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Engaging with Pacuare Reserve's Conservation Research



Ecology Project International's (EPI) Pacuare Reserve is a very special place on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. There, the howler monkeys greet you “Good Morning” every day, the ocean waves strike the beach with incredible strength, the blue jeans frogs hum away in the distance, and white-faced capuchin monkeys dive into a breakfast provided by one of the many fruit trees found within the Reserve's protected boundaries. Visitors revel in the sights and sounds of this remote and unique corner of Costa Rica. Through the protected status of the land, the volunteers and researchers at the Reserve contribute to the important conservation of two iconic species: the leatherback sea turtle and the agami heron.

Your howler monkey wake-up call!

SEA TURTLE CONSERVATION

One of the longest ongoing projects at Pacuare Reserve is the Sea Turtle Conservation Program. With more than 30 years of data and research, this program protects three sea turtle species, including the impressively gigantic leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea). Each night from March to October, Pacuare Reserve’s research assistants conduct turtle censuses along 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) of beach searching for adult female turtles who are digging nests and laying their eggs. Pacuare Research assistants collect biometric data on the females and protect their nests from illegal harvesting and beach erosion. Once the adult turtle has returned to sea, the research assistants journey back to the beginning of the beach – another 6 kilometers – to the “Vivero” or the hatchery. (In 2021, an IMPRESSIVE 46,000 kilometers (or 28,583 miles) were walked by research assistants and volunteers to find and protect more than 53,000 baby sea turtle eggs!)

A female adult leatherback sea turtle can lay up to 50-100 eggs each!


At the hatchery, the Pacuare Reserve research assistants recreate the nests - keeping the eggs safe from illegal harvesting, beach erosion, and predators. Each egg will take about 65 days to develop into a baby sea turtle. Once they break out of their eggs, they instinctually crawl their way upward through the sand – in real life, it looks like they are erupting out of the sand like there is an underground sea turtle volcano! After gathering weight and shell length measurements, the research assistants guide the tiny sea turtles out to the ocean, where only 1 in 1,000 sea turtles make it to adulthood. These odds mean every egg matters to the survival of the leatherback sea turtle that starts out at Pacuare Reserve.



Pacuare Reserve has recently gained honors as the leading role model for sea turtle conservation sites across Costa Rica. With 30 years of continuous sea turtle data, protocols to ensure our beaches remain as clean as possible, Pacuare Reserve's dedication to conducting turtle census' on the beach multiple times each night, and the research that leads to our leatherback sea turtle hatchling success, the Costa Rican government points to the achievements made by Pacuare Reserve to lead the way in Costa Rica towards the continual improvement of sea turtle survivability.



PROTECTING THE AGAMI HERON

Walking down a long and shaded path in the secluded rainforest of Pacuare Reserve is another important global conservation project. The agami heron (Agamia agami) is a beautiful, elegant, and elusive bird that lives only on the American continent, from southern Mexico to Brazil. Historically, the agami heron once nested throughout their range, but recent studies indicate that this has changed. Presently, Pacuare Reserve is home to the only known nesting colony between Mexico and Colombia. These visually stunning birds migrate incredibly long distances to lay their eggs in the quiet protection of the Reserve.


At the Reserve, the agami herons live on a small, isolated island that is surrounded by tropical forest. During the nesting season, which lasts from April to September, Pacuare Reserve researchers collect visual data on the nesting colony three times per week. During each census, for four hours, they count adult herons, their nests, and chicks. Each year, Pacuare Reserve has observed about 80 to 130 nests. With each bird laying about 1-2 eggs each year, this means that there can be up to 260 chicks growing up at Pacuare Reserve! To preserve this quiet isolation, researchers communicate in whispers and with a mesh bird blind. Without the quiet and perception that they are alone, the agami herons might consider this location unsuitable for nesting, leaving more questions unanswered about this mysterious and beautiful species.


The agami heron research at Pacuare Reserve focuses on the abundance, the densities, and the reproduction cycles of the species. Unfortunately, the agami heron has an IUCN status of Vulnerable but this is simply because there just isn't enough information on the species to understand the true amount of individuals living in the wild. Pacuare Reserve researchers work hard and long hours to gain a stronger understanding of this beautiful bird and protect the survival of the species.


WHAT CAN I DO?

So you might be saying something along the lines of, "Okay, these animals are INCREDIBLE and I need to help protect them. What can I do?" Fortunately, it's super easy to protect these species - no matter if you're on Pacuare Reserve's beaches or at home! Here are some easy steps you can take:

YOU can help protect EVERY EGG at Pacuare Reserve!


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