Protect Caribbean Rainforest in Costa Rica

 
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Baby leatherback turtle
Baby leatherback turtle

Dear Supporter,

Turtle nesting season has started and we are working hard to gather essential data.

GVI conducts research on marine turtles that nest in the southern end of Tortuguero National Park (TNP). The research takes places in two stages, night patrols and daily nest checks on a 3.5 mile stretch of beach starting at the Jalova river mouth. 

TNP is a nesting area for leatherback turtles, an IUCN endangered species, from approximately March – June each year. Occasionally hawksbill and loggerhead turtles are also encountered laying eggs here.  GVI volunteers have had the opportunity to observe and study many of these beautiful, giant animals during the current leatherback season.

Different from other marine turtle species, leatherback turtles do not have a hard carapace- commonly known as the “shell”. Istead, they have a mosaic of small bones covered by thick skin. Their size varies from 130cm to 183cm, however the largest ever recorded was over 3meters long! Their weight can range from 300kg to 500kg.  The incubation period of a leatherback turtle is around 65 days, and you can find approximately 80 eggs per nest.

As leatherbacks are the largest of the sea turtles, and one of the most endangered, patrolling their nesting beaches tagging, measure & monitor (which is called “working” a turtle) is an important research activity to be able to record presence and the history of leatherbacks. All data collected by GVI and our volunteers goes to our partner organization, Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC), to be compiled with their data and produce reports for the national park, the Costa Rica Ministry of Environment, the scientific community and the general public, on the state of turtles and nesting in TNP. It also contributes to the worldwide body of knowledge on marine turtles and nesting.

Night patrols at Jalova are conducted from 8pm to 1am. Our objective is to collect data on sea turtles coming ashore to lay eggs. As part of the protocol designed by our partners at the STC, turtles are tagged for individual identification, and biometric data, for example, carapace length is measured and recorded. Our volunteer research assistants work alongside GVI staff to collect this information throughout the night.

We have also done a marathon night patrol covering Jalova to Tortuguero Town, a 15 mile stretch taking 7 hours on foot. After every one of these night patrols, a nest check patrol went out the following morning to oversee the state of all the nest that have been marked during the season, and that are being monitor to determinate the stage and conditions of the nests. All this data gives us information on the survival rates of the nests and the hatchlings, and also gives us a better understanding overall of our beach and our turtles. 

For the first period of 2015 leatherback season, from April to mid May, GVI has worked 37 leatherback turtles and marked 19 leatherbacks nests, as well as 1 hawksbill nest. That means that so far this year, GVI has worked and marked more leatherback sea turtles than last year’s total count for the season.

We thank you for your continued support, without your generous donations research such as this would not be possible. 

Best Wishes, 

GVI Costa Rica

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Mangrove Cuckoo
Mangrove Cuckoo

Dear Supporter,

Since the start of 2015, six new species (5 birds, 1 mammal) have already been added to the Jalova Species Inventory as a part of the Incidentals Project!

Birds have had the most success; accounting for five of the six new species added to the species list: Herring Gull (Larus argentatus), Olive-backed Quail-Dove (Geotrygon veraguensis), Bicolored Hawk (Accipiter bicolor), Spotted Antbird (Hylophylax naevioides) and Dot-winged Antwren (Microrhopias quixensis). Additionally the Mangrove Cuckoo (Coccyzus minor) (Figure 1.) was seen from the beach and found foraging in coastal vegetation in January. Though this is already included on the inventory, it has not been seen for over 2 years and, according to our field guides, the species is not thought to occur in this area. Our intern James identified the bird and is using it as one of the 10 ¨tricky Id’s¨ which he needs to achieve as a part of the internship.

It is not often we add a large mammal to the species inventory; however 2015 seems to be a lucky year. The Greater Grison (Galictis vittata) was spotted in the coconut plantation by staff members Renato and Charlotte while setting up an orienteering course for new volunteers. These animals are considered rare throughout their wide range and Costa Rica is the only country in which they are legally protected. They are carnivorous and primarily consume small vertebrates including snakes. Greater Grison has subtle webbing between their toes making them adept swimmers. Like their skunk relatives, the Grison secretes a pungent musk from their anal glands when threatened.

As if that wasn’t enough excitement, a Mexican Prehensile-tailed Porcupine (Coendou mexicanus) was recently seen on base, just outside the kitchen. The last visual we had on this species was in September, 2012; however we knew one had made the Jalova base home because we had caught it twice on camera traps set up in the trees on base just before Christmas, 2014.

Staff and volunteers are feeling motivated by the success of the New Year and hope to continue adding species´ at this rate throughout 2015

Thank you for your continued support on this project!

All the best

GVI Jalova

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Dear Supporter, 

“Bogue Fest” is an annual event held to thank the community in and around Tortuguero for all the work they do during turtle season when tourism is at its peak.  What does “bogue” mean?  Well, that is the local spelling for the English word “boogie”! The festival used to be called TortuFest (for the Spanish word for turtle, “Tortuga”) to recognize the festival’s main theme, but this year the organizer’s have decided to make this party even more festive, and bring everyone out to boogie on down, hence the new official name “Bogue (boogie) Fest””!  This truly sums up the spirit of this music & dance-filled village with such a fascinating mix Caribbean & Latino history & roots, tucked away within the national park. This is the second year running that GVI Jalova has participated in the festival; conducting wildlife and environment themed activities for children to fit alongside various other workshops including circus skills and mask-making in a weekend that brings the community together.

Day 1 saw staff and volunteers teaching local children about the wildlife in the national park and playing traditional games, whilst on day 2 Jalova made their presence known by participating in the boat parade alongside schools, calypso bands and our partner the Sea Turtle Conservancy.

Hopefully turtle season 2015 will be just as successful and Jalova can continue to build relationships with the community.

Thank you for supporting this program.

All the best

GVI Jalova

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Dear Supporter, 

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.

GVI Jalova

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Dear Supporter, 

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

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Project Leader

Sophie Birkett

GVI Charitable Trust Manager
Exeter, Devon United Kingdom

Where is this project located?

Map of Protect Caribbean Rainforest in Costa Rica