Day 16, July 27th – Afternoon and Evening in Ostional: Turtle Conservation Presentation and Beach Clean-up

After our wonderful morning at San Juanillo Beach, and a delicious lunch on the beach, we headed to Ostional to learn about the turtle conservation / turtle management practices in place in Ostional. This location is one of the last areas in the world to experience the Arribada, or ‘great arrival’ of the Olive Ridley Lepidochelys olivacea sea turtles.  This great arrival happens in greatest numbers at night in the months of July and August, where it is estimated that 20,000 to 130,000 sea turtles come up to the beaches of the Ostional Wildlife Refuge to nest.  Here is some background information on this mass nesting phenomenon:

“Only two species of marine turtles display a unique mass nesting behavior.  This behavior is known as an ‘arribada’. This reproductive phenomenon was first observed by the scientific community in 1961. By producing large numbers of offspring most organisms like sea turtles can insure their survival even after predation occurs.  As they evolved, ridley sea turtles adopted a unique nesting behavior that increases their offspring’s chance of survival. They deposit more eggs in the sand than predators can consume. No other species of marine turtle uses this type of nesting behavior. Both species of ridley practice the phenomenon known as “predator swamping”.  “Predator swamping” can also be observed as hatchlings emerge from their nests in large numbers.  This behavior overwhelms the predators that wait to eat them on the beach. Predator swamping increases the odds of offspring surviving to adulthood and introduce that parent’s genetic information into the gene pool.”

Ostional is controversial in part due to their turtle management practices. Villagers here, under the direction of a cooperative that provides tight security, are allowed 100 turtle eggs per family, and many are sold to local restaurants and stores. In watching the video and talking with our Ostional expert, Martha, it was learned that only 1% of the 10-30% of eggs that survive predation, are harvested by the villagers.  These management practices enable the survival of the ridley turtles, as well as providing a cultural and economic benefit to the local community.  The biggest predators of turtle eggs and hatchlings are dogs and vultures, among others.  If interested in reading more about the ecology of nesting marine turtles, and the conservation issues, as well as management practices at Ostional, please see the attached three articles by Lisa Campbell:  Local_Conservation_Practice_and_Global_Discourse_

Use_them_or_lose_them_Conservation_and_the_consumption of marine turtle eggs


See pics below from our time in Ostional at the turtle presentation, and then at a beach clean-up that everyone participated in until dark, which ended after a thunder and lightning rainstorm rolled in.  We unfortunately were not able to see any turtles nesting this evening, due to the storm, during which no one is allowed on the beach, for good reason!  Only 5 turtles had nested the prior night.  Locals were predicting the next arribada at around the 15th of August.  The good news is that we got to see Green turtles nesting in Tortuguero on the Caribbean coast, so course participants experienced this very special event for which Costa Rica is well-known.




Day 16, Thur, July 27th – Tide pools and Snorkeling at San Juanillo Beach + Piñata for Ash’s 20th Birthday!

On the 2nd to last day of our trip, course participants had the unique opportunity to visit and immerse themselves in some beach ecology. We visited San Juanillo Beach, on the Pacific Coast, which is well-known for its amazing tide pools and shallow shoreline, allowing for great snorkeling on reefs that cover the ocean floor.  Students were privileged to see a large assortment of fish, eels, sea urchins, and many other crustaceans like crabs. Our MVI Guide, Mark Wainwright, had all his color, laminated pamphlets as well as detailed books on the aquatic flora and fauna of this region, so students could try to identify the many fish and other ocean creatures that were seen in our exploration of the reefs.

We also finally and officially celebrated Ashwarya’s (Ash’s) 20th birthday with a piñata that Mark had filled with all the Costa Rica sweets we have come to enjoy, including cookies, candies, and fruits.  It was an amazing morning in San Juanillo!


Group Pics – Saying Farewell to our Costa Rica students and now Friends for life!

A wonderful component of the course this year was the addition of three Costa Rican scholarship students, coordinated by our host institute in Costa Rica, the Monteverde Institute (MVI)   These students added not only their amazing and wonderful personalities to the mix of LMU students, but their knowledge of the local flora, fauna, and culture of Costa Rica.  We are grateful to MVI for making this opportunity possible for these students, and for making our trip even better and memorable, with the addition of Rafa, Greivin, and Cristina.  We wish the three of them all the best in their work, family businesses, upcoming studies, and their other personal endeavors.  We are eager to continue collaboration with them on all the research projects the group started in Costa Rica during the course trip:  human-animal bond, hummingbirds, and non-profits.  Pura Vida!

Wed, July 26th, Walk in the Tropical Dry Forest; Explore Nosara Mangroves by Kayak; Stop at black sand beach to enjoy tropical fruit!

This post is from Day 15 of our amazing 18 day journey through Costa Rica.  In the morning we got an introduction to the tropical dry forest with our MVI guide, Mark Wainwright.  The bird and especially butterfly species seen on this walk were pretty extraordinary. Students learned great identification techniques from Mark.  After our walk, we enjoyed a delicious lunch at Restaurante Kayasol, and then boarded 1 and 2-person kayaks to go explore the mangroves. Greivin was brave enough to explore them via a paddle board … what fun that was for him!  We have never seen someone find so many different ways to ride and power a paddle-board, or to enjoy it as much as he did.  We miss you already Greivin!!  Be sure to always keep your ojo de buey seed with you!  I have had mine (and my mary-beans) in my pocket every day since our trip.  Pura Vida!


07-27-17 – At Hotel Giordano Tropicale in Nosara … Welcome to the Dry Forest!

We have made our way around the beautiful country of Costa Rica, and arrived 2 nights ago in Nosara, on the Pacific Coast.  What a different and amazing place … with many of the animals we have seen elsewhere, like Howler monkeys Alouatta palliata,  but new and distinctly different species, like the birds and ctenosaurs.  Butterflies were very abundant, so the group had a great time trying to identify them using Mark’s lepidoptera book!

Yesterday course participants had the opportunity to walk through a coastal reserve and learn the unique aspects of the dry forest and mangrove ecosystems.  What a treat!  Info from Mark’s presentation on mangroves will be posted later.  Students also had a fun and informative kayak excursion yesterday afternoon through the mangroves here in Nosara, with a stop at the beach to eat fresh pineapple and drink coconut milk.  What a special place this is!

Today we head to the tide pools of San Juanillo to explore beach ecology, and then head to Ostional to hear a presentation on turtle conservation and nesting of the Olive Ridley Lepidochelys olivacea marine turtles.  We will probably miss the Arribada, or ‘great arrival’, where thousands of turtles come up on the beach to nest at one time. Locals are expecting this to happen around the 15th of August. This process is usually in sync with the high course tides.  However, there have been about 5 turtles nesting per night, so we hope to see the nesting process tonight with our Ostional turtle guide.

Below are pictures from the last few days, which include  the San Gerardo field station, Monteverde activities including a presentation on the Three-wattled bellbird Procnias tricarunculatus by Victorino (see amazing Bellbird pics below), and a bird inventory project we had the opportunity to watch and participate in, being done by a group of students from Duke University on an 8-week service & action study abroad experience (along with local bird expert Louisa), and our walk yesterday in the dry forest. Pura Vida!!!

On the way to Nosara course participants also had the rare opportunity to see some large wild cats, macaws, monkeys (monos) and other animals up close, at Las Pumas Wild Cat Sanctuary (Centro de Rescate Las Pumas).  These animals were brought to the rescue center with injuries, and most spend the rest of their life there, as they would most likely die if released back into the wild. Students saw beautiful jaguars, an oscelot, mountain lions (pumas), a jaguarundi, Scarlet macaws Ara macao cyanoptera, a Grisson, and many other animals. It was definitely worth the stop.  Special thanks to our amazing MVI guide, Mark Wainwright!


07-24-17 Post 2 – Out of the Cloud Forest and heading towards the Pacific Coast …

Just a quick note to viewers to let you know posts are a bit behind due to intermittent and sometimes totally absent internet service.  We will post whenever we can, and topics / days could be out of time order.  Many apologies!  We have taken so many photographs between all of us, that it will take quite a while to post everything.  Thanks for your patience and understanding.

Tomorrow we head to the dry forests and mangrove swamps of Nosara and Ostional on the Pacific coast, leaving the tropical Caribbean coast and cloud forest behind.  We are two-thirds of the way through the trip, so are on the last leg of our amazing journey. We stop at Las Pumas Wild Animal Sanctuary tomorrow, where course participants will get the opportunity to see some beautiful animals like pumas, jaguars, and ocelots to name a few.  If it were not for this sanctuary, these rehabilitated animals would not have survived.

In the coming days students will learn about the amazing adaptability of the plants and trees in the mangrove swamps in Nosara, and hopefully get the opportunity to witness nesting of the Olive Ridley turtles in Ostional, much like we witnessed the nesting process of the Green turtles in Tortuguero.  What an amazing trip this has been, and students have seen a variety of ecosystems, and life zones.

More posts to follow in the coming days!  Pura Vida!

7-24-17 – Day 13 of 18 – Out of the Cloud Forest

Today is Day 13 of our 18 day trip around this amazing country of Costa Rica.  We just hiked out of the cloud forest, having spent several days at the San Gerardo field station, which is run by Giovanni and his wife Ibania. Their son Andre’ has grown a lot since our last visit! What wonderful people, and what an amazing cook Ibania is!  We were well taken care of.  Students enjoyed the hammocks that were hung the entire length of the upstairs porch, outside the rooms. This set-up provides an incredible view of Lake Arenal and Arenal Volcano.  The region is situated near the Continental Divide, so gets frequent rains from the Caribbean side of the Divide.  The frequent presence of clouds and rain often obscures the peak of Arenal, which was the case during our stay, but the serenity and beauty of the forest made up for it! We think students will agree that this was one of the most peaceful places during our trip.

During our time at the field station, course participants enjoyed some much-needed project time and multiple walks in the forest learning about cloud forest ecology and  the biology of this area.  This included medicinal plants, epiphytes, mammals like the coati and agouti, a host of insects, and many birds, including a myriad of wrens, tanagers, vultures, and so many others that are either residents or migrants.  The birders in the group had the rare opportunity to go on 6am birding walks with our guide, Mark Wainwright.  What an unbelievable and unsurpassed experience this was.  The bird biodiversity in this region is incredible.  On our way out of the field station today we saw a White Hawk Pseudastur albicollis, which for all of us who saw it, was a truly spiritual moment. Hopefully our pictures will capture the beauty of all the animals and plants we photographed.


07-19-17, Day 8: Leaving Rancho Margot Today for Monteverde

Our stay at Rancho Margot has been incredible.  The food and hospitality was unsurpassed, and learning about the workings of a sustainable farm was very impactful on students.  In addition, students had project time to work on their various projects, as well as to deploy field technology to monitor wildlife and do a biodiversity assessment.  Cameras used included motion-activated and thermal cameras, which were used to view hummingbirds, bats, and insects.  Assessment of data collected will be completed later in the trip, and pictures of anything collected will be posted at that time.

Today we head to Monteverde, which is about a 3.5 hour bus ride, further north and west of here.  There our first stop will be at the Monteverde Institute (MVI), where we will connect with the  MVI Director, Debra Hamilton as well as other faculty and staff including our friend and colleague Fern Perkins, and Course Coordinator, Estela Coghi.  The course could not have run without the help of all the MVI staff, so we are very grateful for their support, and are looking forward to connecting in person.

All course participants are having an incredible time, and all are safe and well.  We hope families and friends are enjoying our blog posts and pictures.

Pictures of our day in Monteverde to follow.

Pura Vida!