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!!
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GVI Charitable Trust Manager