WHAT WILL I BE DOING?
You will be working in the Pacific rainforests and beaches bordering Corcovado National Park, one of the most remote National Parks in the country which has been described by National Geographic as “one of the most biologically intense places on the planet”. Home to one of the largest tropical primary lowland rainforests in the world, Corcovado National Park is also home to a large range of endangered plant and animal species. Dense rainforest creates a dramatic habitat for hundreds of bird and mammal species, along with a high population of marine turtles nesting on the beaches each year.
BIG CAT MONITORING: CAMERA TRAPPING & MAMMAL TRACKS AND SCATS
Jaguars, pumas, and ocelots are all present in the region. In addition to the surveys which use direct observations, we also record indirect evidence of mammals through camera trapping and the identification of tracks and scats. All these signs are recorded in order to build a better understanding of the abundance and distribution of big cats in the area. This data is crucial in order to assess the effectiveness of conservation measures, and in particular whether wildlife corridors between protected areas are sufficient to ensure the long-term survival of big cat populations in Costa Rica.
Frequently sighted prints include those of pumas, agoutis, peccaries, armadillos, coatis and the rare neotropical river otter. This data is collected on transect walks, both along the forest trails and along the river. The GPS location, size and abundance of the tracks are recorded, and this information can then be used to map the presence of many mammals which are rarely observed in the forest. This also contributes to our knowledge of the use of the area as a biological corridor for mammals with large ranges, such as the big cats.
WHAT ELSE CAN I GET INVOLVED IN?
FOREST AMPHIBIAN SURVEYS
Costa Rican amphibians are a diverse and fascinating group – including such species as poison dart frogs and until recently the golden toad. However, they are also extremely sensitive to climate change due to the porous nature of their skin and their use of small microhabitats. Reduction in pool sizes, shorter rainy seasons, and increased temperatures have all contributed to widespread amphibian decline, increasing bacterial growth and disease transmission. The sensitive nature of amphibians to altered climatic variables makes them an excellent indicator group for studying the effects of changing climates.
The primary forest blocks where the Frontier camp is situated have a range of leaf litter frog species. As these groups lay their eggs in leaf litter, increasing decomposition rates due to increasing temperature can eliminate their breeding habitat to the point that the reproduction cycle of an entire population can be threatened. Our survey study aims to determine the species composition across an altitudinal gradient. In the long term, the effects of rising temperatures on forest amphibians could also be assessed.
POINT SURVEYS FOR BIRD SPECIES
Bring your binoculars and set your alarm early and you can join in our bird surveys which take place at the lagoon on Pejeperro beach. Many of Costa Rica’s beautiful birds can be found here, as well as several migratory species. Frequently sighted are pink roseate spoonbills, herons, egrets, scarlet macaws and, with luck, ospreys!
Bird counts are a commonly used method of identifying avian species composition in an area. A pilot study was recently initiated to carry out bird call counts along trails throughout the forest in order to get a better idea of species diversity and abundance.
SEA TURTLE MONITORING
Sea turtles are a flagship species for conservation due to their iconic nature, and being an excellent indicator species for climate change. This is due to their temperature-dependant sex determination, whereby increased temperatures create a sex bias skewed toward females, which could cause entire populations to collapse. Additionally, temperature-induced changes in plant community composition, together with rising sea levels, may result in increased incidences of beach erosion and inundation of nests. This, in conjunction with anthropogenic threats, such as beach development, long line fishing and pollution, mean that turtle populations are highly vulnerable and often unstable. Poaching, and the illegal trade of turtle eggs causes further reductions in turtle populations, which may result in entire clutches being destroyed.
The aim of this project is to help conserve the olive ridley and Pacific green turtles on the Osa Peninsula through monitoring the frequency and health of the local nesting turtle populations, managing nest relocations, recording nest preference and success and prevention of the poaching and predation of nests.
Volunteers patrol two beaches close to camp. The patrols not only help to gather valuable population data of the endangered marine turtles, but also serve to discourage poachers and predators trying to raid nests and collect eggs. The two species of turtle most frequently observed are the Olive Ridley and the Pacific Green Turtle. During peak nesting season (July-October), turtles found nesting on the beach at night are tagged and given a health check. In the mornings we also conduct nest excavations which involve checking the hatched nests to assess reproductive success after the hatchlings have emerged. Total clutch size, number of successfully hatched eggs and the number and stage of development of un-hatched eggs are recorded. Any hatchlings that might have remained trapped in the nest chamber are freed and placed on the beach to allow them to reach the sea. Outside of peak nesting time vital work is still carried out but at a reduced level.
PLEASE NOTE: the peak turtle nesting season of Olive Ridley turtles begins in June and ends in November. After this period the Pacific Green Turtles come in to nest until March; sightings outside this period (March-May) are expected to be a lot less frequent.
In addition to these wildlife research projects you will also be involved in other activities which play a key part in conservation. For example, typically once per week all project participants assist with the creation and maintenance of trails which facilitate the majority of the surveys we conduct. We will also aim to show you the wonders of the jungle, with regular walks to find rare and endangered species and night walks to discover what happens in the jungle when the sun goes down!
Though there is enough downtime to get yourself stuck into a good book, swim in the rivers and take part in horse riding, canopy tours, dolphin and whale tours and a trip to Corcovado National Park (not included in the price) among others, the project boasts a busy schedule focusing on its broad range of high conservation impact science for which participants will receive full training in the field. You will receive a wide range of lectures designed to complement the practical research programme to provide background knowledge about the species we are working with, based around their biology and ecology and understand the conservation needs of these species.