survival can be assured.

For the 2010 season, Friends of the Osa, with support from El Tigre Fund and in partnership with Carate lodges, is expanding our Sea Turtle Conservation Program to cover Oro Beach and Carate Beach.  For this effort to be successful, we will need the help of many more volunteers!

Please visit our volunteer page to sign up for the 2010 season.  Volunteers patrolling Piro and Pejeperro Beaches are housed at the OBC’s rustic but pleasant facilities, and give a donation to cover the cost of the three daily meals prepared by the OBC’s staff. Or you can sign up with a partner lodge and help protect the endangered sea turtles on Oro and Carate Beaches.

Measuring Turtle Tracks on Piro Beach

Measuring Turtle Tracks on Piro Beach

Also in 2009, locals from the Carate community, including nature guides, were trained on sea turtle conservation and techniques. The community is getting organized and is considering creating a turtle hatchery, with the help of the Sustainability Committee of Carate, La Leona Lodge, Luna Lodge, Finca Exótica, Carate Wildlife Refuge, El Trigre Fund, MINAET and FOO.

Data Entry Services India