Using the Institute's new drone, staff obtained aerial footage of Finca Ocotea, a 250-acre property purchased in 2009 by a local non-profit conservation organization. It is the largest property to date acquired with eco-loan assistance. The drone's aerial photographs allowed us to get information on some of the land features, including a small area of previously unknown wetlands We shared the short video with the nonprofit organization during its annual general assembly and highlighted some of the more interesting drone footage.
NI staff worked together with members of the Pueblo Nuevo water association to map the trails on 150 acres of protected land acquired with an eco-loan. The trails are the primary access to springs that supply clean water to Pueblo Nuevo residents. NI provided GIS technology to create accurate maps of the paths. The Universidad Técnica Nacional will help install interpretive signage to prepare the trails for public education visits.
Our staff biologist prepared and placed several dozen experimental “seed bombs” in a difficult-to-restore area of the first property purchased with eco-loan. In this 27 acre large property, severe erosion and compacted soil in some places slow forest regrowth. Aggressive exotic grasses also inhibit native seeds germination. The seed bombs contain a mixture of 100-200 native tree species seeds embedded in adobe enriched with nutrients, then shaped into balls ten centimeters across. The balls are planted in the restoration plots with the expectation that viable seeds will germinate in enriched adobe designed to promote the growth of the emerging seedlings.
School children from the community of San Antonio de Barranca joined Nectandra Institute staff on a field trip to a protected property purchased by the town's water management association in 2011 with eco-loan financing. There are freshwater springs on the land that provides potable water for the people of San Antonio de Barranca. Previously a farmland, the property is now covered in shrubs on its way to being a forest again. The children learned about the forest's important role in protecting springs and rivers, and they were able to see firsthand where the water they use in their homes comes from.
Nectandra Institute and the water management association for Angeles Norte and Alto Villegas organized the year's first tree measuring outing. Almost 30 residents from these two communities volunteered for 4 hours, measuring trees planted on an 27-acre piece of land that the water association purchased almost ten years ago thanks to an eco-loan from Nectandra Institute. Of the sample of trees measured in 2014, 9% had grown beyond 3 meters in height. A year later, that number increased to 22%. And in 2016, 26% of the trees that were measured stood at least 3 meters in height. The results for 2017 are still being tabulated.
Megan O'Brien and Reaghan Murphy, students from the University of Louiville and the University of South Carolina respectively, began volunteering with Nectandra Institute. Our latest University Studies Abroad Consortium volunteers will work on the classification of the macroinvertebrate specimens collected during the first three months of the year from various locations along creeks and rivers in the upper Balsa River Watershed. Each stream sampling point will receive a water quality score based on the mix of insects found there. Reaghan and Megan will also assist with other projects, such as monitoring forest restoration progress on protected lands acquired by our community partners with eco-loan assistance.
Using GPS and GIS technology, staff members of the Nectandra Cloud Forest Garden and Institute worked together to create detailed visitor/maintainence trail maps of the reserve. Nectandra Cloud Forest is a key component of the Institute's education program, serving as a 158-hectare outdoor classroom for teaching young and older members of our partner communities, as well as the public in general, about the rare cloud forest ecosystems of the tropics and all their biological diversity and ecological importance.
Local youths volunteered once again to work alongside Nectandra Institute staff in the collection of aquatic macroinvertebrates in creek and rivers of the upper Balsa River Watershed. We have been monitoring these organisms twice a year since 2009 in over 20 stream locations. Some of these organisms are known to be tolerant to organic pollution, while others are not. Each stream sampling point is given a water quality score based on the mix of insects found there.
Students from Texas A&M University studying abroad in Costa Rica paid a visit to the Nectandra Cloud Forest Reserve. In recent years, Nectandra has seen an increase in visitation by groups from U.S. universities. The staff of both Nectandra Institute and Nectandra Reserve welcome the opportunity to teach visitors about the important reasons for tropical cloud forest conservation, including protection for biodiversity and for nature's provision of environmental services, such as clean drinking water to local communities.
Nectandra Institute helped organize the seventh annual “Conteo Navideño del Bosque Nuboso de Occidente” (An Audubon-sanctioned Christmas bird count in the San Ramón area of Costa Rica). Nectandra Institute is a founding organizer of this yearly event together with the Fundación Bosque Nuboso de Occidente. This year, approximately 45 birdwatchers covered 18 different routes, one of which passed through Nectandra Cloud Forest Preserve and another which traversed one of the eco-loan financed restoration properties. The official results for this year are still being tabulated, but last year's edition resulted in 347 species of birds and 6019 individuals seen by participants along the various routes. This represents over a third of the almost 900 avian species found in all of Costa Rica. It's worth mentioning that birds play a very important role as seed dispersers in forest restoration projects.
A series of photos is taken twice yearly from fixed points within each eco-loan financed property in order to visually document the progression of ecological restoration. This month, the most recent set of these time-lapse photos were taken at several properties depicting the changes that have taken place over nine years' worth of restoration, in some cases.
University student interns assisted Nectandra Institute staff evaluate the water quality for streams in the Nectandra Cloud Forest Preserve. Using the same method employed by the Institute and our community partners for streams elsewhere in Costa Rica's Balsa River watershed, the water flowing through the Preserve has been determined to be of fair to excellent quality, depending on the time of year. In order to come up with a water quality score, aquatic macroinvertebrates are collected from stream sampling points. They are then identified and sorted based on their known level of tolerance for water contamination. Nectandra's streams are trying to recover from contamination from pesticide-laced runoff originating from the neighboring, upslope property once used as a plantation for producing ornamental plants for export purposes (the kind used in office building lobbies). Ideally, this property, which houses the headwaters for Nectandra's streams, can someday be purchased for forest restoration and conservation purposes.
Several of Nectandra Institute's community partners organized and carried out tree planting activities at their respective restoration lands this month. Our partners oftentimes recruit school children, company employees and other groups of people to participate in forest restoration efforts. These tree planting events were no exception, as employees of one of Costa Rica's state-run banks as well as workers from a private sector company based in San Jose (the country's capital) helped plant over 300 trees on four different properties purchased by eco-loan recipients.
Nectandra Institute welcomed Madeline and Logan, our newest student volunteers from University Studies Abroad Consortium. Over the next three months, Logan and Madeline will work on classifying the macroinvertebrate specimens obtained during July from various points along streams and rivers in the upper Balsa River Watershed. They will be sorted by family, and a water quality score for each stream sampling site will then be calculated using a formula that takes into account the level of tolerance to contamination of each type of organism.
Now in its 9th edition, New Culture of Water Month is a multi-event, annual celebration created by Nectandra Institute in order to raise awareness for conservation of forests and protection of water resources. This is achieved through a series of educational, artistic, recreational, and cultural activities, including the inaugural celebration featuring a presentation by a well-known local organic farmer, the New Culture of Water Queen Pageant, featuring candidates wearing dresses made from recycled materials and responding to questions on environmental or conservation-related topics, and the CRECER competition, which tests the ecological knowledge of teams of students from several of the watershed's different grade schools in an academic decathlon-type format.
Students from a local, vocational high school chose to intern with Nectandra Institute full-time during the last week of the month. The youths spent the week accompanying our staff biologist in the field collecting tree growth data and doing restoration work. Over the last three years, some two dozen high school and university volunteers from Costa Rica, the United States, Mexico, and Australia have provided Nectandra with their invaluable support.
Annual tree measuring work continued this month on several restoration properties purchased by Nectandra Institute's eco-loan partners. The results over the years of the sample of trees measured at the various sites seem to show rates of growth that are quite variable even for trees of the same species within the same piece of land. A quick analysis seems to indicate that saplings at least 50 centimeters tall when planted have a higher success rate, as well as those that were sourced and nurtured locally. Also, the specific conditions of the site onto which saplings are transplanted, for example exposure to wind, soil conditions, competition from surrounding grass, play a big role in whether or not saplings take root and grow successfully.
There is no better time than Costa Rica's rainy season (May to November) for planting trees on the lands purchased by Nectandra Institute's eco-loan partners. FEDAPRO, our most recent eco-loan recipient, held a tree planting event for local school children on its 21-acre piece of restoration land. After planting trees, the children toured the property along a trail maintained by FEDAPRO for the purpose of treating visitors to an educational experience that highlights the property's ecological and hydrological importance.
Local youths volunteered to work with Nectandra Institute staff to collect aquatic macroinvertebrates along streams and rivers in the upper Balsa River Watershed. We have been monitoring these organisms semiannually since 2009 in over 20 stream locations. Some of these organisms are known to be tolerant to organic pollution, while others are not. By analyzing the mix of insects found at each site, we can infer something about the quality of the water at that stream location. The volunteers were rewarded for their hard work with a day trip to Juan Castro Blanco National Park for Water. This protected area neighbors the upper watershed to the east and serves as a source of potable water to several dozens of communities all around it.