WHAT WILL I BE DOING?
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. Over millennia, the dense rainforests have created a dramatic and ideal habitat for hundreds of bird and mammal species and the warm waters surrounding the park are also home to several marine species.
On this project, you will help to carry out extensive and broad biodiversity surveys, which could include:
Walking primate transects to collect valuable data on various primate species in the park
Beach patrols to assess and survey turtle nesting habits and hatchling health
Big cat track surveying and data collection
Undertake surveys on the data-deficient neotropical otter
Participate in broader surveys and research of exotic bird populations, invertebrates and other animal groups on the peninsula
Collecting information on the surrounding habitats
Testing tides and temperatures on Playa Carate (Climate Change Project)
In addition to wildlife and research activities, volunteers also participate in various other conservation-related tasks. For example, typically once a week all project participants assist with the creation and maintenance of forest trails which help to facilitate the majority of the surveys we conduct. This can be difficult work, but is actually an excellent opportunity to see more of the jungle! In addition to this, there is plenty of time to experience the peninsula with regular walks to identify and observe rare and endangered species, including nocturnal walks to discover the jungle after dark when the big cats are most active.
Things will be busy! However, there will also be sufficient down time to get stuck into a book while swinging on a hammock or taking a dip in ocean or jungle stream. There are also plenty of optional activities to take part in including horse riding, forest canopy tours, dolphin and whale watching tours and guided trips to the national park, so remember to bring along some extra funds!
The project boasts a busy schedule focusing on a broad range of high impact, groundbreaking conservation strategies and scientific research for which volunteers receive full field training in order to undertake. There will also be a wide range of regular lectures designed to complement the practical research component of the project, which cover topics such as species biology, ecology and conservation needs.
Overview of project objectives
Our first aim is to assess the presence and abundance of species outside of Corcovado National Park. We use our research to provide MINAE (Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía) with the evidence necessary to implement a corridor between Corcovado National Park and Piedras Blancas National Park. Because Corcovado is reaching its carrying capacity, endangered species, such as the jaguar, are running out of space in the park. This corridor would allow movement and gene flow of the species present in both parks.
Our second aim is to assess the turtle nesting activity and predation rates on Carate and Leona beaches. We use bamboo nest covers to prevent dogs from predating turtle eggs. This study is also done in compliance with our tide measuring studies to observe how rising sea levels influence turtle nesting behaviour.
Sea turtle monitoring
Volunteers patrol two beaches close to camp, which aim to not only 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. The peak season for turtle monitoring begins in June and ends in February/March. Outside of this time, vital work is still carried out but at a markedly reduced level.
There are four primate species found on the Osa Peninsula, including the squirrel monkey, mantled howler monkey, Geoffroy’s spider monkey and the white-faced capuchin monkey. The primary objective of this project is to estimate the density of all four primate species in the areas outside of the Corcovado National Park and to record habitat preferences. Work usually includes walking primate transects for data collection and recording observations.
These surveys are typically conducted three to four times each week and involve recording every troop encountered during slow forest treks, using binoculars. It is important to take an accurate count of the number of individuals within the troop (a good pair of binoculars will certainly prove beneficial) as well as calculating the size of the area surveyed by taking measurements of the distance between the trail and the troop of monkeys. Behavioural data is also collected to determine activity patterns in different habitats, and information regarding plant foraging preferences is also recorded to gain a better understanding of the ecosystem as a whole.
Big cats and people
Five species of big cat call the Osa Peninsula home, including the larger jaguar and puma, the smaller jaguarondi and margay, and the intermediate sized ocelot.
Our big cat research is a relatively new multi-phase project initiated in October 2015 that combines a range of field research methods to study the abundance, distribution and habitat of Costa Rican wildcat species. Conflict between landowners and wildlife is one of the most significant challenges facing wildlife conservation and wildcats are not immune. The wildcats are one of the most heavily threatened species in Costa Rica as a result of retaliatory killing and persecution as a preventative measure against livestock predation.
There is a direct correlation between the success of the prey of wildcats and the success of wildcats themselves, and recent poaching of their prey is directly linked to reduced wildcat populations. Both the wildcats and their prey are studied in an attempt to understand the health of cat populations on the peninsula. The ultimate objective is to understand how this ecosystem works, which then allows for a formulation of sustainable strategies to maintain predators and prey in this critical biological corridor neighbouring Corcovado National Park.
It is important to note that these species are elusive and sightings are rare. Even if you don’t see them whilst out on the trail or on camp, it is very likely that you will find evidence that they are around through leaving tracks and faeces. Seeing a big cat is mostly down to luck and being in the right place at the right time, though the nocturnal treks increase your chances of a sighting.
Bird point count surveys
Bring your binoculars, put on your twitcher’s hat and get set to be up bright and early for bird surveys which occur several times a week. Surveys typically take place along the Rio Carate and at the ecologically sensitive lagoon, Pejeperrito. Many of Costa Rica’s hundreds of bird species can be sighted here, as well as several migratory species. Frequently sighted are trogons, antbirds, hummingbirds and tanagers, and if you are lucky maybe a Baird’s Trogon or Great Curassow.
Bird counts are a commonly used method of identifying avian species composition in an area and we aim to study the diversity of the bird community in primary and secondary forest as well as within the river course and more disturbed areas such as plantations and gardens. Not only will you be identifying birds by sight, but you will start to learn to identify birds by the calls they make. You be surprised at some of curious ways in which staff have learnt to identify the unique calls of different birds!
Amphibian and reptile richness and abundance
Costa Rican amphibians and reptiles are a diverse group and are amongst one of the most sensitive to climate change due to their use of small microhabitats and the porous nature of their skin. Declines have already been seen amongst these two groups due to reductions in rainfall, and humidity and increased temperatures increasing bacterial growth and disease transmission. The sensitive nature of amphibians and reptiles to altered climatic variables makes them an excellent indicator group for studying the effects of changing climates.
Our study aims to collect baseline data on the different species that live within primary and secondary forests and more degraded areas on the peninsula, whilst also collecting data on ecological variables related to the species. Environmental data such as temperature and humidity is also recorded to monitor the effects of climate change on populations between years. The idea of this project is to create an inventory of all amphibians and reptiles in the area, which will allow us to estimate the number of species there are likely to be in the area and can be used to monitor not only the richness but also the abundance and microhabitat preferences of the species.