CCT Scientists Disappointed with the Results of Mission to Gulf of Nicoya

By Reid Glenn

COSTA DE PÁJAROS, Costa Rica — A group of scientists from the Centro Científico Tropical (CCT) traveled to the Gulf of Nicoya near Costa de Pájaros Jan. 10 to check the progress of the Bellbird Biological Corridor project. They found only one three-wattled bellbird, the namesake for the project.

Alexander González, the Coordinator of the Biological Corridor program at the CCT, led the mission to search for the bellbird. González said the CCT knows the bird uses mangrove forests along the coast this time of year for habitat in their migration pattern, but the center wanted to better understand its movements and to estimate the total population.

The scientists use the online database eBird to track sightings from amateur and professional bird-watchers, but they needed to authenticate the avian hot spots for themselves. 

González and his team selected three areas where birders had reported bellbird encounters. Costa de Pájaros was used as a central base for four search squads early Friday morning. Two groups scouted a mangrove forest at La Ensenada National Wildlife Refuge, one on land and one by boat. Another group took to the backcountry just east of Costa de Pájaros and to the south on land near Punta Morales. The fourth group traveled by sea near Punta Morales.

The scientists did not expect to see bellbirds at the southern location because the forests along the coast are surrounded by large agriculture plantations, which aren’t suitable habitat for the bird. González said reforestation efforts have not been as successful there as other parts of the corridor.

“It’s a difficult area where we need more improvement in connectivity because there are big plantations,” he said. “The situation is different. There are different stakeholders.”

Only one bellbird was spotted and documented by the group. Yoryineth Méndez, a research coordinator of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve, first laid eyes on the endemic bird. She was surprised that she saw it rather than hear its characteristic call.

“There was a tree with a lot of bird activity,” Méndez said. “There were trogons, jays and yellow-bellied flycatchers. We had seen a trogon, and then I saw something white and brown. I kept looking, and I said, ‘It’s a male!’”

Méndez judged the bird to be a juvenile, but in adult plumage.

“I had it in my binoculars and I didn’t dare move, because if I took my eyes off it I would lose where it was.”

She and González were disappointed to find only one bellbird on the expedition but were optimistic for the coming years.

“It was a combo of a nice experience, but a disappointment from a biological perspective,” González said.

Next year they will use the same strategy but perhaps will ask for additional volunteers to cover more area, they said. Méndez said she hopes the group will see a minimum of five bellbirds next year.

Experiencing Joy at the Continental Divide

Reid Glenn at the Continental Divide
The Trade Winds at the Continental Divide wash Reid Glenn with immense bursts of power. Illustrated by Moy Zhong.

By Reid Glenn

MONTEVERDE, Costa Rica — For a temperate soul, hiking through a tropical cloud forest is an eerie experience. Ferns grow on trees and mosses grow on the ferns. Vines trail from the canopy and dainty birds flit after insects from twig to twig.

As I walked through the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve, my shoes carried mud from the trail to the hems of my jeans. I didn’t notice though, because my eyes were fixed on the astonishing collage of greens above and around me. The air was sodden and heavy. Mist drifted across the trail and I came to realize that these were the clouds for which the life zone was named.

The path snaked and climbed two kilometers to the top of the range, which marks the divide of Costa Rica’s watershed, the Continental Divide. 

I sensed I was nearing the final destination when there were fewer trees to block the wind. The ones that remained were significantly shorter than those down the mountain. The trail became less steep and the air felt crisper without the shade and trees to hold moisture in.

Eventually, my path Y’d into two choices. To my right was the Pacific side of Costa Rica, where I could look all the way down upon the Gulf of Nicoya. My trip began on the Pacific side, so I decided to turn left to overlook the Atlantic half of the country.

I was now looking at the top of the rainforest where I had been walking. The sight was absolutely gorgeous, but what I felt left a more lasting impression.

Air funneled toward the mountain saddle where I stood. It coursed up the mountain face before me and was funneled by the ridges to my left and right. It blasted me in the face and rattled the wind-stunted trees around me. I quickly dropped my cap and backpack to the ground at my side and met the powerful gusts with my arms outstretched. I felt the need to close my eyes and feel the air run through my hair. My clothes rippled around me and I felt an uncontrollable urge to smile and whoop with joy.

There on the Continental Divide, my soul soared higher than the mountaintop on which I was standing. 

A phrase that Costa Ricans use daily comes to mind describing my emotions on the Divide. To natives, Pura Vida means more than just “pure life.” It refers to a way of life – one with smiles and a welcoming approach. Pura Vida means “you’re welcome” and “I love it” and “hello.” It is a different approach to living than what I was used to, but one that strives to express the joy of living, the same joy I felt on top of the Continental Divide.

Every action counts: Fifteen ways to make a difference

By Alexandra Sharp

No one wants to have a dying planet. It’s extremely sad that humans are causing their own demise. Whether from emitting fossil fuels, diminishing finite resources or improperly disposing waste, climate change is real and imminent. 

Most people know the five Rs: reduce, repair, reuse, recover and recycle. These five actions are important to combat climate change. Yet, there are other possible opportunities to save the Earth. Here are 15 different ways, provided by several sustainability leaders in the Bellbird Biological Corridor, to make more ecological and sustainable decisions. 

Technology

  1. Purchase an induction stove since it emits less greenhouse gas than a gas stove.
  2. Avoid contaminating water with residual food by using a sink strainer.
  3. Repair leaky pipes to conserve water.
  4. Place string over your windows to reduce bird deaths. Hitting windows causes the majority of bird deaths in the world.
  5. Use a reusable cloth coffee filter to reduce the waste of paper filters. 

Flora

  1. Plant trees to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, improve soil fertility and protect species dependent on trees. Also, you can germinate and plant native tree seeds, like avocado species in the corridor, to promote plant and bird diversity.
  2. Create a biogarden, a garden with specific plants that consumes and filters gray water.
  3. Capture rain water with buckets or tanks. You can use the water to cook and clean.
  4. Dig a water basin and plant native wetland vegetation to make a rain garden. This garden helps prevent flooding and erosion of fertile soil.

Fauna

  1. Consume less meat and dairy to limit methane emissions and improve the atmosphere. Many animals, like cattle, produce methane. 
  2. Fish with a fishing rod or buy fish that had been caught artisanally or responsibly. Don’t use a fishing net to avoid capturing juvenile fish or other species that you won’t use.
  3. Use organic compost, like animal feces or organic kitchen waste, instead of synthetic fertilizers. Also, you can use cooking grease as organic compost.

Community Projects

  1. Promote and shop at local and sustainable businesses.
  2. Participate in the Adopt-A-Stream project, which is a worldwide project that monitors the health of streams and teaches people about water resources.
  3. Organize communal compost in your neighborhood to improve local solid waste practices.

Edited by Wilson Rojas and Carla Willoughby

Toda acción cuenta: Quince maneras para hacer una diferencia

Por Alexandra Sharp

Nadie quiere tener un planeta extinto. Es extremadamente triste que los seres humanos propicien sus propias muertes. Tanto si es por emitir combustibles fósiles, disminuir recursos finitos o deshacerse de residuos inapropiadamente, el cambio climático es real e inminente.

Muchas personas saben de las cinco Rs: reducir, reparar, reusar, recuperar y reciclar. Éstas cinco acciones son importantes para combatir el cambio climático. Además, hay otras oportunidades posibles para salvar la Tierra. Aquí hay quince maneras diferentes, proveído por varios líderes de sostenibilidad del Corredor Biológico Pájaro Campana, para tomar decisiones más ecológicas o sostenibles. 

La Tecnología

  1. Compre una estufa de inducción ya que emite menos gas invernadero que una estufa de gas. 
  2. Evite contaminar el agua con residuos de comida usando un colador de fregadero. 
  3. Repare las tuberías rotas para conservar el agua. 
  4. Ponga algunas cuerdas encima de sus ventanas para reducir la muerte de los pájaros. El choque contra ventanas causa la mayoría de los muertes de pájaros en el mundo.
  5. Use un chorreador de tela para reducir residuos de filtros de papel. 

La Flora

  1. Siembre árboles para reducir el dióxido de carbono en la atmósfera, mejorar la fertilidad del suelo y proteger especies que dependen de ellos. También, puede germinar y plantar las semillas de árboles nativos, como especies de aguacate en el corredor, para promocionar la diversidad de las plantas y los pájaros.
  2. Cree una biojardinera: un jardín con plantas específicas que consumen y filtran las aguas grises.
  3. Capture el agua de lluvia con baldes o tanques. Puede usar esta agua para cocinar y limpiar.
  4. Cave una cuenca y siembre plantas nativas de humedales para hacer un jardín de lluvia. Este jardín ayuda prevenir la inundación y la erosión de suelos fértiles.

La Fauna

  1. Consuma menos carne y lácteos para limitar las emisiones de metano y mejorar la atmósfera. Muchos animales, como el ganado, producen el metano.
  2. Pesque con caña de pescar o compre pescado que haya sido atrapado de forma artesanal o responsable. No deba usar una red pesquera para que evite la captura de peces juveniles u otras especies que no va a usar. 
  3. Use el compost orgánico, como las heces de los animales o desechos orgánicos de la cocina, en lugar de un fertilizante sintético. También, puede usar la grasa de cocina como el compost orgánico.

Los Proyectos de Comunidad

  1. Promocione y compre en empresas locales y sostenibles.
  2. Participe en Adopte-Una-Quebrada, el cual es un proyecto mundial que monitorea la salud de los arroyos y enseña a las personas sobre los recursos de agua.
  3. Organice un compost comunal en su barrio para mejorar las prácticas locales de desechos sólidos.

Editado Por Wilson Rojas y Carla Willoughby

The dangers of strangers

DSC_2947.JPGPhoto and story by Mark Powers

MONTEVERDE, Costa Rica – To make a fundamental change in society, a community must re-evaluate how it makes a living. This is what the people of Monteverde, Costa Rica, began to do in the 1980s as the Quaker inhabitants realized that clearing forests to graze cattle was misguided. The economy shifted from agriculture to tourism.

This shift allowed Costa Rica more opportunity and income for a larger variety of people. Where forests once dominated the landscape, new trees and forests have sprung to life. A new generation of conservationist tour guides and farmers have brought new practices to the land, “the more forest you have in your farm, the more attractive it is,” preaches Guillermo Vargas of Life Farm in Monteverde. 

At the direction of scientists such as George Powell, the residents of the area have learned that by re-creating and displaying the natural beauty of their home high atop the mountains of Costa Rica, they could enjoy comfortable lives. “Pura Vida,” they say to the many visitors who have come to know the beautiful wonders of this region. 

The residents of Monteverde are learning that there can be consequences when they expose that pure life to outsiders who struggle to understand the complexities of the region and influence of their actions. When a tourist comes for a view or Instagram post, it can leave a salty trail of tears created by a lack of cultural appreciation. Tourism can harm the natural resources of a region through various forms of pollution and overuse of electricity.

Selena Avendaño, the supervisor for the Center for Community Initiatives department of the Monteverde Institute, is concerned about the lack of tourist education. She said with increased tourism comes increased trash that isn’t disposed of properly and increased water usage through pools and Jacuzzis.  

Selena also said that locals are forced to work odd hours because of a tourism schedule that revolves around North American holidays, causing high seasonal employment that can lead to high financial and familial hardships. 

“When do you work most in tourism?” she said. “Weekends, vacation. When do you spend time with your kids? What do your schedules look like? So then we are talking about people who have a lot of stress.”

She spoke of the community struggling to create quality family time. “All of a sudden you don’t have time to grow your food,” she said. “You’re working in a hotel .. You don’t have time to cook. Sometimes some people move into more processed foods.”

This struggle begins to reflect those of other industrialized nations, such as the United States, whose consistent nutrition sources consist of fast food, frozen food and microwave dinners. As the health of the nation’s forests is re-generated, the health of its people is more at risk.

With the general cost of living rising, longtime residents must find new homes or inhabit old ones that are no longer safe. Ricardo Guindon, a longtime Monteverde resident and veteran tour guide, spoke of a family who has resisted government orders to move off of an eroding hillside because they do not have the means to move anywhere else in the region. 

There is a tricky balance between profit and conservation in an eco-tourism based economy. Selena reports an estimated 250,000 annual tourists, an increase from previous years. With the newly paved road to Monteverde causing numbers of tourists to climb, many wonder if the region will be able to sustain such vast numbers of visitors. 

Danielle Doggett: A Woman of the Sea

danielleInitial.1.JPGIllustrated by Abby Blenk

Written by Alexandra Sharp

PUNTA MORALES, Costa Rica — Don’t get too comfortable. That is Danielle Doggett’s first nugget of wisdom as she nimbly walks along the cargo ship’s frame and sits on one of the wooden ribs. Crossing one ankle over the other, she explains how staying cautious can prevent accidents.

Resembling a woven basket cut in half, roughly half the ship’s frame has been built in the past three years. The ship and its construction site are Doggett’s business, passion and future.

Doggett discovered her love for ships as a child during a week-long sailing camp on the Canadian Great Lakes. While on board, she developed a respect for the diligent work ethic and team environment sailing requires. 

“The thing that I really like about it is that when you do something on a ship…you have to do it right,” Doggett emphasized. “Because if you do it wrong, you’re putting the lives of everyone in your crew and shipmates in jeopardy.”

After graduating from the Enkhuizer School’s Nautical Academy in the Netherlands, she began working on and designing ships professionally, including designing Jack Sparrow’s prized ship in “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.” While some ship crews — mostly cruise lines and research vessels — have many women employees, most cargo ships are dominated by men.

But that didn’t stop Doggett from rising to the rank of first mate, reporting directly to the captain on Tres Hombres, an engineless cargo ship powered by wind. Sailing on it from 2010-2012, it was the favorite vessel she ever worked on. There, she met future husband Lynx Guimond, a carpenter and fellow Canadian who shared her enthusiasm for sailing and the environment.

Both Doggett and Guimond recognized the catastrophic impact cargo fuel has on global carbon emissions. To combat this, they co-founded SailCargo Inc. to build a cargo ship that saves more carbon than it emits.

She hopes SailCargo pressures other companies to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

“We wanted to set a precedent that a for-profit company could stand for something,” Doggett said.

Along with SailCargo’s for-profit sector, she co-founded a non-profit that teaches Punta Morales residents how to build wooden fishing boats they can use for fishing and travel.

For Doggett, a corporation is only as good as its impact on the community.

“It’s important for us to maintain not only a very strong relationship with our community but to just inject as much positivity as we can, especially in the form of education,” she said.

Despite the fierce discipline marine crews require, Doggett also finds cargo ships freeing. Whether she’s hauling line as a crew member or designing rigging for movie sets, she feels at ease on the sea.

Edited by Bry Barber and Zia Kelly

“It’s good for you.”

By Paige Kasten

DLP_1768.JPG

Photo by Danielle Pycior

GUANACASTE, Costa Rica — Scrunched noses revealing an instant sense of disgust crossed the faces of my peers from a smell pleasantly like home to me – manure.

During our trek through Guillermo Vargas’ sustainable Low Impact For Earth coffee farm, I could not help but reminisce on the days I spent with my father on our family farm back in Hoyleton, Illinois. 

Growing up, I used to dread my various chores, especially painting the milking parlor doors.

My dad, Nathan Kasten, knew the hatred I had for sitting on a rusty five-gallon bucket in 90-degree heat to repair the worn doors back to their original state. Each time I was designated with this task, I responded with a sassy eye roll and an overly dramatic sigh, but my dad always reassured me, “It’s good for you.” 

I never quite understood what those words truly meant until today.

Vargas, much like my father, understands the importance of his work and rarely takes time off.  For the first time in 35 years, Vargas plans to step away from the farm and focus on himself for four months.

Similarly, I cannot recall a time my family was together when my dad was not answering calls for his self-employed business. I vividly remember the many nights he would get home after midnight and rise again before the sun to tend to a sick calf or work the land. 

I often asked myself why he worked so diligently for hours on end and found myself pondering the same question today with Vargas.  The answer – family.

Vargas works to provide not only for his three daughters but his employees as well. Kasten Farms, Inc., the rural farm that raised me, also puts food on the table at my home and others around the country. 

My dad may not grow coffee, but he shares Vargas’ passion for agriculture and benefiting others. Both men, at different points in my life, taught valuable lessons about the “good” farming provides behind the scenes.

“It is good for you” to respect the dedication of a farmer.

“It is good for you” to be educated on agriculture and its positive effects on the environment.

“It is good for you” that family farms are still prevalent around the world.

Lastly, it was even “good for me” that my dad made me paint the milking parlor doors every summer.

Edited by Holly Enowski

A Short Guide to Being a Better Tourist in Bellbird Biological Corridor

 

DSC_3305.jpgBy Holly Enowski and Paige Kasten 

Photo by Mark Powers

MONTEVERDE, Costa Rica —

1.) Waste Watchers

The entire ecosystem in the Bellbird Biological Corridor is in danger,” said Katy VanDusen, coordinator for Monteverde Commission for Resilience in Climate Change.

How tourists contribute: trash. “When people come on vacation, they don’t care about the trash they produce,” said Selena Avendaño, Supervisor for Community Initiatives at the Monteverde Institute (MVI). Local services have immense pressure from garbage, water and light pollution. With Monteverde Fund, you can pay an amount equivalent to your carbon emissions.

2.) Drink (H20)  responsibly

Tourism causes issues with water consumption, Avendaño said, and while efforts to better capture and store water are underway, they alone are insufficient.

“As much as we protect [the environment] in Monteverde, we have to protect those down there and along the corridor,” said Ricardo Guindon, naturalist guide. Water flows into the ocean and ultimately into our food supply.

“A lot of people buy instead of refilling,” said Victorino Molina Rojas, president of the WaterTown Association. Instead, drink local potable water from reusable bottles. 

3.) Immerse yourself

Keep a childlike wonder while exploring the cloud forest and spotting species endemic to the region, like the Quetzal and Bellbird. Costa Rica is home to 1% of the world’s cloud forests. One way to stay immersed: avoid headphones – it makes you oblivious to the sounds around you, Guindon said. Along the corridor, many Ticos appreciate the effort of attempting to speak Spanish and will show you grace for trying.

4.) Do your part

You may be a “closet conservationist” like Guindon’s father Wilfred, who introduced chainsaws to Monteverde and later co-founded the Cloud Forest Reserve, but we all have a critical role in protecting the environment.“We sometimes forget that what happens in nature impacts us as humans somehow,” said Avendaño. “Each decision we make has a consequence somewhere else.” The “conservation mentality has to be taught,” Guindon said. Education about the environment and sustainability is necessary along the corridor. 

5.) Sharing is caring

Swedish teachers and their classes became concerned about the forest after a visit from a North American scientist, later starting a project that led to the creation of the Children’s Eternal Rainforest. The effort has raised “over $1 million for preservation and generated attention to the pristine cloud forest,” Guindon said. Upon visiting the region, you have a duty to share the stories and experiences to create a global community of eco-conscious citizens.

Edited by Bryanna Barber

A Hike Through the Cloud Forest with Ricardo Guindon

DSC_3266.jpg

By Bry Barber

Photo by Mark Powers

MONTEVERDE, Costa Rica — Everything in the Monteverde Cloud Forest is green. The leaves are green, the tree trunks are covered in greenery, even the air is green. Ricardo Guindon, a naturalist tour guide for the Cloud Forest, referred to experiencing the Cloud Forest as “breathing green.” 

Some of the trees were breathing the green air, too. Their roots swayed in and out of the green covered ground — their stunted, moss-covered branches ebbed and flowed in the waves of mountain winds. 

As we hiked, Guindon talked about the changing environment and the causes.

He donned a green tarp-like poncho, the color of the forest, Trek mud boots and a brown sun hat with a tuxedo stink bug as his worthy companion, greeting us from the brim of his hat. He called his Swarovski binoculars his “only jewelry.” 

Guindon described his passion for bird-watching that developed in high school after taking a job as a researcher’s assistant. He climbed trees to count eggs while observing the various species’ calls. He was bitten by the “bird bug,” as he describes. 

In recent years, different bird populations have been migrating to new areas. Guindon attributes such changes to complex causes like climate, tourism and competition between species. 

Despite the changes in climate, the personal impacts Guindon experienced with tropical storm Nate and subtle changes in plant and animal life over the past few decades, Guindon is hesitant to attribute these changes solely to climate change. He says the issue is more complex than one cause. 

Eco-tourism is another recent change in the region. When the Cloud Forest opened to the public, it had no more than a few visitors a day. Now, the park gets an average of 300 visitors and the numbers are expected to continue rising. 

The newly paved road to Monteverde will allow easier access for more tourists. Until November 2019, the unpaved road was a filter for tourists who are not fit for the experience, such as the elderly, young children or people who live with disabilities.

While expanding eco-tourism in the area allows Guindon to work alongside the birds he loves and gives him the opportunity to educate the general public, it also puts the forest at greater risk of destruction from human interaction.

Edited by Mark Powers

 

A grounding experience: connecting with soil

 

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Photos by Danielle Pycior

Written by Bry Barber

Our tour guide, Julio Rojas, led us up a narrow dirt path into the developing forest behind La Calandria Lodge.

We were on our way to pack soil for seeding trees in the Bellbird Biological Corridor, which stretches from the Pacific Ocean up to the Monteverde Cloud Forest.  

About 50 feet along the path, the lodge was barely out of sight when he stopped and turned to face the group to explain how the forest was changing. He knocked on a tree trunk — a hollow pop! pop! rebounded. 

It was a cecropia tree. Azteca ants live inside and feed off its nutrients and sugars. “They protect this tree,” he said. “If you shake it, they will attack you.” 

Rojas looked up and pointed to its sparsely leafed top. He said since cecropias only have leaves at the top to absorb sunlight, they are usually part of a young forest. This forest, he said, is about 50 years old.

As we continued our walk, Rojas explained the forest was formerly farmland or pasture. “Imagine being on this land 50 years ago, or 60 years ago, or 70, or 80.” A forest would not have existed. 

That’s where Rojas’ conservation work comes in: bringing the forest back to life. And that’s when we got to get our hands dirty. 

We packed black plastic bags the size of small coffee canisters with soil for native tree seeds to germinate and begin their lives in the corridor. Rojas offered gloves, but we didn’t use them. We wanted to feel the soil between our fingers. We encircled a waist-high table covered with a large mound of soil. About half a dozen metal scoops, their handles rising like silver seedlings from the bottom of a mountainside forest, were staked into the dirt mound.

I pressed my hands into the warm pile of dark brown earth. The soil seemed to spring back into my palms, pulsing with the heartbeat of future life. I felt a deeper connection with the forest. I grabbed some of the larger chunks of soil and crumbled them in my hands, feeling it’s grimy, damp texture and the way it molded against my skin when I squeezed it. It crumbled easily, but still had enough moisture to pack well. 

We laughed around the table as we packed the dirt, all the while connecting with our sense of touch in a grounding experience, and finding small pleasures in that moment. “This should be our new anxiety relief activity,” Danielle joked. 

In the end, we packed 30 bags in 30 minutes. It may have been a modest exercise in healing the forest and we may never see the results in our lifetimes, but it was at least a small contribution to the corridor. We also learned about the process of restoration, which hopefully will improve the lives of future generations. 

And it was a lot of fun.

Edited By Mark Powers