Protect Caribbean Rainforest in Costa Rica

Oct 21, 2013

The Canals of Tortuguero National Park

Dear Supporter,

The canals that run within Tortuguero National Park are one of the main tourist attractions of this area. They not only offer a peaceful and tranquil method of transport around and through the park, but also provide some of the most impressive bird-spotting opportunities in the area.

Since 2011, GVI has been conducting surveys of the canals surrounding Jalova Base. Consistent monitoring occurring over a two year period has enabled us to get a good overall insight into the populations of important species that reside on the canals. Recent analysis has shown that both the density and diversity of the birds using the canals has increased over the last two years.  Importantly, we found that the canal with most boat traffic, Caño Negro, showed significantly less diversity than the other canals.

These results were presented to MINAE (Costa Rican Ministry for Environment) in an End of Year Report in July, which signalled the completion of the project as it stood. However, incidental monitoring of the canals has continued, with great success. In recent weeks we have had sightings of many species whose population trends are either unknown or decreasing according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It began on our closest and busiest canal, Caño Negro. At the beginning of the month, a Boat-billed Heron (population trend unknown) was spotted, which has not been recorded by GVI since March this year. Following that, an American Pygmy Kingfisher was sighted. This is the rarest kingfisher in the area and it population is currently listed as decreasing.

A trip to a more distant canal, Central, gave us the pleasure of finding both a Limpkin and a Least Bittern. Although listed as Least Concern with a stable population trend, both of these birds are rarely sighted around the Jalova area, these viewings being only the third and second this year, respectively. On our canal incidentals, however, we are not just searching for canal birds. We record all avifauna observed, including an impressive Black-collared Hawk that made an appearance on our survey of Central.

More recently, a group of volunteers were treated to an amazing sighting of Swallow-tailed Kites. Over forty of them had congregated for the long migration south from North America. Riding the thermals, gliding ever upwards, this was one of the most spectacular scenes witnessed by many of the group during their time here. To top of this incredible visage, on the return journey to base we saw many American Crocodiles, a few Spectacled Caiman and got our first sighting of Bottle-nosed Dolphins this year.

These recent experiences show that the canals of Tortuguero National Park provide an exciting and diverse environment, not only for monitoring avifauna, but also many other species. The canals are vitally important for maintaining the impressive diversity of this area, and continued monitoring should help us to further demonstrate this importance, and offer advice as to how this amazing habitat can be preserved.

Thank you for supporting and donating to our work. If you would like to volunteer with us on this project also, please do feel free to get in touch.

Many thanks

Sophie Birkett

Charitable Trust manager

Swallow-tailed Kites
Swallow-tailed Kites


Aug 5, 2013

Jaguar Cubs Caught on Film

The jaguar is the largest cat in the Americas and the third largest cat in the world. They are classified by the IUCN as Near Threatened and in Costa Rica they are considered to be highly threatened. The main threats facing jaguars today are habitat loss and fragmentation, decreases in prey numbers and hunting of individuals that prey on livestock. In Tortuguero National Park there is a perceived conflict with the jaguar population predating marine turtles, and the population here has come under scrutiny because of this.

GVI have been running a camera trapping program in the Jalova region of TNP (Tortuguero National Park) since 2011, during which time 18 individual jaguars have been identified. The main aims of the project are to establish population estimates and to study the behaviour of the jaguars, particularly in relation to predation on marine turtles, in order to better understand this unusual situation and to analyse what, if any, management actions should be taken. Along with permanent stations along the forest trail adjacent to the beach, camera traps are often set on freshly predated turtle carcasses in order to capture jaguars when they return to feed. We have caught some extraordinary behaviour on film this year, from two adult males feeding together at a Leatherback carcass to a fight between an adult female and a young male at a green carcass.

The most recent success was possibly the most exciting footage so far. The cameras were set on the fresh carcass of a green turtle, just over two miles from Jalova base. The footage showed one of our female jaguars, Eliana, feeding with two small cubs. There are several minutes of footage of the cubs; not only feeding but also playing, calling and practicing their hunting skills on an unfortunate marine toad.

Whilst the footage of the cubs is adorable to watch, it is also very significant in terms of the studies being carried out here in Tortuguero. The more that can be learnt about the behaviour of the jaguars and their reliance on marine turtles as a food source the better it will be for taking any management decisions regarding the local jaguar population. There has been a slightly sensationalist attitude towards the perceived threat of the jaguars towards the marine turtle population, and to some, the news of more jaguars in the park may not be welcome, but the cubs represent a new generation of jaguars and, for a species classified as near threatened, any new additions to the population can only be a good thing.


May 20, 2013

Earth Day Litter Pick

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.

If you would like more information on this project, please check out our website, like us on facebook or join us on Twitter! You can contact us at with any questions or feedback on what you would like to see more of in our reports!


Feb 26, 2013

Monkey Business!

Spider Monkeys
Spider Monkeys

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. 


Dec 27, 2012

Uncommon Sightings of Migratory Birds

Red Knot - by Kate Holmes
Red Knot - by Kate Holmes

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.

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Project Leader

Steve Gwenin

Field Director
Exeter, Devon United Kingdom

Where is this project located?

Map of Protect Caribbean Rainforest in Costa Rica