The turtle project in Jalova monitors the hatching success rate of nests marked by the GVI staff and volunteers during the green turtle nesting season (June to November) on a three mile stretch of beach.
The typical life cycle of the green turtle (Chelonia mydas) starts with an egg laid and buried, amongst hundreds of other eggs, and hundreds of other nests,on the beach at Tortuguero on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. If lucky, that egg hatches and a turtle hatchling makes its way into the ocean. Many years later, that same hatchling, now grown in to an adult female, returns to the same beach and lays her own nest. In this case, that night was 12 August 2014 and that beach just happened to fall within the area survey by volunteers and staff of GVI’s Jalova Research Station. On that same night there was a group of poachers in the Tortuguero area. Poaching turtles nests for eggs is still a fairly common practice on Costa Rica´s Caribbean beaches, and one of the reasons having the beach as a protected area, where research programs combined with patrols by park rangers greatly discourage poaching, is so important to the protection of these nests. Poaching activity within the national park and protected areas is much lower than on unpatrolled/unprotected beaches. On this particular evening, the poachers dug up the nest of the female turtle (and a number of other nests) and removed the eggs for personal consumption and to sell locally. Turtle eggs have long been considered both an aphrodisiac and a delicacy in this region as well as other parts of Costa Rica, and black market sale of those eggs still occurs in many places.
The 12th of August was a busy night on the Tortuguero beach, as the TNP Rangers were conducting one of their regular night patrols. They came across the poachers and found over 900 fresh turtle eggs in hessian sacks. As it is currently illegal to disturb the turtle nests and remove eggs for consummation or resale, the rangers arrested the poachers and took possession of the turtle eggs.
The turtle eggs would not survive outside their nest; and in fact the longer the eggs remain outside the nest the less likely embryos will develop to hatchlings. In the first 24 hours of the eggs existence, the embryo attaches itself to the shell. Movements and changes in the temperature can cause the embryo to fail. Knowing that the confiscated eggs were in danger, the rangers therefore contacted GVI Jalova´s turtle project leader Renato Bruno (aka Chief) and asked if there was anything that could be done to save the potential turtles.
GVI Jalova has been working successfully with the TNP Rangers for over ten years. The rangers are very familiar Jalova´s turtle conservation project (in partnership with the Sea Turtle Conservancy) and work closely with GVI on many different conservation and education initiatives, even having GVI staff accompany them on patrols; particularly in turtle nesting season when jaguar predation of marine turtles (studied by GVI) is at its peak and the beach is adorned with hundreds of hatchling tracks. GVI staff were happy to answer the call and assist the rangers with the eggs.
The success rate of Green Turtle hatchlings making it to adulthood is about one in a thousand. This is why it is so important and encouraging that the partnership GVI Jalova has with the TNP Rangers resulted in the successful incubation and hatching of the turtles.
On reaching the ocean the hatchlings they made it will have many other obstacles to avoid if they are to make it adulthood; but we are hopeful that for some they do live happily ever after.
Thank you for your support.
It is an unfortunate fact that even today jaguars face animosity from local communities across the entirety of their home range – whether from the superstition´s of the indigenous people who believe that jaguars are creatures of immense power to be feared or from cattle owners who believe their livestock to be under threat. Modern technologies such as firearms and poisons have empowered local communities to fight back against the jaguars that they see as damaging their livelihoods and the jaguar-human conflict now poses the biggest threat to their declining population.
GVI Jalova´s neighbour, Armando, has a small herd of around 30 cattle which contribute equally to his income as does the coconut plantation in which they graze. In the past six months, four of his calves have been taken by jaguars - an unusually large amount compared to the two calves taken over the previous five years. Staff at GVI Jalova believe that the historically low predation rate could be due to the fact that the typical culprits of livestock predation, i.e. old and injured jaguars, would be unable to compete in such a small but highly desirable area such as Tortuguero National Park. The reason for the sudden increase this past year is as yet unclear but it is commonly thought amongst the staff that it may be the work of two local cubs that have recently started venturing out independently from their mother - calves being the easiest prey available outside of turtle season.
After hearing of Armando´s problems, base manager Mariliana contacted Roberto Salom-Perez, Panthera’s Mesoamerica Jaguar Program Coordinator in Costa Rica, to ask for advice. Before staff at Jalova knew it a date was fixed for a visit from Rafael Hoogesteijn, Panthera´s Head of Human-Jaguar Conflict who works closely with jaguars in the Pantanal, Daniel Corrales-Gutiérrez, Project Manager of the Human-Jaguar Conflict in Costa Rica and four other Panthera representatives from all over the Americas – Costa Rica, Panama, Brazil, Venezuela and USA.
The visitors were welcomed to GVI´s research station within Tortuguero National Park. Staff member Frank explained GVI´s aims and objectives, which include helping initiatives such as Panthera achieve their goals, and gave an overview of the Jaguar Project and the other projects run at the station. They were then taken out into the field to admire the beautiful and diverse wildlife within the park whilst swapping stories with staff of life working in conservation. They were especially interested in the abundance of jaguar tracks clearly visible along the beach.
Staff members Frank and Marcelle accompanied the Panthera visitors to Armando´s house and made the introductions. Daniel Corrales led the discussion by describing more about himself and Panthera. It was an interesting process for GVI Staff seeing it firsthand. Daniel asked Armando questions about what animals and tracks he had seen in the area then asked him to point at pictures of them to establish which cats and natural prey species were in the area. He also asked about any animals he had seen in the past which he no longer sees. Other questions about how dependant he is upon his cattle, how he controls where they go during the day and at night and details about the circumstances in which the calves had been taken were asked to help clarify how Panthera could help resolve Armando´s problem.
After the discussion and viewing the land firsthand, the group from Panthera decided the best solution was to construct an electric fence around the cattle enclosure and made plans to return to help implement this solution, provided they could get the permit to do so inside the National Park. Daniel also gave Armando advice on farming techniques to help him improve productivity and the health of his cattle which helped create trust and respect between a man whose livelihood is being put at risk by jaguars and the conservation group trying to preserve them.
The visit gave us an opportunity to directly impact the local community by helping Armando, who helps us so much and without whom we could not be here. Furthmore, Daniel and Rafael have asked GVI to put them into contact with any other cattle owners in the area that they may be able to assist. The visit also provided a great opportunity for Panthera to see our work out in the field and to learn more about GVI and equally for staff at Jalova to learn more about our partner organisation and their work around the world.
Lastly, a potential future partnership between GVI and Panthera in the Pantanal was greeted with enthusiasm and excitement from both sides and will be discussed further on future visits!
Thank you for continuing to support this project!
Kat Cutler and Frank Spooner,
Panthera Project Field Staff
From 18th to 21st of March, staff members participated in the Mesoamerican Congress of Protected Areas, in San Jose.
The congress gathered renowned researchers from various Central American and Mexican Universities, important organizations such as IUCN, representative from Mesoamerican native communities, representatives from MINAE (Costa Rican Ministry of Environment and Energy) and other environmental departments of Mesoamerican Countries. It was discussed the status of Mesoamerican protected areas and the state of the art on conservation biology research. There, GVI had the chance to follow on the latest research methods developed by skilled conservationists and learn from their experience, and also contribute with the latest results on our projects, with two posters and one oral presentation.
One of the posters showed the latest results on the Jaguar Project, in partnership with PANTHERA. The other poster showed a comparison between two of the research methods used at Jalova base for biological diversity assessment. The surveys we do to collect data for our research are also very interesting for our volunteers, as they are their first contact with a variety of animals, such as amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.
The oral presentation showed the latest results on Jalova’s Canal Birds Project. The Bird Project leader talked about the influence of boat traffic on the avifauna of Tortuguero National Park. This is one of the oldest GVI projects in Jalova and is a valuable source of data for the avifauna of Tortuguero National Park.
We hope that by being invited to this event, it shows our importance in this field but will also enable us to develop even more our current and future scientific projects. This would not be possible without your support.
Marcelle Muniz Barreto, Birds Project Leader & Mariliana Leotta, Base Manager
Working along with the Costa Rican Ministry of Environment (MINAE) and the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC), GVI Jalova is helping to maintain mile markers that are indispensable for studying the parks nesting sea turtles. These mile markers also assist in GVI Jalova’s Jaguar Predation on Marine Turtle Study.
Running along the beach of Tortuguero National Park are pieces of driftwood standing tall and painted white with black writing. These pieces of driftwood are positioned every eight of a mile (approx. 200m) to provide localization for researchers and park officials. Ranging from mile zero and 2/8 to mile 18, these mile markers are read in order from north to south.
Mile markers are used for studies on marine turtles nesting as well as jaguar predation upon those turtles by jaguars the STC and GVI Jalova. This is also the most efficient way for the rangers of TNP to communicate the exact location of poaching activities.
Nightly patrols during turtle season desperately need these mile markers as electronic equipment such as GPSs have been shown to disturb sea turtles. For this reason sea turtle researchers use these markers to know their locations on the beach at night. For GVI these night surveys cover from mile 18 (Jalova river mouth) until mile 14 (Fig 1). During the morning GVI also uses these markers to monitor the nesting activities of marine turtles. These markers are used in GVI’s Jaguar Predation of Marine Turtles Study to know camera trap locations within a 1/8 of a mile assisting in the retrieval of cameras and the data analysis of the project.
This February staff and volunteers of GVI Jalova replaced 51 mile markers across three miles (15-18) of Tortuguero beach. This activity was conducted over two days and 20 different members of GVI participated in the mile marker maintenance. After a survey that identified the markers that needed maintenance, nine volunteers and four staff members of GVI Jalova Conservation Expedition replaced mile markers between miles 18 and 17 with wooden pieces pre-selected and painted. On the second time, using the whole team, mile markers for the other two miles were replaced.
Hoping that the mile markers will last many seasons, GVI Jalova is proud of making part of the history being involved in the conservation of Tortuguero National Park.
Many thanks for supporting this project.
Renato Saragoça Bruno,
Turtle Project Leader
Tortuguero National Park is known for its great biodiversity of birds. Waterbirds found in and around the National Park are not only major tourist attractions, but they are also important bioindicators to evaluate biodiversity, health and quality of the ecosystem, due to their distribution and different specializations.
Jalova Canal Birds Biodiversity Assessment focus mainly on 30 target species chosen in conjunction with our partner MINAE. However, some of these target species are more elusive and rarer than others. The agami heron (Agamia agami) is an example. This is one of the least known herons and is a species of particular interest in Tortuguero National Park. In 1988 it was classified as near threatened by IUCN and in 2009 as least concern. It is currently listed as vulnerable and has an unknown population trend. It is rare throughout its range with little published information available about feeding ecology, nesting behavior and density.
Due to its low density and nocturnal habits, this heron was seen only few times by GVI. Thus, to discover more about this animal, GVI staff organized a nocturnal bird survey. Every month, since August 2013, GVI canal bird project leader organizes nocturnal bird excursions for volunteers, hoping to get more sightings and information on this species. On December 2013, GVI finally got 2 sighting of this bird at the Caño Negro canal.
Volunteer and staff were thrilled with the sight of such rare species. As it can be a good bioindicator of ecosystem quality for Tortuguero National Park, we wish to continue the nocturnal surveys, in order to gain more information on the behavior, distribution and ecology of this species. Besides, nocturnal surveys per se provide a lot of excitement and fun for both volunteers and staff, as the canals can look different from day to night.
I hope you are as excited by this as we are. We look forward to bringing you more news in the future.
All the best
GVI Costa Rica Tortuguero
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GVI Charitable Trust Manager