Global Vision International Charitable Trust, Exeter, United Kingdomhttp://www.gvi.org
Global Vision International Charitable Trust, Exeter, United Kingdomhttp://www.gvi.org
The Tortuguero National Park in Costa Rica is a prime turtle nesting area although sadly due to poaching and habitat destruction many of the turtle species are in rapid decline. This project will fund patrol teams who will monitor the beaches at night and
Illegal activities in TNP can be significantly reduced through a consistent patrolling presence. In their 2 year tenure at Jalova, GVI Costa Rica has reduced poaching activity on a 3 mile section of TNP to almost zero. Unfortunately the volunteer workforce cannot cover the entire 15 miles & park ranger resources are inconsistent, so poaching and hunting rates are still prolific in other areas of the park. Many marine turtle species and jaguars are in decline due to our impact on their ecosystem.
Through research efforts by the GVI CR team, we understand the critical nature of the park habitat to the local wildlife and the importance of preserving these animals. Through liaison with the Park Ranger's we understand that simply providing more fuel and food resources will enable a more comprehensive protection strategy and allow extra patrolling measures. Join our Charity Water Challenge, raise vital funds and get to visit this project! http://www.gvi.org/charity-challenge-in-costa-rica
With adequate funding, TNP can be fully monitored year-round to allow the park to host the available extra workforce. Through this additional man power the canals, forests and beaches can be better protected and those conducting illegal practices apprehended. As a result, the animal populations of the national park can flourish as has been shown by existing monitoring practices.
Last month, the GVI projects celebrated Earth Day along with the rest of the world! Tortuguero National Park boasts a stretch of coastline that is the second biggest rookery for nesting Green Turtles in the world; the most important nesting beach in the Western hemisphere. Each year, hundreds of turtles including Hawksbills, Loggerheads and giant Leatherbacks, make nests on our sandy shores.
Soon the eggs begin to hatch. Turtle hatchlings, upon climbing out of their egg chambers, face a number of natural dangers. Once through the breakers and into the sea they face a multitude of predators, and as they mature they face fishing nets and hunters. However, long before this on our beach they must contend with vultures, crabs, raccoons, coatis and poachers just to name a few.
It seemed fitting that as part of Earth Day we would do a litter pick to make their lives a little easier. We removed a large quantity of litter that had washed up on the beach via the rivers that run through the area and a strong rip tide that brings debris to shore. This assortment of plastic and glass is a danger to turtles and hatchlings that may mistakenly eat it or even be prevented from getting to the sea by it.
Over two days in what seemed like the hottest weather in months, teams walked a three mile stretch of beach collecting bottles, shoes, and even old gas canisters and refrigerators. The first day yielded eleven 15lb bags and a soda bottle from Jamaica! The second day yielded eighteen 30lb bags that were removed with the aid of a quad bike and trailer. A total of 705lb or 320 kilos was collected; a joint effort between us and the park rangers from the Ministry for the Environment. The project could not have been achieved without their help. It was an incredibly hard day, but well worth it as it has made the beach a safer place for the little reptiles.
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The early morning air breaks with haunting howls, and the forest is filled with squeaks, chirps, barks and screams as the monkeys of Tortuguero National Park (TNP) begin to wake up. Apart from providing endless entertainment by jumping through the tree tops, socially interacting, or trying to pee or poo on someone (at which they have fairly accurate aim), these monkeys are key indicators of the forest health in this region. Three of Costa Rica’s four species of monkeys are residents within TNP, a protected area along the Caribbean coast. The white-throated capuchin (Cebus capucinus), mantled howler monkey (Alouatta palliata) and Central American spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi) coexist in harmony due to their slightly different feeding strategies, and can be found foraging in the same locations. Due to its endangered status, the Central American spider monkey has been sighted by MINAE as a species of interest, leading GVI Jalova to create a pilot study to monitor their distribution and density in the park area as part of our current Incidentals project.
The extension to our Incidentals project was started in September 2012. The study consists of five line transects along pre-existing trails that incorporate most of the survey area. Each transect covers a 1km distance that is surveyed over the course of approximately one hour. During this time, if spider monkeys are sighted, information regarding numbers, age, sex, gender and location are collected. Since the project started, 57 surveys have been conducted, and 56 spider monkey observations have resulted from these surveys. Of the individuals identified 51% of them have been females, 17% dependent young, 7% independent young, and only 3% males. Over the course of observation time spider monkeys have been seen on all the trails, but their distribution range has yet to be determined.
So far the results show that our area of TNP appears to have a healthy population of spider monkeys. The hope, as data continues to be collected, is that it will become easier to ascertain group sizes of the residents in the area and their density. In addition to the current study the future goals include comparing the number of spider monkeys in relation to the white-throated capuchin and mantled howler monkeys, and better understand the species of their foraging trees along with fluctuations based on food sources. Future developments may include looking more closely at the social behaviour of commonly seen spider monkeys, thanks to the support of people like yourself for this program.
We hope you are all having a fantastic holiday. Thank you for your support to this project in 2012, we are happy to announce we will be continuing into 2013 thanks to your donations.
This month has been an exciting and challenging month for birding at GVI Jalova. It is the time of year when migratory birds arrive, resident birds abound and juvenile individuals present difficult plumage succession. Staff enjoys the challenge and volunteers marvel at the variety that Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast has to offer. There have been two noteworthy sightings for this month. The first is a relative of the gulls who breed on Arctic coasts - the pomarine jaeger (Stercorarius pomarinus; pictured). This aggressive aerial-master harasses other seabirds, forcing them to disgorge their food which they snap up on the wing. They are rare and sporadic to Costa Rica, and most records are for the Pacific coast. It was with great pleasure then that we watched this aerial acrobat move in with stealth and swiftness to the great distress of a mixed flock of terns and gulls. In the air the juvenile jaeger was incredible to watch. Academically, it is an exciting record for Tortuguero National Park's coastline.
The second notable sighting has been a very thrilling one. We were very delighted when we discovered that the ‘new bird’ recorded on one of our regular shorebird surveys was a red knot (Calidri scanutus; pictured) – the first record for the Caribbean coast! Somewhat more reserved than the jaeger, the knot moved slowly through the driftwood on the high-tide line feeding on invertebrates. It was almost as though he was thinking.
Rare bird reports have been sent to both the iNaturlist website (used by the IUCN to maintain up-to-date conservation threat status’) and to the Asociación Ornithológica de Costa Rica. Without the hard work and enthusiasm of dedicated staff, volunteers & donors it is likely that these rare bird sightings would go overlooked. Range shifts & extensions of migratory species are important, not only for the conservation of the species themselves, but also for considering habitat conservation within their summer breeding grounds, and also when considering the effects of climate change.
In January 2010, GVI began the Biological Assessment and Incidental Sightings Projects to collect data regarding the abundance and diversity of animal species belonging to the four classes of: Amphibia, Aves, Mammalia and Reptilia. A secondary aim of the Biological Assessment Project was to determine if the data collected could be used to develop new, more class/species specific projects.
Since their inception (using data compiled from both projects), a total of 26 species of Amphibians have been identified within the area of Tortuguero National Park surveyed by GVI. These include 1 Caecillian, and 25 Anurans (3 Toads, 22 Frogs): many of these have been seen only sporadically and only a handful are recorded regularly.
It became apparent that after many night walks over several weeks, between May and July 2012, that there is a very diverse amphibian population residing in the Jalova area; which have the potential to be seen more often if regular surveys occurred. This thought, along with a desire to further understand how each area of forest effects the species found therein, prompted the creation of the Amphibian Project.
This project has two aspects: the first involves surveying various sites at night, all of which differ in their ability to retain water during the wet season - water being crucial at some stage (or all) of the life cycles of all Amphibians. The second involves gathering data on the morphology of individuals and the area they are found. This information is collected during the night and day to gain information on both nocturnal and diurnal species.
In the past 3 months, GVI has seen an increase in the number of Amphibian species recorded on a weekly basis. This includes species which have never been recorded by GVI before, such as the Boulenger’s Snouted Treefrog (Scinax boulengeri), as well as species which are rare due to extremely small ranges, such as the Tawny Treefrog (Smilisca puma) With continuing surveys it will be interesting to see if such species will be sighted more often. This will also give us more insight into where and when each species is likely to be present. It is also hoped that with the data collected from this survey, GVI will be able to further understand the differences between the habitats types.
The human population’s continued thirst for natural resources is rapidly shrinking the areas of wilderness and steering wildlife populations on the course of extinction. Without alternative means of generating income from such areas in their pristine state, the requirement of local communities to make a living inevitably leads to practices such as logging, illegal hunting and the development of monoculture plantations; eventually resulting in the demise of ‘natural’ ecosystems. One such alternative measure of providing livelihoods is ecotourism.
Tortuguero National Park is an ecotourism ‘mecca’ and year after year, thousands of tourists flock to this beautiful corner of Costa Rica. The undoubted main draw is the nesting population of green turtles that flood the 18 mile stretch of beach between the months of June and October. This is a spectacular sight but by no means all that Tortuguero has to offer. Serene canals amble and wind through the acres of stunning rainforest, providing homes to many species of animals; including an array of wonderful birds. No visit to the area is complete without a memorable voyage through the waterways; soaking up all the sights and sounds. But there is a balance to be had.
Obviously the more tourists encouraged to visit results in increased income generation for the local community, which in turn strengthens the resolve to continue the protection of the national park. One way to encourage more tourists to visit and more to return, it is find bigger and better ways of viewing wildlife; delving into areas no tourists have been before would likely attract a greater crowd with an anticipation of viewing rarely seen wildlife. This is all well and good though there is a reason some species of wildlife are rarely seen and that is that they rely on undisturbed habitat, unvisited by man made vehicles. The species are indicator species and say a lot for the health of a habitat; as a result, habitats where these species are located should remain undisturbed and ‘off the beaten track’.
There calls from the tourist associations in Tortuguero to open up certain canals to the public. This would need a lot of maintenance to enable boats an easy passage. The location of these canals had previously made species inventories extremely difficult and a lack of knowledge is always dangerous. This is why GVI Costa Rica has surveyed 4 different canals on the boundaries of park as part of our canal bird project; including a canal unreachable by boat, Sierpe Viejo, and a canal which has a high amount of boat traffic, Cano Negro. Through this we can compare species composition of each canal and the effects human disturbance may have on each individual species of aquatic bird. We are providing critical data to MINAET on the distribution of these species, which will hopefully give them the appropriate weaponry to fend off calls to further open up the park to tourism. There are many species of birds that we record regularly on all canals; such as the ‘mosquito-esque’ northern jacana and the ‘grumpy old man like’ little blue herons. However, of particular interest to MINAET are species that fall under the indicator bracket as mentioned above. Birds whose apparent rarity may be due to their elusive natures or more worryingly, low population numbers. Whatever the reason, each and every sighting is like gold dust and helps improve a currently inadequate database.
The holy grail of these birds is the agami (or chestnut-bellied heron) Agami agami. Radiant green and maroon colours with a sparkling silver side coupled with an enormous bill, really make this a spectacular specimen. Asides from its appearance, very little is known about the agami heron; especially when it comes to distribution and status with only breeding colony known in the whole of Costa Rica. It is believed to skulk anonymously around in riparian vegetation; eluding those who quest for merely a glimpse. Here in the southern end of Tortuguero National Park the last record of the species was in July, 2011. That was until August this year when we had 2 sightings in the space of a week; this includes a sighting on Sierpe Viejo. The debate on whether to open up this remote canal to tourists continues. The reed beds at the entrance currently provide with the protection it needs to stave off the curious eye, with the exception of a fortnightly visit from 5 GVI members who power through this mass of vegetation. And the continued effort has been worth it. The sighting of the agami provides the evidence of how important it is to protect all such canals and further prevent exploitation deeper into the park.
Elena Vargas, scientific administrator of the park, is fully aware of the importance of canal birds as indicator species. ‘There are some who would like to open canals like Sierpe Viejo and Aguas Negras for visits from tourists before we even know what inhabits the area.. It is important that GVI continues to collect data from these locations as the park is unable to carry out research there and data collected on all species from these ecosystems may be what is needed to maintain them in their natural state’.
Now GVI intends to extend our research into the depths of Aguas Negras. If we thought getting into Sierpe Viejo was a challenge...well, we have seen nothing yet!!
Marine Turtle populations face a variety of pressures worldwide; including illegal poaching of nesting females and eggs, fisheries by-catch, loss of nesting habitat and pollution. Turtle numbers had been declining as a result of these pressures for decades – long before organizations began developing conservation programs across the range in attempt to reverse this slide and prevent the extirpation of local turtle populations. One such organization is the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC), formerly the Caribbean Conservation Cooperation. The STC runs projects across the Caribbean which includes a monitoring program in Tortuguero National Park. The STC established its work here in 1959, and is the longest running marine turtle program in the world. This area also happens to host, depending on the source, the ‘largest’ nesting colony of green turtles Chelonia mydas across the globe (c.20,000 females), as well as small nesting populations of leather-backs Dermochelys coriacea, hawksbills Eretmochelys imbricata and the very occasional loggerhead Caretta caretta. Since the STC began their stewardship of the area, there has been a steady increase in the total number of green turtles.
Prior to 2010, the STC was restricted to surveying the 5 miles of beach along the north end of the park, directly in front of Tortuguero, on a daily and nightly basis. The rest of the 13 miles of beach could only be patrolled a few times a week, and was limited to only counting tracks as opposed to marking nesting turtles. This is where GVI comes in. Since setting up base here in 2010, we have been able to significantly increase the STC’s sampling effort and provide further protection to the vulnerable sea turtles. With our help the STC can now collect invaluable data in an area that was once out of reach; improving the accuracy of population estimates, the understanding of factors affecting hatching success and also reducing the rates of poaching that were likely to have been at a very high level.
So what do we do? Turtle season is broken up into two segments: leather-back season (March-June) and green season (June-November). During leather-back season we patrol a 4 mile stretch of beach where as in green this is reduced to a 3 mile stretch due to the abundance of turtles. During our night patrols we mark the nests of turtles we find and tag and measure them. On our daily nest checks we ‘watch over’ as it were, the nests we have marked, as well as count the number of nests we did not observe the previous night. Nests are also excavated after their incubation period to determine how many of the eggs developed into hatchlings. All this data is invaluable for marine turtle conservation, and when you step back and look at the figures, GVI is really doing its’ part. Since the beginning of 2010, we have collectively:
The existence of most marine turtle species hangs on a knife’s edge. At the forefront of preventing this demise are organisations like the STC whose collection of accurate and reliable data will drive area management plans in the direction of marine turtle conservation. These organizations need support both financially and with volunteers. We are providing such support and in every sense, act as the STC’s third arm in Tortuguero National Park. We have significantly increased their monitoring capabilities and are helping to protect a section they were previously unable to reach. Although for conservation measures to succeed turtles require protection across their ranges, every contribution makes a difference. Together with the STC and members of ACTo (Area Conservacion de Tortuguero) we will strive to provide protection to the turtles that use Tortuguero for the breeding and nesting stages of their life cycles. At the moment, poaching levels are still unsustainable and there is not enough being done; primarily due to the lack of resources provided to the park rangers. Rangers are unable to respond to illegal harvesting due to lack of man power or even the lack of fuel. In response, the STC are in the process of organizing a protest in Tortuguero with the aim of highlighting the plight of this precious resource to the rest of the nation. We are in full support of this and with any luck, poaching rates will continue to decrease!
A big welcome to our latest group of volunteers. They joined us 2 weeks ago from a variety of nations and we look forward to a successful phase 123. Since their arrival life has been as fast and furious as ever and here are just a few things that have happened in this short space of time:
Not only do GVI staff and volunteers spend hours comprehensively sweeping forest trails and canals in Tortuguero National Park, we also live deep inside the parks southern boundary. Our 24-hour presence either on base or travelling to town establishes a constant connection between us and unbelievably diverse ecosystems. Many of the species we see are ever present in our temporary home. Clay coloured robins Turdus grayi frolicking around our ‘garden’, American crocodiles Crocodylus acutus basking at the river mouth and mantled howler monkeys Allouata palliata alerting the world to the rising sun with a roar that would not be out of place in ‘Jurassic Park’. These animals all have one thing in common; Tortuguero National Park (TNP) falls within their normal distribution and they are abundant here. This does not mean that is not important to record their continued local existence as a change in abundance may signify significant alteration to the parks habitats. However, to record a species that is believed to be rare within the park or that has a normal range not believed to overlap with TNP, really does instil a great deal of excitement and brings home the fact that our research station can add new data to worldwide species databases. And we are in the process of building up a collection of such sightings.
Birds are an obvious contender for such recordings. Although they may have specific distributions mapped in scientific literature, their ability to transcend boundaries through flight enables them to migrate to locations their may have rarely frequented before; a situation which will likely become more prevalent as the effects of climate change begin to take their toll. So what have we seen here that we apparently shouldn’t have been so lucky to do so? Here is a few we have accumulated in 2012:
But it is not just birds of note that we have recorded; there is also a snake that stands out. To me it resembles a mini anaconda (a species I would give my left arm to see in the wild) and one that is also believed to be very rare in this area. It wasn’t discovered on any of the trails or along the waterways but under the staff house! Again illustrating how we can make a contribution to the scientific community by merely taking a few steps from our beds. I give you the orange bellied swamp snake Tretanorhinus nigroluteus!!
So what are we doing with this data? Firstly, all the data we collect goes directly to MINAET, who will hopefully be able to incorporate it into the park’s new management plan. We also report any rare bird sightings directly to Asociación Ornitológica de Costa Rica (AOCR). And finally, GVI we have begun to collaborate with I-naturalist and an official GVI Tortuguero project has been set up. I-naturalist is a worldwide database that allows experts and amateurs alike to upload photos of species they have seen all over the world; thus documenting a current and accurate distribution of all species in time and space. We are currently developing an extensive photo database of every species we have photographed in this area and aim to upload these to our project on i-naturalist on a regular basis.
The work GVI has accomplished studying jaguars in Tortuguero National Park has started to catch the attention of feline biologists and conservation organizations. Since moving to the Jalova field station in 2010 the frequency of jaguar captures on camera has steadily increased. Jaguars can be recognized and told apart by their unique rosette patterns on their fur, and to date GVI has identified 10 different individuals active in the 3 mile survey area. They have achieved this with over 500 nights of camera trapping and more than 1000 jaguar pictures collected and identified in their database. A scientific paper written by Diogo Verissimo, a previous GVI staff member, brought to the attention of the media and the scientific world the incredible and unique interactions between Jaguars and Marine Turtles on the Tortuguero beach. We believe this relationship is what is principally supporting the coexistence of such a large jaguar population in such a small area.
“Panthera was founded in 2006 with the singular mission of conserving the world’s 36 species of wild cats, it currently focuses its range-wide conservation strategies on the world’s largest, most imperilled cats, one of these being the jaguar, the largest cat in the Western Hemisphere”. The hard work of the GVI Costa Rica Expedition team has been repaid with the possibility of working alongside this leading organization. Roberto Salom-Perez, manager of Panthera’s Costa Rica jaguar projects, visited our Jalova base whilst working here with the BBC wildlife team back in September 2011. Nearly 8 months later, after a lot of paperwork and meetings the first signatures were laid on what will be a 3 year collaboration between Panthera and GVI.
Expectations are high on both sides. The GVI team will be helping Panthera field scientists as they try and explore the extent and distribution of the jaguar population in the whole of Tortuguero National Park. The small piece of the puzzle that we have been working on for the past two years may now fit into a larger framework that will help with the management and conservation of jaguars in Costa Rica. Expertise from the Panthera staff will help the GVI team come up with new methodologies and extend the GVI camera trapping project to cover a larger survey area. They will also provide the means to allow us to expand our study techniques to include scat collection and analysis, a development that could greatly aid our understanding of the local jaguar population.
Recent funds to the National Park helped in facilitating extra patrols during the high poaching and hunting period Semana Santa (Holy week before Easter). During this time there is higher demand for turtle products and also increased activity from hunters in the forest of the park, looking for deer and wild pigs.
Extra personnel were able to be drafted in to run the patrols through the means of police. This adds not only extra people but also more authoritative figures so further people can be detained for law breaking. Without the food money the police would not be able to stay in the park and thus be unavailable for patrol.
These funds meant that this Semana Santa period was one of the better patrolled of all time which is good news for the local wildlife. However poaching is still rife in the park and increased protection needs to be sought year round. Without the extra funds in the future this will not be facilitated and the future green season will see a larger strain on park ranger resources.
We would like to share the most recent trustee report from the GVI Charitable Trust. This report covers the six month period from July to December 2011.
We are delighted to share that this has been by far our most successful period, raising in six months nearly as much as we did the whole of the previous year. This increase in funding has brought a corresponding increase in the impact we have been able to create on our programs around the world.
During this period we have invested in sustainable education across Latin America including support for the elderly in Guatemala and income generation schemes to support education in Honduras and Ecuador. In Mexico we have worked with a community to establish a recycling centre and in Kenya our partners in Mombasa will now realise their goal of seeing impoverished students through to completion of the primary education earning recognised qualifications for the first time.
These are just a few highlights of an amazing, productive and rewarding six months. Thank you to everyone who has supported us and played a crucial role in these achievements.
In addition to our aims to fund a patrol team to protect turtle nesting habitats GVI are heavily involved in a long term scientific research program aimed at aided conservation efforts and expanding knowledge on the importance of doing so.
Our research takes place in a remote spot at the southern end of Tortuguero National Park at the beginning of 2010. Tortuguero is justifiably famous for its globally important numbers of endangered marine turtles and GVI has been working with the Sea Turtle Conservancy for many years to help with the monitoring program of these amazing creatures (reports from this program can be found on the Sea Turtle Conservancy website - www.conserveturtles.org/costarica.php?page=season-reports). GVI have also been carrying out gruelling 15 mile ‘Jag-walks’ along the length of Tortuguero Beach each week to assess the extent of jaguar predation on the nesting turtles. This phenomenon, though not completely unique to Tortuguero National Park, is not being recorded and monitored to this degree anywhere else. A publication of these findings is due to be published soon.
Tortuguero also comprises of a significant terrestrial environment of winding canals and dense tropical forest the vast majority of which is inaccessible and unknown. GVI were given the opportunity to base themselves at the southern end of the National Park, just north of the Rio Jalova river mouth. Though humans have been present in the area for many years, nobody has ever conducted biological research in the area.
During our research efforts over the last year:
We also conduct a camera trapping project which is going from strength to strength and providing unparalleled insight into the mammalian fauna of the area, providing the first data regarding numbers of individual jaguars in this area of the Park.
Support for this project will help us to implement a patrol team to further protect these beautiful habitats and the animals who depend on them