Conservation & Research
Photo: María José Guzmán
Pacuare Reserve is the protected home of over 270 species of wildlife (over 200 species of birds). Pacuare beach is one of the most important leatherback turtle nesting beaches in the world. Pacuare’s coastline is hugged by dense jungle forest. What was once logged for timber or grazed by cattle is now a protected home for a wide variety of wildlife – more than 32 species of mammal, including jaguar, ocelot, and three species of monkeys, and many reptiles call Pacuare home.
With beach, forest and freshwater habitats, Pacuare is also home to a wide variety of birds – we currently have 211 species listed! The rare and beautiful agami heron nests in a small lagoon within the Reserve. It is the only nesting site in Costa Rica and one of only a few accessible nesting sites in the world.
Pacuare Reserve has been working for the last 25 years in protecting the Leatherback sea turtle and collecting data about nesting trends, population status, and nests survival. The leatherback turtle rookery of Caribbean Central America (with Pacuare being an important nesting beach), represents one of the four largest remaining rookeries worldwide, together with French Guiana/Suriname, Gabon and Trinidad (Troëng et al., 2004).
The 6 km (3.72 miles) of coastline are walked every night during the nesting and hatching season (from the end of February to September) by the research assistants, volunteers and groups of students that visit the Reserve. Every night, three different shifts cover the beach from 8 pm to 4 am, to minimize the loss of sea turtles. There's also a morning count to check for new activities or hatchlings emerging. Groups begin their censuses from each of the two stations- North and South.
The research assistants have a training period at the beginning of the season with theoretical and practical sessions to ensure the standardization of the data collection. There are some sessions during the season to check the compliance of the protocols and to correct differences between the two stations. The guards are in charge of the beach protection by guarding the two ends of the beach and deterring people not related to the project from accessing the beach.
The research method includes:
Tagging the turtles with external metallic tags and internal PIT tags (passive integrated transponders)
Collecting biometric data; length and width of the shell
Checking for damages or injuries
Counting eggs and deciding the destination of the nest, either "In Situ" (the original place where the turtle laid) or "relocated" (moved to a different, safer location of the beach)
Recently, we have been utilizing a hatchery (safe enclosure to relocate the nests), as well as our sustem of relocating the nests to the safest areas of the beach according to the season and the conditions. During the hatching season, we also collect data on hatching success and hatching survival by excavating the nests two days after they hatch. In addition, our staff makes sure that the sea turtle hatchlings make their way to the sea by scaring possible predators.
Several researchers have used the Reserve as a base for their investigations. That's the case of Marga López Rivas who developed her Ph.D. research for three years, publishing papers on the effect of artificial lights on the hatchling's ability to find their way to the sea; the effects of the dunes caused by beach erosion on the leatherbacks nesting behavior or the nesting ecology, and population trends of the sea turtle population at Pacuare.
The Reserve has also participated in the publication of some other papers in collaboration with other
Photo: Batsú Estudio
institutions or researchers. In 2016, Sean Williamson from Monash University in Australia, under Richard's Reina supervision, studied the effect of oxygen on leatherback sea turtle eggs as part of his Ph.D.
Since 1991, when the beach monitoring became standardized, we have recruited 8 to 10 research assistants every season besides the two main coordinators to help gather all the data for the sea turtle monitoring program. All this combined effort has led to a decrease in the poaching rate to as low as 1% (mainly at the beginning and the end of the season).
Other monitoring programs developed at Pacuare Reserve:
Jaguar and prey monitoring program
Pacuare Reserve protects 800 hectares, it is located in the lowlands of the north and central Caribbean of Costa Rica and there are several sightings of wild cats, the Jaguar (Panthera onca) being the most common. For a better understanding of the conservation needs of jaguars and their prey, Pacuare Reserve has a camera trap monitoring program.
This project is developed in partnership with a group of experts from Panthera, and together we have identified several key priorities to develop in the near future:
Estimating the current density of jaguars, other wild cats, and their prey in the Reserve.
Estimating the abundance of other mammals in the Reserve.
Understand the biological corridor used by the jaguars and propose activities to protect it.
Pacuare Reserve has installed a set of camera traps in areas with high probability of jaguar and prey presence. Every few days we check the devices and download all the pictures and videos take and then we analyze the information with researchers and students.
Monkeys population ethology program
Pacuare Biological Reserve hosts 3 species of monkeys: the white-faced monkey (Cebus imitator), howler monkey (Alowatta palliata) and spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi). These three populations are being monitoring by the researches and visitors. Social learning is a complex cognitive phenomenon, related to the learning process and knowledge transmission, and this program is trying to describe the different behaviors and social learning process that the different species show.
Photo: Alvaro Cubero
Agami Heron nesting monitoring program
For a few year, Pacuare Reserve has been collecting data on the nesting population and breeding colonial of Agami Heron (Agamia agami). From a conservation perspective, monitoring and conservation of this population is critical, especially because it is the only known nesting site in the Caribbean of Costa Rica. Twice a week, our researchers and visitors, take a walk to the nesting site and start the data collection inside the blind, where the group can hide from the agamis and they can continue with their regular behavior.
At Pacuare Reserve, we operate a number of long-term monitoring projects, as well as provide facilities and support for researchers and students conducting independent research. Please click on the tabs below to learn more.
Here you will find the Sea Turtle Monitoring Program season reports of Pacuare Reserve