Posts Tagged 'Costa Rica'

A Once-in-a-Lifetime Experience for Educators!

National Aquarium’s Education Department has announced a new workshop adventure, Costa Rica: Showcase of Conservation!

Join our Director of Education at the National Aquarium in Washington, DC, Bill Simpkins, for a 9-day excursion (July 9-18, 2013) as he transforms the vibrant and diverse ecosystems of this Central American treasure into a classroom.

Educators will get to know many of the country's native species, including the squirrel monkey!

Educators will get to know many of the country’s native species, including the squirrel monkey!

Each educator on the tour will receive a certificate of completion for the hours spent in “classroom” activities for verification and credit, if accepted by their school. Non-educators interested in joining the group are also welcome!

Workshop highlights include:

This could be YOU!

This could be YOU!

To learn more about this workshop and how to reserve your spot, click hereSpace is limited and will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis.



A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

October 23, 2012: WIDECAST 

Listen to John discuss the important work that WIDECAST does to save leatherback sea turtles! 

The National Aquarium has had a long partnership with turtle conservation network WIDECAST, particularly in Costa Rica, where the leatherback sea turtle comes ashore to nest. This species has been listed as endangered since 1970. Very little is known about the turtles’ migratory behavior, population genetics or dynamics, inherent diseases, or mortality rates.

WIDECAST gathers research through rescue operations and satellite tracking to develop programs to help save this amazing species. As part of our partnership, Aquarium staff conducts training programs for local volunteers on veterinary care and stranded animal rehabilitation. We hope that through awareness and support from the international community, the WIDECAST network can continue to grow!

Going on midnight turtle patrol in Costa Rica

From Laura Bankey, Director of Conservation

I’m back in the United States after an amazing trip to Costa Rica. Our last group adventure took us to Manuel Antonio National Park. Relatively speaking, the area around this National Park is pretty developed, and many Costa Ricans come here for the beaches. It has had some problems in the past from pollution from the nearby towns contaminating the streams and development cutting off access for the animals. It has gotten much better, but it will only stay that way if people continue to be diligent.

Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park

The park has several trails that cut through the forest and end up on the beaches of the Pacific. Along the way, our group saw amazing insects like golden orb spiders, baby tarantulas, walking sticks, and huge grasshoppers. We also saw howler monkeys, crab-eating raccoons, white-tailed deer, two- and three-toed sloths, a yellow-crowned night heron, tree boa, and many black iguanas. The monkeys and raccoons have learned to steal food from the tourists on the beach, similar to the way raccoons take food from campers in our parks! If you want the comfort of an accessible park with nearby conveniences, all the while providing spectacular views and glimpses of local wildlife, this park is for you.

Bats, Howler Monkey, Heron

Lesser white lines bats, howler monkey, and yellow-crowned night heron

On Saturday I left the rest of the group at the airport and met up with one of our conservation partners for a trip to the Caribbean. Didiher Chacon, director of WIDECAST (Wider  Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network) Latin America, drove us to one of his sea turtle nesting beaches just south of Tortuguerro National Park.

This project is being run by the wonderful people of La Tortuga Feliz foundation, and Didiher has been their adviser for the past couple of years. Like many turtle conservation projects in Costa Rica, it is run by just a few staff members and relies on volunteers to do much of the work. The good ones, like this one, also actively seek support from the local community. In this case, the community employs local guides for turtle walks!

We got to the site in the late afternoon after a short boat ride from the nearest town. The staff and volunteers were all amazing, several of them deciding to stay long term after falling in love with the place and the project during their three-week volunteer stint.

Within the hour, we had discovered that one of the leatherback sea turtle nests in the hatchery was erupting and baby turtles were emerging. We helped gather them up for weights and measurements and placed them in a container for a later release. We did not want to release them in the middle of the day when the black sand was too hot and predators could easily spot them. At dusk, we went back down to the hatchery to let them go. It was a truly wonderful experience. I have participated in several nesting events, but never before witnessed this part of the process. What a sight!

After the release, I gave a presentation to the local community and project staff and volunteers on the National Aquarium’s work with sea turtles. There was no electricity at the site, so we hooked the computer and projector up to a generator for the presentation. Since there are very few sea turtle nests in our area, I mostly spoke about the work our Marine Animal Rescue Program does with rescue, rehabilitation, and release of our local species. I talked about the care our patients receive by our veterinary staff and the technologies we use for diagnosis. I talked about the time and effort our MARP staff and volunteers put in to the care of each animal and the joy of watching them be released back into their natural environment. It was easy to connect with my audience (even through the translator) because it was obvious that we were all participating in different but equally important aspects of the conservation of these amazing animals.

At midnight I joined a turtle patrol. Each night during the nesting season, local guides and project volunteers walk the beach to look for nesting turtles. In this region, it’s important to relocate all nests to the hatchery because poaching and turtle hunting is still prevalent, even though it is illegal in Costa Rica. While walking the beach, we saw a group of civil police on patrol. They were there to catch poachers. Later on, we heard that they confronted nine poachers that night and had confiscated a machete, sacks, and other poaching equipment. At first, I was comforted by the police presence on the beach, but Didiher informed me that in his two years on this project, this was only the second time he’s seen them and that they don’t have the resources to patrol regularly. In fact, their presence that evening was only made possible because La Tortuga Feliz paid for the gas for their boat.

The locals I spoke with that evening were passionate about saving these animals, but were disheartened by the continued disregard for the laws, and the inability of local law enforcement to enforce the laws. They are working very hard in their outreach efforts, for both local communities and in national campaigns, to emphasize the importance of protecting sea turtles, but as with all movements, this will take time. In the meantime, groups like WIDECAST, La Tortuga Feliz, and, most importantly, the local citizens that are working with them are providing a necessary foundation for the conservation of these species.

Close encounters with Costa Rican wildlife!

From Laura Bankey, Director of Conservation

Hello again from Costa Rica! I hope you’ve enjoyed my updates from our Get Going Costa Rica family sweepstakes trip! Our travels through the country have been nothing short of amazing, and filled with so many encounters with wildlife.

One day last week was particulary memorable for our group. A small number of us braved the early morning hours to get a bird walk in before breakfast. In less than an hour we saw an incredible variety of bird species without even leaving the grounds of the hotel! We saw brightly colored birds like the cherries tanager, blue-grey tanager, great kiskadee, rufous-tailed hummingbird, and the bananaquit. My favorite, however, was the fiery-billed aracari and the chestnut-mandibled toucan. We watched the toucan for several minutes. He foraged for fruit at the top of a nearby tree and dazzled us with his bright colors.

After breakfast we took a bus to Marino Ballenas National Park where we boarded a boat to go whale and dolphin watching. As excited as I was to get out on the ocean, it was hard to ignore the absolute beauty of the park itself. It’s miles of undeveloped sandy beach, with lush tropical forests in the background and strikingly beautiful blue-green water in the foreground.

Soon after leaving the beach, our captain got word that other boats had spotted a female humpback whale and her 3-week-old calf. Female whales migrate from the south this time of year to give birth off the coast in this area. We got to watch the pair for close to an hour as they swam slowly and came up for breath. What a spectacular sight. Every time they emerged, it took my breath away. The baby seemed so small — although easily bigger than our boat — and came up for breath much more often than its mother. They swam close together, almost touching, for the entire time.

After leaving the whales, we headed south to check out the cave formations nearby. Along the way, our guide spotted sea turtles bobbing in the waves. It was a mating pair of olive ridleys. Again, it was truly amazing to have a chance to see this. The two were clasped tightly together in some odd sort of “twister” pose.

We never see the olive ridley in the Mid-Atlantic. Our Marine Animal Rescue Program often sees its close relative, the Kemp’s ridley. We currently have one undergoing rehabilitation right now and have released several already this year. There are only seven species of sea turtles in the world, and all of them are considered threatened or endangered. Every time I see one in the wild, I’m hopeful that we can help bring these turtles back to healthy population levels once again.

Our guide told us that it’s common for these turtles to nest on nearby beaches beginning in October. They have, however, already seen three nests so far this August. There is a sense among a lot of people here that things are changing. Species are increasing or moving their ranges, and breeding/calving/nesting seasons are shifting.

Our next stop was a quick loop around whale island. This small rock formation is home to several nesting seabirds including the magnificent frigatebird, brown booby, and white ibis. New chicks were clearly visible by their contrasting colors.

After whale island, it was off to look at some caves and then find a calm spot to go snorkeling. Our group saw parrotfish, triggerfish, angelfish, and filefish. A pretty dizzying array for such a short time. We saw all of these amazing sights and animals before lunch!

Awesome adventures in Costa Rica!

From Laura Bankey, Director of Conservation

Checking in from beautiful Costa Rica! The Costa Rican Tourism Board have been wonderful hosts and have planned some pretty amazing excursions for our group, winners of the Get Going Costa Rica sweepstakes and representatives from National Aquarium and the Greater Los Angeles Zoo.

Our adventure started off with a trip to one of the central valley’s active volcanos. The Irazu volcano is more than 11,000 feet above sea level. We drove through some of Costa Rica’s richest agricultural lands with fields full of onions, potatoes, and mustard. On the way to the top, we passed through a cloud forest, home to a large variety of plants and animals especially adapted to the high altitude and high humidity. Once at the top, it was just a short hike to the active crater. Spectacular!!

We were standing on the rim, and could see the bright-green rainwater collected by the crater more than 1,000 feet down. The landscape is gray for as far as your eyes can see. The volcanic ash has covered just about everything in sight. The last time the volcano erupted was 1994, and some of the vegetation is just coming back. It’s a stark reminder of how our world is constantly changing.

Much of our afternoon was spent traveling down to the South Pacific coast to position us for a wonderful day spent at Corvocado National Park. The most popular way to get to the park is by boat. Our boat met us at our hotel in Sierpe on Tuesday morning. We traveled down the Sierpe River through acres and acres of mangrove forests. What a sight! Once we hit the mouth of the river, we headed out into the ocean along the coast of the Osa Peninsula toward the park headquarters.

Our main activity at the park was a three-hour hike through the rain forest. What an adventure!  We weren’t more than 50 feet inside the rain forest when we saw trogans, white-faced coati, a three-toed sloth, and howler monkeys.

As we traveled deeper and deeper, we saw frogs, tarantulas, and macaws.  It was awesome to discover just how closely the National Aquarium’s Upland Tropical Rain Forest compares to the real thing! During the boat trip back to Sierpe we also saw monkeys, a boa, and a humpback whale.

All in all, a very good day for wildlife viewing!

Exploring Costa Rican aquaculture

From Laura Bankey, Director of Conservation

Through our partnership with Costa Rica Tourism, I have the opportunity to spend a week in Costa Rica. Most of my time will be spent with the lucky family that won our “Get Going to Costa Rica” family vacation sweepstakes. Throughout the week, I will be taking the family to various parts of the country so they can learn more about the wildlife and our conservation work in this beautiful country.

But first, I spent a day on the Central Pacific coast of Costa Rica touring locally owned shrimp farms. Shallow ponds, some several hectares, were filled with white shrimp in various stages of development. The shrimp are fed organic feed twice a day and never exposed to antibiotics or pesticides.

Once a month, the feed is coated with garlic and melaza. This tends to keep the shrimp healthy and eliminates the needs for antibiotics used in other areas of the world. After 75-100 days, the shrimp are harvested and processed for export. Some of these shrimp end up on the menu in the Aquarium’s Harbor Market Kitchen!

In the Aquarium’s newly renovated cafe, we are emphasizing the use of local, organic, or sustainably raised food. Sodexo, our food services partner in this effort, has identified the Costa Rican Laughing Bird shrimp as a product that will please customers without jeopardizing our mission to conserve our natural resources and to make thoughtful choices.

After spending the day with several farm owners and managers it is easy to see they made a good decision. Aquaculture practices in Costa Rica are strictly regulated, water quality is tested by the Ministry of Agriculture, and the environmental destruction you see in many other countries is rare (mangroves have been protected since the 1970s). Protected crocodiles in the ponds were even left alone (and there were quite a few), and birds and iguanas were prevalent. On some farms, cattle are allowed access to keep the grass on the banks surrounding the ponds at a manageable height.

It was a fascinating day. There are so many reasons why we need to begin new ways of thinking about the food we eat, where it comes from, and how we need to put less pressure on our oceans. Sustainable aquaculture can be part of the answer.

Stay tuned for more updates of my travels through this amazing country!

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