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.
Tree measuring season kicked off this year on restoration land purchased in 2007 by the water management association serving the communities of Angeles Norte and Alto Villegas. Community representatives and Nectandra staff worked alongside visiting volunteers from the University of Arizona as well as from the southern Costa Rican communities of Volcan and Longo Mai to measure fig and other trees planted on the upper third of the steeply sloping 27-acre property. Samples of planted and naturally occurring trees are measured annually on lands purchased with eco-loan assistance. This tree growth data helps improve restoration strategies by providing information on the suitability of trees species at specific sites.
Our most recent volunteers from University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC), completed their internship with us. For three months, U.S. students Yajaira, Lona, and Corin assisted with our stream water quality monitoring project and also helped document the progress of the emerging forest on eco-loan financed properties. During the past three and a half years, approximately two dozen young volunteers, including nine through USAC, have provided invaluable support in advancing the Institute’s mission of cloud forest conservation through education, scientific research, and watershed stewardship.
Community water management associations completed the semi-annual freshwater spring flow measurements that Nectandra Institute asks of our eco-loan beneficiaries. The volume of water flowing from springs on or just downslope from lands purchased with eco-loans is measured twice a year once forest restoration has gotten underway. Together with our community partners, we hope to collect data that demonstrates how spring flows increase and/or become more stable as vegetation grows back on deforested land. With other factors such as climate change and the El Niño event affecting precipitation, it is difficult to establish a causal relationship between regenerating forest and spring flows. However, a few years of data seems to show new as well as more consistent spring flows on some of the lands at the highest elevations in the watershed. On these lands, groundwater recharge and subsequent resurgence can more easily be traced as compared to lower elevation lands where underground water flow tends to be more complex.