This case study in our Conservation Tech Showcase highlights Osa Conservation, an organization working in the Osa Peninsula to track and monitor vulnerable wildlife, prevent wildlife crime in the region, and establish the necessary groundwork for larger long-term efforts to protect this important rainforest habitat.
About Osa Conservation
Osa Conservation (OC) is a Costa Rica-based non-profit organization with a mission to conserve and restore the natural ecosystems of the Osa Peninsula. The organization focuses on implementing ecosystem stewardship, enhancing scientific understanding, providing education and training, and creating sustainable economic opportunities to protect the globally significant terrestrial and marine biological diversity of the region. While the organization is based in Costa Rica, it also works with partners and supporters in the United States.
OC uses innovative technology to protect one of Earth's toughest environments - the tropical rainforest, with the ultimate goal of developing a climate-adaptive biological corridor. By reducing poaching and other disturbances caused by humans, OC ensures the survival of as much biodiversity as possible in the tropics. This biological corridor allows fauna and flora to migrate across human landscapes to cooler, safer climates, providing a safeguard against climate change and other anthropogenic effects. To achieve this goal, OC employs a toolkit of conservation technologies and takes a multi-faceted approach to conservation challenges.
Executing the EarthRanger Project
In 2021, the first EarthRanger Project was launched in Latin America to enhance wildlife monitoring and illegal crime surveillance in a dense tropical rainforest environment. The project equipped and trained 25 Community Volunteer Rangers and 3 employed Elite Rainforest Rangers on EarthRanger. Additionally, 17 training workshops were held for local communities in Costa Rica to learn how to use conservation technology to support their livelihoods.
Over a period of 12 months, the rangers patrolled 131,523 km of land, conducted 12 hours of drone flights in hunting, logging, and mining hotspots, and recorded 16 hunting suspicions, 15 logged trees, and 11 poached sea turtle nests. They filed 9 legal complaints with evidence and made 16 arrests for illegal environmental offenses in the past year and 29 in the past 3.5 years.
OC also expanded its EarthRanger project by partnering with the National Park System of Costa Rica and implementing the technology in the Osa region. The success of this collaboration could potentially lead to scaling the EarthRanger technology throughout all of Costa Rica's national parks.
Tracking Endangered Tapirs and More with GPS tags
In an effort to better understand wildlife movement and behavior, the team collaborated with the Costa Rica Wildlife Foundation to deploy GPS tracking devices integrated into EarthRanger on a range of animals, including the king vulture and Baird's tapir.
To date, the team has placed solar-powered GPS tags on seven king vultures in the Osa and GPS collars on six tapirs across Southern and Northern Costa Rica. The data gathered from these devices is being used to develop a species surveillance strategy using EarthRanger in protected areas and their key corridors. The data is also being uploaded to the apps Movebank and AnimalTracker to promote citizen science.
Pushing the boundaries on drone technology for conservation
The conservation team used drone technology to monitor sea turtle nesting beaches, identify illegal activities in the rainforest, and conduct canopy surveys. Through the use of a drone-mounted infrared camera, the team found that drones are 20% more effective than humans in detecting beach activity and can detect activity that humans cannot. This breakthrough study was published in Frontiers in Conservation Science and can now be replicated on high-risk beaches worldwide.
In addition, the team conducted experiments in the rainforest to identify illegal loggers, hunters, and gold miners. They also executed canopy surveys using thermal drones to understand the ideal parameters for monitoring arboreal species and discovered that they can use this technology to detect endangered Geoffroy's Spider Monkeys. These studies have been accepted for publication in Biodiversity and Conservation and could revolutionize traditional monitoring methods.
Furthermore, the team protected and released 208,700 baby sea turtles using technology to increase surveillance capacity while protecting community members and scientists from previously monitored violent zones. And finally, the team executed drone monitoring with 3D LiDAR across 119 kilometers of the AmistOsa corridor, allowing them to create one of the highest resolution maps for the region.
Elevating real-time monitoring efforts in illegal activity hotspots
OC deployed solar-powered acoustic streaming devices and camera traps in illegal activity hotspots to monitor wildlife movement and detect illegal activities in real-time. Over the past 2 years, the team placed 20 cameras and 11 devices across the Osa region, which detected 73 suspicious events. By deploying Rainforest Guardians and real-time GSM camera traps in these hotspots, the team was able to detect illegal activities that would have been missed by the small park ranger team.
Rainforest Protectors responded to all events, with 41% of alerts in real-time, resulting in deterrence of illegal activities and leading to arrests, prosecutions, and denuncias. The work has been integrated with EarthRanger to improve species surveillance strategies within protected areas and their key corridors.
Making AI-powered conservation efforts
The team at OC improved their conservation operations by implementing AI software to catalyze endangered species monitoring efforts. They adopted Wildlife Insights, an AI machine learning software, to quickly sort through hundreds of hours of data. They also used BirdNET Analyzer from Cornell Lab of Ornithology to analyze acoustic data and automatically identify multiple bird species. This software saved the team time and money, enabling them to expedite their efforts to protect wildlife across protected and human-dominated landscapes.
Moreover, OC collaborated with Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Geographic Lab to develop an AI model that automatically detects the sounds of the Golfo Dulce Poison Dart Frog, analyzed from over 45 audio files. They also analyzed over 13,000 audio files to detect the Great and Little Tinamou bird species using an automated detector. The team is currently trying to analyze acoustic data using the automatic detector.
The team also partnered with Conservation X Labs over the past four years to deploy Sentinel in a tropical rainforest, using cellular and satellite devices to create AI models that automatically identify White-lipped Peccary and Jaguar from previous images and audios, utilizing 200,000 videos, 100,000 photos, and 500,000 audio files for identification purposes.
OC's Innovations in Camera Traps and Their Impact on Conservation
Regarding camera traps, OC collaborated with an engineer from National Geographic Labs to test and create the world's smallest camera trap, a discreet device that can alert in real-time about illegal activities and wildlife movement.
Furthermore, in 2018, the Osa Camera Trap Network executed the largest camera trap grid in Central America by installing 222 cameras in a 4x4km grid with the collaboration of 30 local partners, including local communities, non-profit organizations, government, tourism companies, and the region’s only remaining indigenous community. Their aim was to conduct the first region-wide wildlife community baseline assessment and to unveil regional conservation success for several prey and predator species while highlighting future challenges. The results were published in the scientific journal Conservation Biology in 2021, revealing regional conservation success for several prey and predator species and highlighting future challenges. These results have continued to guide ecological management throughout the region.
Plus, after analyzing data from 222 camera traps across Osa, researchers compared the results to the only other existing region-wide survey conducted in 1990-1994. The comparison suggested that several species, including the puma, Baird’s tapir, collared peccary, and red-brocket deer, were showing regional recovery. However, the jaguars and white-lipped peccaries were still intrinsically linked and dependent on the safety of Corcovado National Park. These findings, alongside Osa land-use maps created in collaboration with NASA Develop in 2018, identified key areas for future restoration efforts and forest-dependent communities to host anti-hunting workshops.
Establishing the Largest Elevational Monitoring Transect in Central America for Wildlife Adaptation to Climate Change
To better understand wildlife adaptation to climate change, the team established the largest elevational altitudinal monitoring transect in Central America. The transect, which spanned a distance of 190 km, covered an altitude range of 0 - 2,900m across three protected areas and their connecting biological corridors.
To collect data, the team used 203 camera traps, 36 acoustic devices, and 36 temperature data loggers. The collected data was then used to assess species resilience to climate change and identify key areas for future conservation and restoration efforts along the biological corridor.
OC's Community Engagement Efforts
OC goes beyond implementing technology within their team, focusing on engaging stakeholders and local communities with technological tools to enhance their knowledge and dedication to protecting natural resources. In 2019, they launched the Osa Biodiversity Survey (OBS), a citizen science project in collaboration with National Geographic and iNaturalist. OBS was a resounding success, increasing documented biodiversity observations in the region from 5,000 to 81,863 in three years, and the community of Osa observers grew more than 10 times, with 1,958 observers recording 6,379 unique species. OC is replicating this successful model with the AmistOsa Biodiversity Survey (ABS) across Costa Rica's south Pacific, documenting 800 new observations in the first two months. To continue growing their impact, they began recording bird observations through the eBird application, with 137 already recorded, aiming to develop a community that can provide insight into the population status of the more than 418 bird species in the region. They've also conducted 360º video workshops that reached 980 youth and have driven a 1100% increase in the number of observations and a 300% increase in species registered in citizen science apps in just two years.
OC's comprehensive approach, which integrates conservation technology tools, helped increase protection of endangered animals in poaching hotspots, enhance local ecological management, and restore areas with lost habitat. The organization streamlined its operations and addressed the region's data vacuum, empowering community leaders to take action. They effectively collected and analyzed more data at a faster pace than previously possible, maximizing their conservation impact in a region with unparalleled levels of biodiversity.
OC's Community-Driven Conservation Efforts and its Benefits to Local Communities
OC implemented community-driven conservation efforts in the Osa rainforest, which also successfully benefited local communities. The organization combined local knowledge with technology to monitor and protect Baird's Tapirs and white-lipped peccaries as they migrated between protected areas and plantations. Local community rangers oversaw the deployment of Central America's largest camera trap grid on public and private land. Additionally, OC empowered a team of 25 Rainforest Protectors, who patrolled the area, deployed camera traps, and contributed to the EarthRanger monitoring system to fight against poaching and other environmental crimes.
OC’s community-led conservation efforts also help enhance the livelihoods of local communities. Working with local small-scale farmers in Puntarenas, the organization employed innovative technologies such as drone mapping and sustainable farm designs to increase productivity and promote wildlife-friendly farming. The EarthRanger platform was utilized to reduce human-wildlife conflict caused by agricultural expansion. Local community engagement is crucial to the long-term wellbeing of people and wildlife in the Osa region, which is a complex mix of protected areas, forest matrices, secondary forest, and agricultural land. OC's efforts help protect threatened animals while positively impacting the livelihoods of the poorest communities in the region at the same time, creating mutual benefit.
OC is committed to social equity and uses technology to empower women and promote conservation efforts. The organization provides free training to women in the use of drones, camera traps, and citizen science platforms such as EarthRanger, iNaturalist, and eBird. This gender-inclusive approach not only increases women's participation in the local workforce but also contributes to wildlife conservation’s future.
Furthermore, OC's community-centered model recognizes the importance of future generations and offers free childcare to impoverished youth through its Ridge to Reef Youth Nature Club. This program trains children in wildlife monitoring techniques and promotes the management of conservation areas. By adopting conservation technology, OC aims to create resilient communities that are less vulnerable to changing climates, reduce poverty in Costa Rica's poorest region, and advance women's empowerment.
How can others learn from the program?
OC's habitat connectivity program is scalable and replicable in tropical regions, as it is based on science, conservation technology, and local knowledge. By conducting research in challenging environments, such as biological corridors in Costa Rica and the Peruvian Amazon, OC has developed a step-by-step guide to increase landscape connectivity and protect vulnerable wildlife. The success of the program is measured through changes in soils, forest cover, animal movements, and social and economic shifts using a clear, transferable methodology. Through this commitment to science, OC has created a model that showcases impactful tools for biodiversity conservation and ecological management. By promoting this model, OC aims to inspire others to adopt conservation technology and local knowledge to safeguard vulnerable wildlife.
OC plans to share its successful habitat connectivity program with a wider, interdisciplinary audience. They aim to educate future environmental leaders through scientific dissemination via international conferences, published peer-reviewed journals, and university partnerships. The organization will also utilize various communication platforms, including web platforms, documentaries, and social media, to engage communities.
Their work has already gained attention from major media outlets, such as National Geographic and The Washington Post, and they intend to target government leaders to promote cross-disciplinary investment in nature-based solutions. OC's model has received praise from influential leaders like Andrea Meza, Deputy Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, who believes that the model should be replicated widely in biodiverse tropical regions of the world.
How can I engage with Osa Conservation?
Support the movement to protect wildlife through technology by joining the efforts of Osa Conservation in conserving and restoring the natural ecosystems of the Osa Peninsula. To show support and promote the adoption of conservation technology, interested individuals can contact Lucy Kleiner via email at [email protected] to learn more about collaborating.
Explore the 2023 Conservation Tech Showcase
Our new Conservation Tech Showcase is a series exploring successes and bold ideas in the world of conservation technology, shared through case studies about exciting projects from outstanding organizations around the world.