Entries in #science (12)


5 Things I Have Learnt in Costa  Rica

Hey new volunteer, soon to be volunteer and family members, welcome to the Costa Rica! Other than being an unforgettable experience and an incredibly fun time I know that many people journey here to learn. So gather round I’m going to tell you about five things that you will learn here at Camp Osita.

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Curiosity Saved The  Cat

The wild cats of Costa Rica are some of the most elusive, and endangered species in the country. Deforestation, hunting and human-wildlife conflict has lead for these species to have lost a lot of their former range as well as a large deduction in numbers.

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My 6 Months In Costa  Rica

Before I arrived at Camp Osita, I knew that my six months were going to go quickly. But, now that it is over, I feel like I have been able to do so much with my time here. My days were always filled with such a variety.

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Night Of The Turtles - Part  1

It was mid-January when I arrived in Costa Rica and it was only on my second day that I had that first fateful encounter with a sea turtle while on survey. Witnessing a nesting sea turtle is an experience of time travel, as these animals have existed unchanged for millions of years.

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An Interview With: Assistant research Officer, Rebecca

Read this interview with Assistant Research Officer Rebecca to find out what life is like working in Costa Rica and why she chose to go there:

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What We Have Been Up To In The Last 2 Weeks 

I can't believe I have already been in Costa Rica for two weeks, time flies here. I'm currently sitting in the camp's kitchen, which is a lodge made of wood that consists of a small kitchen and a big space with two big tables on which we eat. This is also the place where we usually hang out, especially after the surveys since it's very open and available for everyone.

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My Six Months in Carate

Volunteer Nie Williams spent 6 months in the Costa Rican jungle - shes talks us through everything she did, including seeing an Ocelot!

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Fun In The Jungle - My Adventures In Costa Rica 

I remember the morning of the 21st. I hadn't slept very well- I was too excited and naturally a little nervous. This was the first time I had flown across the Atlantic never mind the first time I’d flown on my own. After over 30 hours of travelling and a night spent in San Jose, I eventually arrived in Puerto Jiménez, a small town in the southern peninsula of Costa Rica- instantly hit with the humid 30 degree heat of the wet season!

I really cannot condense my Frontier experience into a manageable-sized article. There’s just too much to tell. However hopefully these few paragraphs will express just how much I enjoyed my time on the project and how much love I have for this beautiful country, its people and its wildlife. Before going to university to study geography I knew I wanted to travel. So as part of my gap year I spent two and half months in the jungle, volunteering with Frontier. Working hard to help combat the effects of global warming; in one of Earth’s most biodiverse areas- which is arguably one of the most important issues facing our world today.

The project involved collecting data about primates, big cats, birds and sea turtles, in order to maintain suitable conservation efforts for the sensitive wildlife. Even though Costa Rica only covers 0.03% of the world’s landmass, it is home to over 500,000 species, including Pumas, Scarlet macaws, Tapirs, Sloths and five species of Sea Turtle. Everyday was unique, and I would never refer to any day as being ‘average’, because everyday was extra-ordinary. But the normal daily routine would consist of waking up from your hammock at 3-4am and popping your head torch on. Often there was no need to set an alarm for an alarm, as the Howler monkeys never failed to practise their vocals before sunrise. Then we’d have breakfast, usually porridge and a banana (which the stingless bees and termites also enjoyed), before trekking off into the jungle, or along the beach on surveys.

Waking up with the sun meant that everyday we were welcomed by a gorgeous sunrise- even in the middle of a tropical rainstorm. On primate and bird surveys it was important to be quiet so we could hear the animals. Slapping on the suncream was essential as these surveys lasted anything between two to six hours depending on how many groups we’d see and how far away the trails were. We’d return for dinner at noon before heading out again, maybe on a track survey searching for big cats, otters and other mammal prints along the rivers. In the afternoons and evening we had free time that we often liked to fill by playing card games, going to the beach, playing football with the locals, napping in hammocks or most importantly talking about what we were going to cook for tea!

The choking scent of insect repellent usually meant the night was drawing in and going to bed at 7-8pm became the norm. Unless you were to go on a night walk, when the jungle was transformed. By day a beautiful tropical paradise but by night it suddenly became the most fascinating, darkest and loudest arena for nature to play in-the best time to discover the wildest creatures! I remember my first night walk and noticing how sparkly the ground was, with what I assumed was the dew. But I soon realised that what I was actually walking through turned out to be a platform of hundreds of spiders eyes staring at me- spooky but magical (the jungle never sleeps).

Working alongside the sea turtles was my favourite activity and it’s something I’m very honoured to have been part of. Morning surveys were exciting as we got to release hatchlings! Many of the nests got predated by Coatis, Vultures, Dogs, Crabs and Hawks- so it was fantastic to see the hatchlings making their journey to the sea. Beach surveys were incredible; if seeing the sunrise on an idyllic tropical beach wasn't perfect enough then walking and seeing turtles felt like a dream. The first thing to do upon sight of fresh turtle tracks was to triangulate the nest. Lots of measurements later, the data we’d collected could be used to track the success rate of the species.

Unfortunately due to global warming, parts of the beach flood; meaning nests laid in these areas simply don’t survive. Therefore relocating these nests to safety was priority and even then only one in a thousand survives to adulthood. We dug to find the eggs, carefully placed them in a bucket and then carried them to the hatchery. Here the eggs developed and after 50 days, babies emerged! I got a tremendous sense of pride watching them waddling off into the ocean, it’s something I now really miss.

A highlight for me was the night I had the privilege of tagging an Olive Ridley Turtle- an absolute dream come true. It’s overwhelming to see the females in a a trance, laying their eggs, on the SAME beach to which they were born, then heading back into the ocean. A very special thing to witness. I was very fortunate in my last week to see two Green Turtles arrive on Playa Piro just as it shifted into their peak season in December. Spending 10 weeks with the experts, learning about the turtles, I soon appreciated how delicate their habitats are and it has made  me even more keen to help save the planet. Manuel and his family who work at Osa Conservation are inspiring because they work so hard to protect these species.

I should probably mention my poor feet at this point, we walked roughly over 8 miles everyday (many days even further through the steep primary forest). It was a necessity to wear wellies on surveys due to the unpredictable nature of the jungle. Snakes were the main concern along with spiders. While I was out there I met Fer-de-Lance, a Tiger snake, a Yellow-bellied sea snake and a couple of Boa Constrictors. One of which stayed with us on camp for a few days and we named him Beethoven. A group of us ventured into Corcovado National Park on a 2 day trek, which was just magical. Here I saw a Tapir and a Tamadua Anteater, as well as getting an infected foot! I struggle to explain how extraordinary the jungle is. There is something incredible everywhere you look. I took my camera everywhere I went, as you just never knew what the jungle was going to surprise you with next- for example a Sloth who visited camp one day. I took over 4,000 photos which are gorgeous reminders that I was actually there and that it wasn't just a dream. A lot of people tell me what beautiful pictures I took, but I tell them “it’s difficult to take a bad photo in paradise”.

At night, just after high tide, the beaches glow a stunning blue with the bioluminescence from plankton in the sea which was fascinating! Something I distinctly remember about simply being there was just how small I felt. Patrolling the beaches under clear, light skies and bright moonlight hearing the waves roll in and out, has to be one of the most peaceful things I've ever experienced. The work I was doing had great significance conservation wise, yet I’ve never felt more insignificant that when I did at these moments when I was surrounded by beautiful landscapes. However cliche it sounds, I think most would have agreed. I loved it.

Camp in the jungle was very basic-but brilliantly so. Having no electricity meant food was prepared over gas and served under candle light. Living as a vegetarian, due to the lack of a fridge, I was pleasantly surprised. It’s fair to say at some moments I would have loved a bacon cob but generally I was impressed with the fresh, organic and tasty meals that we made. Our staple foods were vegetables, pasta and rice which we combined with herbs, spices and the odd Plantain, Yukka or soya. At our new camp we were treated by the local family who made us fresh ice cream which was so refreshingly cold!

After a long mornings work in the sweltering heat (especially after working on the OSA farm), there was nothing better than taking a cold shower exposed to the jungle elements. I’ve never appreciated a cold shower more in my life- constantly sweating in the humid climate and eating so much garlic meant that I was always ready for a wash. To me, the outside shower was bliss, however I’m not convinced the sheets of plastic and duct tape, flimsy pipe or the cold water would be to everybody's liking! On one occasion when showering, a group of Spider monkeys passed over the trees above the shower and kindly threw fruit at me! To wash my clothes I showered in them, stamped on them then hung them on a line (or a tree) to dry. If it was only that simple to do that at home! Pride of camp was definitely the flushing toilets; not to mention the two Golden Orb spiders who sat on guard outside!

I was surrounded by great company, fellow volunteers coming from America, Canada, Switzerland, Holland, Australia and the UK. It was a pleasure to be around such great people who shared the same interests and passions- we were a jungle family. I fell in love with the relaxed culture of the locals. A common Costa Rican phrase, ‘Pura Vida’ meaning ‘pure life’ summed up the atmosphere on camp and is something that I carry with me today. At the weekends, after a week of hard work, we let our hair down at the local bars, Bijagual, Iguana Iguana and my favourite- Agua Luna. Here I fell in love with the Latino music and culture which now features a lot on my phone at home. The locals were so friendly and welcoming and I actually felt safer there that I do when I go out in my hometown.

Costa Rica is known to be the happiest place to live in the world and it’s not hard to see why. One person who always put a smile on my face was an elderly man who cycles around with bags of Pipa (young green coconuts) dangling from the handlebars, selling them for 500 Colones (one dollar). He would always say, ‘Hola’ as he cycled by cheerfully. If you ever travel to Puerto Jiménez he’ll be there to greet you as soon as your arrive at the airstrip. It’s fair to say that I made the most of every opportunity. From swimming in the sea watching pelicans dive 2 meters away, watching toxic Saddleback Caterpillars crawling, to feeding sloths and kayaking in the lagoon with the crocodiles; everyday was remarkable. By the end of my time in the jungle I became a pro at dodging the cobwebs and came to love the intense racket of the jungle. My only wish would have been to stay for longer! Despite the endless mosquito bites, Acid Ant stings and blisters, my time in Costa Rica was unbelievable. One day I will return to the Osa (hopefully when my Spanish has significantly improved) but for now I’m forever jealous of the new volunteers who fly out there. I am so thankful to the Woodroffe Benton Foundation for helping me to fund my trip and I cannot wait for my next adventure!

By Amy Wright - Assistant Research Officer

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

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What To Expect In Costa Rica

Having done the Central America trail before hand, I was a little in the dark as to what Frontier Costa Rica's work was all about. I thought therefore that this would be a good chance to explain things for anyone else in my position!

Despite its size, the OSA peninsula is one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet, home to a whopping 4% of the worlds species. Most of these are endangered, and to make matters worse, endemic to the area - they cannot live anywhere else. Furthermore, many of these species are data deficient (one bird species hasn't had a paper published on it since 1954!).

Frontier's purpose in this area is to collect data that could potentially help protect these species and the local ecosystem. We study a huge variety of animals, grouped into birds, mammals, primates, turtles, reptiles and amphibians. It's a lot to keep track of but you learn quickly! We go out on surveys every morning very early (and sometimes night surveys which are incredible), so be ready to be hiking at 5 am! Each survey will go through a part of the jungle or beach in order to keep track of what animals can be seen or heard on that trail, helping Frontier understand the numbers and distribution of the target species.

Bird surveys for example, will be organised into three stop points, where volunteers will put their newly acquired bird calls knowledge to use, and attempt to identify the fifty bird species Frontier studies. I've had problems learning the bird calls (some sound so similar!) but there are some funny ways to remember them, one in particular we call the party bird since it sounds like a dubstep, while the macaw is quickly committed to memory  (screeching nails). Primate trails are slightly different, as you walk slowly through the jungle while staring into the trees and trying not to trip over a rogue root. They are equally fun however, and while I've never had this happen to me I've heard stories from other volunteers that they will throw poo if they feel aggressed!

My favourite trails however are the turtle ones, mostly because I saw a pacific green laying eggs up close, then accompanied her to the sea, which was incredible. A normal turtle survey will involve hiking the beaches in search of turtle tracks or nests, and seeing which nests have been predated (eaten by predators). Turtles don't like laying eggs with lots of light or disturbances, and they will always pick the same beaches, which is part of why they are becoming endangered. Many of their beaches are becoming tourist traps, and the light pollution and increased activity is scaring them away, not to mention poachers taking the eggs once their nests have been laid. Something I thought was really interesting, is that around only one in a thousand turtle eggs will survive; there are so many problems, from predators, to making it to the sea, that very few make it.

The OSA peninsula is one of two areas in Costa Rica that are protected reserves, where the wildlife can thrive - the other is situated around the other side of the mainland. The problem is that for many species, this stretch of land isn't enough. For example, a healthy jaguar population needs 1500 km2 to survive, whereas at the moment, they only have 500 km2 in the OSA peninsula. No one on camp has ever seen a jaguar, due in part to their dwindling numbers (and the fact that they don't like to be seen!). Another problem the wildlife here faces is codependency - ie a particular bird species spreads the seeds of a certain tree, and some primates need that tree to survive. If we lose the bird, the whole cycle is then potentially lost. Frontier's overarching aim would be to gather enough data on such difficulties, and present them to the government via an organisation called Minae, ideally linking the two reserves and creating enough land for these endangered species to thrive.

So there you have it, an abbreviated summary of what on earth Frontier are doing in Costa Rica! I hope it helps (and makes you want to come help out - seriously, the wildlife and location are stunning!).

By Meriel Clementson - Central American Ethical Trail Volunteer

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

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An Introduction to the Jungle

It was, with much huffing, a little puffing, and a lot of sweating, that I bundled onto the collectivo in Puerto Jiminez. My bag crashed to the floor as I, with an equal amount of force, crashed onto a little wooden bench which ran down the side of the van. No First Class this time. This was to be the final journey on the Central America trail, and I was about to become an ex-trail leader. Frontier Costa Rica’s jungle camp was beckoning me, but I had no idea what that would involve.

If I was apprehensive about it, which I can’t really remember now, then with two weeks of jungle life behind me I know that those would have been silly thoughts. As I write this I’m swinging in a hammock hanging from two trees which a few days ago had a group of monkeys swinging through them too. Around me people are laughing and chatting and there is talk of someone making a cake. The kitchen and dining area, which is always a hub of activity, has just produced another batch of jungle cuisine, and even a self-proclaimed meat fanatic  would love the meat-less food which this fridge-less camp produces.

I’ll admit it wasn’t all rosy to begin with, the 04.30am starts take a few days to adjust to, but once you’ve hit the road for surveys you’re good to go, even if you’ve only managed a mouthful of coffee and spoonful of porridge, a form of sustenance which has become a way of life for many in our little microcosm within the Carate Jungle. The mornings work could involve a number of things, hunting for mammal or turtle tracks, cracking your binoculars out and scoping for birds by the lagoon, or headings into the jungle to search out troops of primates, to name but a few.

Once your morning surveys are done you’ll arrive back, feast on jungle cuisine, and then get involved in something else. Organised debates occur (should we all be vegetarian? Should prisoners have the vote?), Spanish is taught, there is workout classes for the brave, and hammocks for the dozy. A new addition is sunset beach yoga, which I even tried my hand at because, well, why not?

So there we have it, a brief introduction to the jungle. From an ex-trail leader who likes to be on the move, I don’t think I’ll be complaining about sitting still for 3 and a half months while I’m on the Osa Peninsula.

By Alistair Ross - Ex Trail Leader & Field Communications Officer

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

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