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Conservation and Environment in Costa Rica: Monthly Updates

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Conservation in Costa Rica - Monthly Update March 2009


As this is my first article since arriving in Costa Rica in November 2008 I thought a brief explanation would be necessary, not just about myself but about the park that Projects Abroad is working in.

I began my career with Projects Abroad around 3 years ago working as Desk Officer and Volunteer Coordinator at the Conservation Project in Peru, but I have been involved with conservation work in the Peruvian Amazon for almost 6 years now. The peace and quiet of these conserved areas is something that I can't get enough of, something that is almost impossible to find in London and its suburbs.

Our Conservation Project in Costa Rica has been running for several years. Since August 2008 it has been based in just one National Park. With several options in Costa Rica it must have been difficult to decide where to base this project, but the Barra Honda National Park was chosen because of its improving infrastructure, the abundance of wildlife in the area, its close connections to local towns and cities and of course its main attraction, 42 different cave systems that scatter the mountain in the centre of the park. Created millions of years ago by tectonic plate movement the area was forced out of the sea and into the sky. This means that the rock formations here are a lot softer than volcanic rock, so it's much faster to erode (faster by geological standards anyway!) Over millions of years the rain that fell on top of the mountain eroded this rock and created caves, passageways and bizarre rock formations that really put this area apart from any other in Costa Rica.

The current work has mainly been focused around trail clearing and the recovery of the football field located in the entrance to the park. The trails in this forest are important for 2 reasons, like every trail in the world they need to be kept clear so that workers, tourists and volunteers can walk them in safety, But here in Barra Honda they are also used as Fire Breaks, Forest fires are fairly common during the dry season in this area, so the forest has to be separated in to sections with the use of trails that are wide enough to actually prevent the fire from crossing and spreading to new sections.

Scarlet Macaw

The importance of these trails was shown only a couple of weeks ago when the first forest fire of the season broke out. Although not a huge fire, 100 hectares of forest and grass lands were destroyed in the 2 days that the fire burnt. This only emphasised to us the importance of such trails.

The football field is something that was build years ago and has suffered greatly due to neglect, with grass higher than 2m in some places and more holes than a sieve it's not an area that anyone would want to use for sports! Naturally our first job was to cut the grass and now we are working to remove the more stubborn weeds from the field itself. The next stage will be to flatten the area off and then re-seed the field with grass again ready for next year. Like many things in the park this work has been done before by other organisations but was not completed properly or was then left to fall back into bad conditions. I can honestly say that this will not happen with Projects Abroad working here, we are determined to progress with our projects, not begin something and then 6 months later put new volunteers to work on the same thing!

One of the most exciting things to happen this month was the arrival of our new Automatic camera system. These cameras are about the size of an A4 piece of paper and use an Infrared sensor to detect movement, once this detection has taken place the camera then activates capturing the culprit, usually without it even knowing!

Naturally the first thing that must be done with any electronic equipment is a test to ensure nothing was damaged in transit, our test area was small stream located about 10 minutes away from the camp and our test duration was only going to be a couple of days. Not expecting to see anything amazing after such a short time and in area so close to the busy camp we were all surprised when we got good photos of Coyote, White-nosed coati and White-faced capuchin monkeys (The later actually seeming to socialize together around the water pools!) This amazing first test got everyone in the park very excited about the project and had everyone asking when the next photos would be ready to see!

After 2 full runs with the cameras and the test, we now have 5 species of animal confirmed from this project, Coyote, White-nosed Coati, White-faced Capuchin monkey, White-tailed Deer and Central American Agouti. Naturally the further into the park we go, where there is less human activity, we have the chance to discover many more animals!

Setting up the sensor camera

The final project that we have been focusing on this month is the start of something very exciting in the area, our very own nursery plant garden. With a lot of areas having been logged in the past there are very few trees in certain parts of the park and surrounding areas. These trees are important for several reasons, firstly they provide stability to the soil, helping protect against erosion, and they also protect the area by shading smaller plants and keeping moisture in the ground.

Many species of animal also rely on these trees for food, so in the future when these trees are producing seeds, fruits and flowers we expect to see a higher amount of monkeys and birds in the areas where we have planted them!

The first stage of this project was to begin specific walks to certain areas of the park where we knew there to be remaining trees that are dropping seeds at this time, once we collected these seeds were able to begin construction on the actual nursery beds, first just by having two small test beds to check germination rates in two different types of soil - sandy and heavily fertilised soil - we will soon be moving on to construct more nursery beds and basically cleaning the area up to make it another attraction of the park, but this will have to be done next month!

Naturally it's not all work and no play here in the park, so over the last month we have organised two trips to areas of interest outside the park. The first was just a short walk down to Oscar's (one of our local staff) village where we were given permission to enter a local Finca (Farm) to observe a couple of Scarlet Macaws that are seen there almost everyday, although we couldn't get incredibly close we were able to get some amazing photos and spent about 1 hour just observing these beautiful creatures.

Secondly we were also able to go the Tempisque Safari which is located about 45 minutes away from us, although we were going to Tempisque Parks ranger station to help out with some maintenance work we managed to surprise all of the volunteers by getting a free tour of the Safaris animal release project, seeing animals like Crocodiles, Boa constrictors, Otters, Monkeys and birds all close up but safely behind fences of course! Our guide that day was Dean, the son (and now manager) of the release project, who gladly gave us loads of information about all of the animals in the project and invited us to return with other volunteers at any time!

Every month that Oscar and I are working here in the park we are managing to develop new projects, next month will be no exception; in fact next month will be the best month here in the park so far!

Richard Munday
Conservation Coordinator
Barra Honda National Park
March 2009

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