Environmental Education, Science and Research

The Osa Peninsula: A unique place for research and education

Located in southwestern Costa Rica, the Osa is hailed by many as Costa Rica’s “last frontier” as it remains a largely untouched, remote wilderness. The Osa’s high level of biological diversity coupled with its unique combination of 13 distinct tropical ecosystems have made it a high global conservation priority. With a total area of only 300,000 acres, the Osa is home to 50% of species found in Costa Rica, including many endemic species. When one considers the small size of the Osa, there are few places left on earth that rival its intense biological diversity. It is here one can find the largest intact mangrove ecosystem in Pacific Mesoamerica, the most significant remaining areas of lowland Pacific tropical rainforest, and one of only four tropical fjords on the planet, the Golfo Dulce. These ecosystems, and numerous others, provide habitat that is essential for the Osa’s plentiful wildlife.

Piro Research Center

Tree samples waiting to be process by Greg Asner´s working team, January 2010.

Piro Research Center is our Costa Rican biological field station and has:

  • Three cabins, each with three rooms and a bathroom (total capacity 36)
  • Laboratory/classroom area
  • Reference library
  • Dining hall/common area

Staying here will give you quick access to mature rainforest as well as to the coastal habitat along the Pacific, making this campus ideal for researchers, field biology student groups, and sea turtle volunteers.

Greg Gund Conservation Center

The Greg Gund Conservation Center is an educational campus located on the Cerro Osa property. Here you have the option to stay in the bunk house or on a camping platform; no matter which you choose, you won’t regret the breathtaking view looking west to Corcovado National Park and the Pacific Ocean.

  • Bunkhouse with two bathrooms (total capacity 12-16)

    View for the GGCC

  • Three screened-in platforms (total capacity 12)
  • Dining area
  • Education Center (under construction)

The Cerro Osa property where this campus is located, is a 1,500 acre tract of land that is contiguous with the Piro Research Center property. You can get here either by walking the Cerro Osa trail or by car on the access road. While the Greg Gund Conservation Center isn’t as close to pristine rainforest as the Piro Research Center, the land use history of Cerro Osa makes it an ideal location to study tropical forest regeneration since the forest directly surrounding the campus is recovering plantation.

If you’d like to book a stay with us, or if you have questions about accommodating a group, please visit www.osaconservation.org or email our Station Manager: carlosmonge@osaconservation.org

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.

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.

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