Costa Rica, Osa Peninsula
Costa Rica (literally meaning “rich coast”) is a country in Central America bordered by Nicaragua to the north, Panama to the south, the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east. Located along the Central American isthmus, Costa Rica is home to innumerable species that poured into the land bridge created when the two American hemispheres joined 2.8 million years ago. While the country has only about 0.1% of the world’s landmass, it contains 5% of the world’s biodiversity. About a quarter of the country’s land area is protected in national parks and other protected areas.
Round River’s program takes place almost exclusively on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula. Named by National Geographic as “the most biologically intense place on earth,” the Osa Peninsula is a true jewel of land, water, and life. Covering an area of just 700 square miles on the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica, the Osa’s unique history and biogeography make it home to unparalleled biodiversity: once an island floating in the Pacific, the Osa Peninsula evolved in isolation until it merged with mainland Costa Rica nearly 2 million years ago. The Peninsula is estimated to house 2.5% of the biodiversity of the entire world – while covering less than a thousandth of a percent of its total surface area!
One of the last places in Costa Rica to be settled, the Osa Peninsula is covered in magnificent, verdant rainforest extending all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Separating it from the mainland is the Golfo Dulce – the only place on the globe where populations of both Northern and Southern Humpback whales meet to birth their young. The Osa Peninsula contains an unbelievable amount of terrestrial and marine species, and diverse ecosystems, in an incredibly small area, including:
- The most extensive mangrove forests in Central America
- The largest remaining tract of lowland rainforest in Pacific Central America
- 2-3% of flora found nowhere else in the world
- 323 endemic species of plants and vertebrates
- The largest population of scarlet macaws in Central America
- More than 4,000 vascular plants
- More than 10,000 insects
- More than 700 species of trees (more than in all Northern temperate regions combined)
- 463 species of birds
- 140 species of mammals, including 25 species of dolphins and whales
- 4 species of sea turtle
The Peninsula has earned a reputation for environmental protection, yet tourism growth and agricultural development have and continue to alter its marine and terrestrial landscapes, in some cases threatening the survival of species. Until now, remoteness and a significant network of protected areas have allowed much of the Osa landscape to remain intact, or recuperate from prior degradation. A large portion of the Peninsula is located within Corcovado National Park, the “crown jewel” of the Costa Rican Parks system. The Golfo Dulce Forest Reserve, covering much of the remainder of the Peninsula, complements Corcovado though it enjoys a lesser degree of protection. Additionally, it is important that private lands connecting protected areas be managed in ways that are conservation-friendly; in many cases, this means restoring habitat continuity for keystone species like jaguar, Baird’s tapir, and white-lipped peccary.
Protecting the Osa’s natural treasures is necessary for sustaining both people and nature in this region. Round River is exceptionally pleased to have initiated its conservation program on the Osa in early 2016, in partnership with Osa Conservation. We have since forged an additional partnership with Costa Rica’s Sustainable Biodiversity Fund, which administers payment for ecosystem services to several beneficiaries around the Peninsula. To date, Round River has successfully conducted 3 student conservation programs in Costa Rica: a 6-week summer program in 2016, a 12-week semester program in spring of 2017, and a summer program in 2017.
Over the course of these programs, Round River has contributed to Osa Conservation’s ongoing research, and has spearheaded a number of projects of its own. The following are descriptions of RR’s current conservation initiatives in Costa Rica:
Rivers and Otters: a micro- and macro-habitat selection study of Neotropical river otter (Lontra longicaudis) and exploration of the river otter as an umbrella species for rivers and riparian conservation.
Birds and Habitats: activity and lek monitoring of the endangered, mangrove-dependent yellow-billed cotinga (Carpodectes antoniae), and playback and point count surveys of forest birds in a long-term study at Lomas del Sierpe.
Reforestation: monitoring butterfly and moth diversity as an indicator of forest regeneration in conjunction with Osa Conservation’s reforestation efforts at their Osa Verde property.
Sustainable Biodiversity Fund: ground support for Costa Rican government-sponsored Payment for Environmental Services (PES) program, conducting rapid biodiversity assessments (RBAs) and supporting program beneficiaries through eco-tourism and other sustainable development projects.
In 2018, Round River looks forward to furthering these initiatives.