Wednesday
Mar122014

VOLUNTEER BLOG 2: JAMIE THOMAS

30 Days Lost in the Jungle of Costa Rica
I'm not really struggling to find a way out.  And I'm not really lost.

 It seem pretty hard to believe that I've been in Costa Rica for a month now.  These past four weeks have gone by exceptionally quickly.   I'm still as excited about why I am here as I was on the day I left Seattle.

The most significant accomplishment during this first month has been planning and commencing my research project on the human-cat conflict.  I've read more than a dozen papers published on the topic and scanned at least 20 more.  The majority of the work has been completed in Africa.   Others are based in South America, Inda, and China.  Only two reports were about cat research in Costa Rica.
Sadly, there has been no research published to date on the existence of human-cat conflict on the Osa Peninsula.   With only two works of research conducted in the area, the Osa Peninsula is definitely under studied - especially as it relates to the human-cat conflict.

There has been no lack of physical activity.   At least every other day, I've hiked for 2 - 6 hours participating in survey research for jungle animals.   My favorite surveys are the Otter Surveys because we walk the river looking for Otter skat (poop).  It's nice to walk in the river since it is significantly cooler and mostly in the shade.

I'll bet I sweat a gallon of water a day!  Now, this is a bit of an exaggeration, but I sweat a lot!   The humidity is typically around 75% and the temperature 85-90 degrees Fahrenheit.  It is critical to drink a lot of water - and even more critical to drink water with electrolytes - especially sodium.   It is very easy to get dehydrated!

Camp life is pretty relaxed.   Every Sunday, a schedule board is posted for the upcoming week.   Volunteers then mark their names on the work they want to participate in that week.   Some work is unlimited in the number of participants, some is limited, and some everyone is required to participate in - such as Camp Maintenance (weekly cleaning and repairs of camp) and trail maintenance (weekly maintenance of the trails on the property).   Other than the required tasks, no volunteers are committed to anything they don't commit to.   So, if you want to plan a day trip, a weekend away, sleeping in or just being lazy and reading your book all day you can do that.   There is a mix of what people prefer to do.   Some folks sign up for work for the significant part of the day.  Some people sign up for just one thing a day.  And there are some who sign up for nothing the majority of the time.   Several volunteers (like me) are participating in a BTEC program where they develop their own research project, conduct reasearch, and present their work prior to their departure from the camp.  You can choose from either a four week or ten week research program.   Obviously, the ten week programs are more involved than the four week programs.   The volunteers working on a BTEC project spend a large portion of their time on their research.  For me it has been about 50 / 50 of time spent on research and time spent on other projects.

Showering is a very important and valuable part of every day.   Since we sweat so much, the only way to cool down from the temps and humidity is to get in the water.  You can go in the river or take a shower for water submersion.  I'll bet that most people shower twice a day on average.   If you go out on a project in the morning, by lunch you will be soaked with sweat.   So, lunch time is a popular time for showers.   Then, if you go out in the afternoon, you'll be soaked when you return before dinner.  Almost everyone takes an evening shower before dinner to cool down and clean up before bed.

It gets dark here at 6:00 p.m. Dinner is usually served around 6:30 p.m. and by 7:00 it is pitch black,   The sky is clear about 80% of the time.   The stars shine brightly and when the moon rises, the ground can be lit up.   After 7:00 the temperature drops pretty significantly to 78 or so degrees.   The humidity seems to drop too and the evening is very comfortable to sit and relax after a hot, wet day.

Many people go to bed by 7:30 p.m. - besides that it is pitch black out, most people have been up and going since 4:30 or 5:00 a.m.   So, it's been a long day.  A late night of movie watching or talking, might take you to 9:30.  Whew!  These are some late nights for us!

Each week I've been trying to get in a yoga practice two to three times.   It is best to finish practice before 7:00 a.m. otherwise the sun gets too high in the sky and shines directly on the open spaces, which then heat up very quickly.   Between 5:00 and 7:00 a.m. the temperatures are still moderate enough to enjoy the practice... It's still like taking hot yoga class and you sweat another gallon!
This is an impromptu yoga "beginners" session while we are waiting for information on our next project.

 

I've tried a couple times to work on some art projects.   I brought oil pastels and pencil/water colors.   Thus far, I've tried using the oil pastels three times.   It is great fun and also a challenge.   In the heat, the pastel medium reacts very differently than using them in Washington.   From the time I start applying the pastel to paper until it dries completely is about 3 hours.   Once the pastel dries, it is no longer very workable for blending colors.  So, I either need to finish a piece in this time frame, or plan for the drying and then work on top of it.  Blending colors is very different.   In Washington it takes weeks for the pastel to dry and set.

Reading is one of my favorite pass times here.  I've read at least six books in the past month.  I brought one paper back and four electronic books.   I've been avoiding reading the electronic books because I might need to read them when I've exhausted all of the other interesting books AND because charging my ipad is somewhat challenging - it takes planning.   Luckily the camp has a library of books to share.   There are books of all genres.   My favorite are mystery type books based on historical events.  Sort of like Indian Jones stories.


This a pretty good summary of life for the past month.  I'm excited and ready for the next month and I'm worried because the time is passing so quickly.  It's a pretty amazing place!  I'm sure that I could easily stay six more months and feel like it has only been three.

 

By Jamie Thomas, Volunteer

Find out more about Costa Rica Big Cats, Primates & Turtles Conservation.

Tuesday
Mar042014

Volunteer Blog: Jamie Thomas

It's Week Three!  The time has really flown by!  I'm very surprised that I've already been here for 21 days. This week one of the coolest things I was able to participate in was setting up a camera trap.  A camera trap is used when the animal is the "ever elusive" Jaguar or other equally "ever elusive" animals. The camera takes photos based on motion and heat sensing, so we are able to take pictures of animals even though we are not there.  

We will pick up the camera trap next saturday and see if we've had any luck with photographing a kitty!

The other unique project I worked on this week is the re-vegetation project. This work is aimed at growing saplings of indigenous trees to replace areas that have either had foreign tree species invade or areas that have been deforested. The tree farm grows five or six different types of trees for this purpose.   


The coolest critter of the week - had I not seen this insect on a stick I would have known for sure it was a leaf! I saw a couple pretty unusual sights - at least for a girl who is just now spending her first time in the jungle.


The smallest frog I've ever seen - he's less than 2 cm (0.5 inches)


Check out the middle of the photo... Do you see the Spider Monkey?

Find out more about Costa Rica Big Cats, Primates & Turtles Conservation.

Tuesday
Mar042014

Communications Officer: 4th March 2013

At the beginning of the week we had an unfortunate toilet breakage – so we had to build a new pit out of the back – everyone got stuck in digging and carrying rocks. Our quick work meant we only had to use our make-shift (though very well made) jungle loo for a few days!

There was an impromptu stretching and yoga session on main deck on Wednesday morning with Central America trail leader Julia. Some of us definitely proved less flexible than others but we all had a good laugh regardless of our abilities!

New volunteers arrived on Tuesday and got stuck straight in with camp life. And at the end of the week 2 teaching volunteers and one forest arrived in town.  We’ve had some good meals this week with scrambled eggs & guacamole, bean burgers and spag bol!

This week we were given a frog presentation by ARO John Scott. We learnt that there are 133 species in 8 families found in Costa Rica around a 3rd of all frog species in the world.

Frogs are roughly defined as tail-less amphibians. The majority of adults are carnivorous – feeding on small invertebrates and insects. They are mostly active at night because of their porous skin which means they dehydrate quickly in sun. It also means they can drink through their skin - absorbing water from moist ground and shallow pools. The males are the most vocal but it is the females that are generally larger.

We hope to start up a frog project soon. If we do, we will use colouration, feet shape, head shape, pupil shape, webbing and frog size to help us determine which species we find although variation within species makes frogs one of the harder animals to identify.

In general Costa Rican frogs are in decline so it is highly important to study them.

On Saturday night volunteer Jen held her much requested quiz again this week’s rounds included a logo picture round, geography and a science & nature round where we learnt that about various strange animal combinations such as a grizzly bear and a polar bear which is apparently called a grolar!

At the end of the week we headed over to the local bar to send off some more volunteers in style. This week we lost Erin, Loz and Mary. But March is just beginning, and we’ll be filling camp back up with 6 more volunteers across the month.

By Jenny Collins, Communications Officer

Find out more about Costa Rica Big Cats, Primates & Turtles Conservation.

Friday
Feb282014

Volunteer blog: Jamie Thomas 


The otter surveys are looking to determine the population and territory of the River Otters in the area.  Our best guess so far is that there are only 2 or 3 otters in the region of study. There are few actual sightings of otters and so most of the data collection is done by looking for otter scat and documenting its location. When scat is located, the river width and depth are recorded along with the GPS location.

Butterfly Surveys

There are many species of butterflies in the region. The team is documenting as many species as possible to understand how many exist in the area. Butterfly trapping and netting are the methods used to capture the butterfly. It is then identified and released. I have taken butterfly netting training, but have not worked on the traps as of yet.

Bird Surveys

As one might think, birds are abundant here. The people working on bird surveys use the point observation method to document the birds. The team hikes to a specific GPS coordinate, then records, listens and watches for birds for ten minutes. During this time the birds are documented and identified if possible. Then the team moves on to another GPS site. Once we return from the hike, the recording is reviewed to ensure that all birds are identified and recorded.  

Other Research

At times teams also work on amphibians and wild cats.


The other portion of my week was spent spent gathering research for my BTEC project, which will analyze the human-cat conflict in this region. My mentor on the project has a lot of experience working on big cat human-field conflicts and has many contacts that we may be able to tap into to understand the situation better.   The final step will be working toward developing viable solutions to improve the cat-human relationship.

Piro Beach Sunset - Dinner and volley ball on the beach followed by a fabulous sunset

My final job this week was to help cook on Sunday.  We are assigned cooking duty in teams of three.   The lunch team made eggs, refried beans, and handmade tortilla chips.  People got one egg each!  As an experiment, for desert  I made cookies with corn flower, nutmeg, cinnamon and BUTTER! (I love butter).  They were lightly fried and then drizzled with honey.   If I do say so myself, they were pretty good!  

Then for dinner, we pulled together a tomato stew.  We used stewed tomatoes, pinto beans, onions, more onions, garlic, paprika, basil, and rice.  It cooked and stewed for four or five hours.   I was amazed how much water was absorbed by the beans and rice.  I thought we would have more of a soup, but ended up with more of stew.  We also made a chick pea salad with onions and bell peppers then finished with an oil and vinegar dressing with salt, pepper, and basil.   It was a big hit!  I think people enjoyed having something fresh tasting that was not hot.   Next time I will make a larger quantity.  We served 24 people and there was enough food for a serving for everyone, but I really thought it would go further.   

My little buddy. This little lizard comes and visits my tent almost every night and turtle tracks on the beach.

By Jamie Thomas, Volunteer Blog

Find out more about Costa Rica Big Cats, Primates & Turtles Conservation.

Thursday
Feb202014

Volunteer Blog: Jenny Summers

So it's the end of week five and it really is hard to believe that I've been here for over a month. On camp you can here the cicadas at least 10hours a day. (You do manage to drown it out from time to time) and if you aren't sure what noise a howler monkey makes you are defiantly going to think you've arrived in the film making of Jurassic Park. Camp life has difficulties; trying to get used to a hammock for example. It does take a night or two, you've just got to get the right levels that suit you for that magical sleep with the ocean crashing in the background.

An early morning turtle patrol

Well enough about sleep as getting up at 3 or 4 in the morning or rolling in about 6am doesn't sound all too appealing but when it's for the chance of seeing turtle hatchlings or a nesting mother it is defiantly worth it! With the thought that 300 years ago there were over 100million Green turtles in the Caribbean Sea alone, where they controlled most of the life on coral reefs, it's hard to believe that now the 7sea turtles of the world are now a major conservation effort. To be able to assist in keeping turtles, a species who have been on the planet since before the dinosaurs, from extinction - I'm in true paradise. Green Turtles (scientifically known as Chelonia Mydas) are an incredible species capable of hauling themselves sometimes over 30meters up the beach and weighing up to 204Kg to create a nest, lay her eggs, close the nest and make her way back down the beach, a process that can easily take over two hours. I have fallen in love with Sea Turtles and have such pleasure being able to help conserve them.

By Jenny Summer, volunteer

Find out more about Costa Rica Big Cats, Primates & Turtles Conservation.

Thursday
Feb202014

Communications Officer Blog: 20 February 2014

This week we have two volunteers become Conservation Apprentices, so with that and our new ARO, there was a lot of staff training going on. The new staff  have been out in the field learning the various surveys techniques – Birds, Primates, Butterflies - and how to tag a turtle! We also had two new volunteers this week – Verity and Christian – who seem to have already settled into the group well!

The new arrivals setting up their hammocks

On Tuesday morning those out on a Peje Turtle survey were very lucky – seeing over 40 Green Turtle hatchlings coming out of the nest and heading to the sea!

On Wednesday morning we split into two groups – one group headed down to the beaches for a very early morning beach-clean up and came back with an impressive 7 bags of rubbish and recyclables. It’s sad that we have to do it at all but always rewarding to see a clean beach afterwards.

The other group went up to the Osa Conservation nursery to help tidy up the plants there. They are growing trees ready to plant them into areas of forest which have previously been cleared.

Wednesday afternoon everyone went down to Piro Beach to watch the sunset, play volleyball and eat jacket potatoes cooked over a fire! It was all in aid of ARO John’s birthday – I can’t think of many better places to spend a birthday!

This week we have been trialling a new primate behaviour survey technique. We are hoping to start this project up soon to allow us to study the primate’s habits. The Osa Peninsula is one of the few places int he world where you find all four species of monkey together – White-faced Capuchin, the Mantled Howler Monkey, the Central American Squirrel Monkey and the Geoffroy’s Spider Monkeys. We want to find out how this affects their movements around the forest.

This weekend there are several volunteers leaving us, so we are heading into the nearby town to say goodbye!

By Jenny Collins, Communications Officer

Find out more about Costa Rica Big Cats, Primates & Turtles Conservation.

Wednesday
Feb122014

Volunteer Blog: Jamie Thomas

My first week on camp in Costa Rica wasn't all I expected but that doesn't mean it was in any way bad... it was just different! I departed Seattle, Washington, USA after being able to attend the first half of a Super Bowl party for my home team - the Seattle Seahawks.  At the time I had to leave for the airport, the score was 8 to 0 in the Seahawks favor.  



I flew from Seattle to Los Angeles to San Jose, Costa Rica and finally on to Puerto Jimenez - the nearest town to where I will be volunteering. The volunteer coordinator met me and a few other arriving volunteers at the little airport. Another small plane was arriving in a few hours.  The collectivo - public 4x4 transport - is scheduled to leave Puerto Jimenez at 1:30 p.m. for the 1.5 hour trip out to Piro Beach - the site of the camp and research. This gave us a few hours to set our bags down, walk around town, get snacks, lunch and any last minute items before we head out to the camp.

After a very bumpy and long collectivo ride with 20 people and luggage tightly squished in the back of a truck covered with an awning (no seat belts), we arrived, tired at the camp. Most of the new arrivals had been flying for many hours. In comparison, my flight was pretty short and easy. I left Seattle at 6:25 p.m. on Sunday and arrived to Puerto Jimenez at 9:30 a.m. on Monday... with the two hour time change it's only 17 hours travel time for me. Most others were headed here from Europe. They typically had over 35 hours travel time and four or more transfers.  

We arrived at camp around 3:00 p.m. and started to settle in. We picked sleeping areas, found the toilet, shower, and kitchen and received a tour of the overall facilities... so a 2 minute and 45 second tour. We also got a chance to walk over to the Osa Biological Conservation site where we are able to charge our electronics and get internet service.   

It's hot and sweaty! And I love it. Even for me it is hot... but I'm not going to complain one minute because I way prefer this to my feet being so cold they hurt. The temperature is constantly over 87F / 30C and humidity is pretty high as well...typically over 75%.

As a new comer to the camp, there is a lot to get to know and I'm still learning it. There are about 25 people in camp right now. Most are from the UK, one is from Australia and four of us are from the USA.   Our American accents are very obvious and the British accent is sometimes difficult to understand. The group is having fun with it.

During this week, I spent time attending several presentations, observing surveys, working on the demolition of last year's turtle nursery, taking forest walks, beach cleaning, camp maintenance, painting and reading.   

I have not yet been assigned to cook - but I expect that during this upcoming week I will have my chance to burn lunch and dinner for everyone. We eat a vegetarian diet on camp. There are also a few vegans.  Even though the food in camp is basic, everyone has done a really great job to put a twist on the offerings and make it good. I think my favorite meal so far was a dinner that included fried bean patties! They were fabulous.   

Sunday, I was able to spend the day relaxing, practicing yoga, working on my BTEC project and enjoying the company of the camp group!  One week down, eleven to go!  I hope they don't go by too fast.

By Jamie Thomas, volunteer

Find out more about Costa Rica Big Cats, Primates & Turtles Conservation.

Tuesday
Feb042014

Volunteer Blog: Noah Theodore Ardron 

I decided to come on this project because I wanted to get away from home and I thought there’s no better place than Costa Rica.

I have enjoyed living in a remote jungle and living as a group which eventually becomes a family.  I originally didn’t like the cold showers but I have come to really appreciate them after a hard day of surveys. Meals on camp are nearly always great: I really enjoyed the Calzones, Empanadas and stuffed peppers and roasted veg.

I really enjoy the Neotropical River Otter surveys which we do on the North and south of the Rio Piro. I love being on the river and in the water. The otter is a very illusive animal so it is all the more rewarding when you see one.

I've visited the nearby bird sanctuary many times. I love Patrick and Rubyann the people who own Ave Azul De Osa. They are such interesting people and they have both done everything there is to do in life, they’re AMAZING. The birds he breeds are fantastic not to mention the beautiful trails there are to offer around the area. I will definitely go back again before I leave.

On my time off, I went Kayaking in the nearby town – Puerto Jimenez, which I would highly recommend; You can paddle out to a reef about 45 minutes out into the gulf and go snorkelling if you want to. 

My favourite animal sighting by far- THE OTTER!! After about 60 hours on both rivers I eventually saw an otter for a good minute. It swam around and popped its head up a few times. The Osa Peninsula is the most bio diverse place I have ever had the pleasure of staying, I consider myself so lucky for having the chance to see the things I have seen. Once I leave in a few weeks I know that what I will most will be the people.

By Noah Theodaore Ardon, volunteer

Find out more about Costa Rica Big Cats, Primates & Turtles Conservation.

Tuesday
Feb042014

Conservation debate: Jaguars vs. Turtles

This week our conservation debate asked whether Jaguars or the Green Turtle should receive more conservation efforts. Being in Costa Rica, this is an issue very close to many of our hearts. Jaguars are currently classed as Near Threatened according to the IUCN Red List. Whereas the Green Turtle is considered worse off; being described as Endangered - two steps up from Near Threatened.

There were some great points raised; firstly it was argued that a lot less is currently known about Marine life meaning that any opportunity to try and learn more should be taken. Though the team fighting for jaguars countered this by saying it only meant that you therefore can’t predict the success of any conservation efforts.

The biggest problems currently threatening jaguars is human conflict and habitat destruction. As jaguar’s natural prey decreases and the natural habitat is replaced by farms, then they start to choose an easy meal – by targeting cattle. Naturally this causes problems with the local farmers, who only see Jaguar’s as a threat to their livelihoods.

This problem can begin to be tackled by working with local people to try and find other ways to solve the issue without the jaguars being killed. This is something Frontier has recently been working on, carrying out interviews with local farmers and business owners to determine how big the problem really is. Corridors are one way to solve the problem, so that the jaguars are safe whilst they move between protected areas. There is currently an initiative called Panthera which is working across governments from Argentina all the way up to Mexico, to create these safe passageways for the big cat.

Turtle conservation is needed to both help protect nesting females and their eggs and to reduce pollution and the effects of climate change. Turtles have lived on earth for the last 100 millions years but their survival rate is low. Many nests are predated both by natural predators and by people and dogs. This can be reduced by protecting nests with meshes, by moving threatened nests to a hatchery and by patrolling beaches to dissuade potential poachers.

The problem continues after birth however, as large amounts of rubbish in the oceans cause harm to the turtles and badly designed fishing nets trap them. By recycling plastics and by using special nets, both of these problems can be reduced. Turtles also make life hard for themselves, by reaching sexual maturity much later than many animals, giving them less time to reproduce.

During our debate, it was argued that because Jaguars eat turtles, that by conserving the turtles, it can only stand to also help the jaguars. It was further suggested that turtles play a hugely important part in the eco system of coral reefs – the most bio-diverse areas of the world. However those on the Jaguar’s side, believed that because climate change plays a part in the turtle’s decreasing numbers that it made it a much harder problem to solve. Rising temperatures cause a sex bias, because warmer eggs will change the gender.

The conservation of both species, however would involve mass communication across countries, and just because an issue is a large and complicated one, doesn’t mean we should not attempt to tackle it.

The jaguar is an apex predator – meaning that they are at the top of the food chain. This means they eat a wide range of animals and their extinction could cause problems to the whole of the food chain and change the vegetation of the area. This could also be true of turtles however, as they eat algae and seagrass. But as they are not the only creature to do so, the effect may be less.

Those on the turtle team raised a very good point about eco-tourism. Many people come to Costa Rica in particular to see and work with turtles. This brings a lot of money to the areas and helps to provide further funds for the conservation to continue. By using turtles as a flagship species, it can encourage people to recycle and to eat properly caught fish to help with their protection at the same time as helping to deal with larger issues.

Both teams this week got very behind their given animal and although we’d all ideally like to see both survive for a long time, the final vote went in favour of the Green Turtle. But do you agree?

Tell us what you think on Twitter by tweeting @FrontierGap @FrontierCBP!

By Jenny Collins, Communications Officer

Find out more about Costa Rica Big Cats, Primates & Turtles Conservation.

Wednesday
Jan222014

Communications Officer Blog: 22 Jan 2014

Everyone has settled in now, and a few people have even picked up their first jungle injuries – though  thankfully nothing serious, just a sore toe and heat rash here and there! This week some volunteers were lucky enough to help a couple of Olive Ridley hatchlings down to the sea. Every Saturday we go down to the hatchery to check on the nests and sometimes we are there when the eggs have hatched and the turtles are waiting to make their first important journey down to the sea. They are such small creatures that it always seems like a miracle that any make it at all as they get bashed around by the waves breaking on the sand and it often takes a few attempts for them to make right into the water.


I went on my first bird survey with ARO Anna and was amazed by her knowledge of bird calls! We heard a Great tinamon, a Chestnut-backed antbird, a Red-lored parrots, a Blue- black grosbeak, a Riverside wren, a Lesser greenlet, a Black striped wood creeper, a Rufons pihon and a Black throated trogan. The birds proved rather trickier to see but we did manage to spot a Wedge-billed woodcreeper and a Blue-capped manakin.

ARO Anna and volunteers Emily and Jordan came across an unusual sight on their way back from the beach on Saturday. A group of Capuchins were trying to kill an iguana who dropped his tail and escaped into the river!

The biggest talking point of the last week was our Conservation forum – it ignited everyone’s brains and got us all talking. The topic was ‘The reintroduction of wolves into Scotland’. After being extinct for many years after extensive loss of habitat and poaching, the idea to bring the wolf back has been suggested as a way of controlling the deer population.

Everyone on camp was put into two teams – the For and the Against – and set to find arguments to support their given side, regardless of their true opinions. ARO Jess and volunteer Becca outshone themselves as speakers both giving convincing arguments. The main against points raised focused on the possibility of diseases, and the threat to domestic animals and livestock. It was also mentioned that the move would be unpopular with the people of Scotland. The for countered this by bringing up the example of a successful reintroduction in Washington State in America. They also believed that it is only right to bring back a native species and allow them to return the landscape to its natural state. Here on camp, the majority voted against after the debate was over. But would you agree?

The end of the week brought with it our first goodbyes from the January volunteers; Alex left us on Sunday and will be missed by everyone on camp!

By Jenny Collins, Communications Officer

Find out more about Costa Rica Big Cats, Primates & Turtles Conservation.