Mangroves in innocent hands

Fig .1 .The group ProEcoPelaos planting mangroves

This Friday, April 13, 2018, the children of Pedasí were committed to the profound task of conserving the mangroves. They are part of the Pro Eco Pelaos group of the Azuero Earth Project, and are an indispensable resource, not only for the support in the reforestation task, but also because they are our next generation because of the importance of leaving this ecological message that produces positive changes in their environmental education. “We want you to love nature as much as we love it!”

Fig. 2. Red mangrove

Mangroves are essential ecosystems. Starting by having 2 characteristics that no other plant in the world has. They can resist the combination of saline and fresh water, as well as having the ability of retaining 25% more carbon than any other plant in the world. Mangroves function as ecosystems for diverse species, both aerial and aquatic, including the “Pargo” or Red Snapper, which give mangroves an importance at the commercial level, with these fish that are so commercialized. They are of vital significance to conserve our land, since they play a function as wave barriers (protecting us even from Tsunamis) and regulate sedimentation in the water. Additionally, they clean the water by recycling the organic matter.

 

 

So, with all of this, I would dare to say that these little guys are heroes! With the simple task of taking a few hours to plant mangroves, they are helping the fauna and flora of our community, where we also inhabit, so they even do it for us. Don´t you think that they should be our role models instead of the other way around?

 

Fig. 3. The picture shows a member of the ProEcoPelaos planting mangroves in the “Refugio de vida silvestre Pablo Arturo Barrios”

We are interested in expanding our efforts to support these children and integrate them with us. It is a wonderful experience for both of us! If you are interested in having your children participating in this initiative or to provide some kind of additional support, such as transportation or other resources, do not hesitate to approach our offices or to contact us by writing at: cristobal@proecoazuero.org, info@proecoazuero.org ; or by calling us at: 995-2995, 6729-8542. We also accept donations at this link: http://proecoazuero.org/donate-aep/

 

 

Azuero Spider Monkey School Initiative Expands to Reach 8 Communities in 2017

The spider monkey school initiative seeks to promote curiosity and environmental awareness in Azuero’s new generations through play and artistic expression. These educational games incorporate aspects of their quotidian lives as well as teach how to conserve local flora and fauna. The protagonist of the school initiatives is the spider monkey or “charro monkey” as the children call it. this is a perfect example of how human intervention has reduced the population of spider monkeys and explains the serious consequences of continuing with this degrading process. The games of this year include: “La Red Ecologica”(similar to Human Knot displaying the connectedness of local ecosystems), “Juego del Árbol” (similar to musical chairs conveying the risks of habitat displacement and local species), and “Mono Twister” (similar to Twister but using tree species instead of colors).. In addition to these games, children paint a mural with an ecological theme to illustrate their vision of a sustainable ecosystem.

In 2017, the Spider Monkey School Initiative has expanded to include 2 more schools (Bayano and La Miel) along the ecological corridor that we are striving to create in Los Santos province, reaching a total of 8 communities in the area – Los Asientos, Oria Arriba, Bajo Corral, Colán, Nuario, Vallerriquito, Bayano and La Miel.
These educational activities initiate a constant dialogue with the children for them to voice their opinions and stories. Environmental education isn’t complete with just one session, which is why this year we gave each school a box of environmental games so that children can continue playing them to strengthen their environmental awareness and knowledge.
The environmental film night is the concluding activity of the day which includes the greater community. AEP connects with the community’s adults, informing them about AEP’s activities, and establishes a link with community members to spark collaborative reforestation efforts. This year, AEP presented the documentary “Cuando se Acaben los Bosques” to illustrate the current deforestation of the Azuero region.

The spider monkey school initiative’s greatest impact will come as children internalize environmental awareness leading to behavioral change, share what they have learned with parents, and become landowners themselves.

Local landowners explore visions of a reforested future for Azuero

On the morning of Friday June 2, the Azuero Earth Project kicked off their 2017 Watershed Restoration Program with a pre-reforestation event. Five of the seven participating landowners in the Los Santos region attended the event. The day’s agenda provided helpful information regarding plant and animal biodiversity, physical evidence of reforestation success, results of past programs, conversation space for program participants to talk with each other about their budding reforestation efforts, and Q&A about maintaining reforestation parcels in Azuero.

The program participants met the AEP staff for morning coffee and pastries at the Pedasi office, where they viewed a presentation on past reforestation efforts on the Azuero Peninsula, current national reforestation efforts, and toured AEP’s tree nursery. Before driving to an area of reforested land to witness the results in-person, this presentation established a solid foundation of understanding. Participants asked questions about topics ranging from the national Alliance for a Million Hectares, of which the Azuero Earth Project is a member, to specific tree species they found in the nursery, adjusting their reforestation plans to incorporate new and interesting species discovered at AEP.

 

After meeting at the office, the group reconvened at the nearby property of Vernon Scholey to tour his reforested lands. The tour was led through two distinct areas of land with different growth patterns. First, the group trekked up hills where horses grazed between young trees. Next, the program participants ventured down into an older plantation area, now thick with undergrowth, where the loud cries of monkeys could be heard from the trees.

Jairo Batista, AEP’s Organic Garden and Tree Nursery Coordinator, expertly outlined the changes resulting from reforestation and the accompanying regeneration of various plant species. The participants observed how native species can develop over time, witnessing how biodiversity adds to the value of a property. For the landowners, the tour of the planned land development kindled ideas and questions about the viability of implementation on their own properties.

 

Participants were able to voice their ideas, questions, and concerns in a meeting with Scholey, the landowner. Scholey has been dedicated to reforesting his land for many years, and was able to field questions and clarify processes for the interested participants. This question-and-answer session provided both a personal connection and informative resource for the prospective reforesters.

At the same meeting, participants shared their personal plans, reasons, and hopes for reforesting their land. Showing their commitment to the program and their engaged participation, these local landowners explained the species they hope to plant, the usefulness of new tree species on their farm, and their logistical concerns. Trees bearing edible fruit were particular favorites among the participants, and many expressed their wish to protect the environment and mitigate the disastrous effects of climate change and biodiversity by reforesting their land.

The event concluded with a lunch and permaculture tour at the nearby Eco Venao. The permaculture tour provided a look into the use of land to compost organic material and regrow native species for their productive capacity. Having observed the diverse benefits of reforestation and sustainable land management, the participants had much to consider as they returned home.

 

Friday’s event was a precursor to AEP’s exciting season of reforestation and regrowth that will plant around 5000 trees across Los Santos this rainy season. Hand in hand with collaborators such as current allies Prince Bernhard Nature Fund, Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund and American Forests, AEP continues to partner with community members who are interested in reforesting their land. If you would like to see more native fruit trees outside your window, are interested in sustainable land management, or are simply curious about compost, come visit AEP. Only you can make the decision to change the way we manage land on the peninsula. But never feel that you have to make that decision alone — AEP will help you take your next steps on your journey toward sustainable living!

 

 

Article and photos by Sarah Metzel

 

 

 

 

 

 

Join us to Reforest Azuero Watersheds!

Here at the Azuero Earth Project, we have been preparing for the planting season in June-July 2017. This year, we have the goal of planting 4500 native and fruit tree species to expand habitat for the Azuero spider monkey and many other local wildlife species. At the same time, reforesting our watersheds provides concrete benefits to local ranchers like avoiding erosion, improving soil and water quality, providing fruits, providing fodder and shade for cattle and complying with national environmental laws. This year, we have 7 program participants who will reforest more than 4 hectares, and we hope to expand this program in future years. As a member of Panama’s Alliance for the Million Hectares since December 2016, an initiative of Panama’s Environmental Ministry and group of allies to plant 1 million hectares in the coming 20 years, we hope to show how strategic reforestation of gallery forests with native and fruit species can serve to improve the lives of communities and wildlife on the peninsula. We thank Prince Bernhard Nature Fund, Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund and American Forests for their support of this project.

This initiative needs your help! Throughout the year, this program is supported by a host of corporate volunteer, student, association and individual volunteers, with the same of interest of making an environmental difference in Azuero. If you are interested in participating, whether it is as a participating landowners, donor or organizing a group of volunteers, please reach out to us at 995-2995 or info@proecoazuero.org for more information.

 

Por: Gricel Garcia

Wildlife DNA barcoding in Tree Cavities

¿How and where do wildlife nest when no trees are available? This is one of the questions researcher and Villanova University student Bonnie Britt will be trying to answer during the following months in the Azuero peninsula.

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Student reseracher Bonnie Britt in the field!

Bonnie is pursuing a masters in Biology and although her work has previously focused on primates, she has decided to concentrate her thesis on the relation between reduced quantities of tree cavities due to deforestation and wildlife (including birds, mammals, reptiles and insect species) nesting behavior. A subject matter that touches on the impact of deforestation on biodiversity conservation.

Since the peak breeding season for many wildlife species occurs during mid-March through July, the research is being carried out from now until August and another field season the following year. Bonnie and her research assistant, Alberto Bethancourt University of Panama student, will be looking at tree cavity availability in dry forest patches as the latter usually lack bigger sized trees.

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A photograph of tree cavities in Achotines

Taking into account that many wildlife species depend on cavity availability for nesting, investigation will be developed in the Achotines and Madroño private forests. These are some of the last available places for nesting opportunities in the area.

Bonnie will be looking at natural cavities to find feces, feathers, hair, and nest materials as samples for DNA barcoding. These will in turn, serve as a tool to identify the array of wildlife species that have visited or have nested within the cavity. This will also be an opportunity to detect predation and competition for cavity use and also to potentially identify new wildlife in the area.

The research will also include the construction and placement of two differentartificial nest box house to analyze if these will be used by wildlife for nesting. These might serve to allure other and more wildlife species which could result in biodiversity restoration in the area. Camera traps will be placed in active nests in both artificial bird houses and tree cavities to monitor predation and competition behaviors surrounding cavities.

Pro-Eco Pela’os Take Field Trip to Madroño and Achotines Lab

On Wednesday, January 29, children from the local community who form part of the AEP´s Pro-Eco Pela´os program hopped out of bed early, arriving at Casa Pasa ready for the year´s first field trip.

Departing Pedasí before 7 AM, thirteen local children, accompanied by the AEP´s Carmela Luciano, Jairo Batista, and Mark Waterman, arrived at the Madroño trails near Playa Venao at just the right time. The group had scarcely entered the forest when the children were treated to a rare sight—a whole troop of Azuero spider monkeys! The monkeys, out for their morning meal, swung from branch to branch right in front of the AEP group. The troop was made up of between 15 and 18 Azuero spider monkeys, with at least one mother carrying a newborn spider monkey on her back.

The group pauses for a photo on the trail c. Carmela Luciano
The group pauses for a photo on the trail c. Carmela Luciano

The spider monkeys slowly moved away, and the group, after watching the last monkey go on its way, entered the forest. During a short walk through the young dry forest of Madroño, the Pro-Eco Pela´os learned about the interactions between the bull horn acacia and its resident ants, the changes between dry and wet seasons, and the process of natural regeneration in the forest.

After finishing their walk in the forest, the team piled back into the van for the short trip down the road to the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission’s Achotines Laboratory. With guidance from the lab’s own Lina Castillo, the children watched the mid-morning feeding of the various species of fish in the laboratory’s large saltwater tanks. Next the group moved indoors to see what plankton, an important source of food for many marine mammals, looks like under a microscope. Hearing about the various ongoing investigations at the laboratory, the group learned a lot about the importance of conserving local fish species.

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Examining plankton under the microscope c. Carmela Luciano

Worn out after a long day of learning, the group headed back to Pedasí, ready to continue learning about the conservation of forest and aquatic resources in the weeks to come!

Captain Wiljem Zitman: How to Identify Marine Mammals in Their Environment

Last Tuesday, January 21st, a crowd of local fishermen, boat captains, and amateur nature enthusiasts gathered on the terrace of Casa Pasa to listen to former sea captain and naturalist Wiljelm Zitman deliver a captivating presentation on the identification of marine mammals in their environment. Capt. Zitman’s talk introduced the wide diversity of cetaceans that can be found frequenting the waters off the Azuero peninsula and the techniques that can be used to recognize them.

A group of spinner dolphins c. Wikimedia Commons
A group of spinner dolphins c. Wikimedia Commons

Identifying a fleeting whale or dolphin from the rocking helm of a boat can be a real challenge, even for experts. Capt. Zitman explained that there are techniques that are used to lump groups of closely related cetaceans together, giving the casual observer an accurate way to classify what he or she has briefly seen. Observing an animal’s behavior is one of the most important keys to identification. The Common Dolphin, like the Spinner Dolphin, is highly gregarious and often associates with pods that number in the thousands. Bottlenose dolphins and spotted dolphins, on the other hand, form smaller groups. Physical characteristics such as color, size, beak and melon shape, dorsal fin placement, and the shape and size of the blowhole all help classify these mysterious creatures.

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Humpback whale c. Wikimedia Commons

Capt. Zitman left plenty of room for anecdotal discussion. Several fishermen realized that what they may have been calling pilot whales were in fact, false orcas. Others grew excited when they learned that humpback whales weren’t the only behemoths they might find: Fin and Sperm whales, as well as Orcas, have been spotted off the coasts near Pedasi.

The audience grew excited and left the presentation beaming with energy and enthusiasm. Capt. Zitman’s talk undoubtedly left a positive impression on locals, as most of the crowd hung around afterward, eager to ask questions. Knowing how to correctly identify an animal and its behavior is an important step in its conservation. Hopefully these skills will be transmitted through generations to come.

Field Guide to Marine Mammal Identification

Capt. Zitman’s Presentation here (in Spanish), complete with descriptions of different identifying traits

October’s Tree of the Month: Ceiba Pentandra

Known to English speakers as the Kapok tree and to Spanish speakers as the ceiba, or the bongo, the Ceiba pentandra is a tall, striking deciduous tree native to the Azuero peninsula.

Belonging to the Malvaceae family, the Ceiba pentandra can claim a number of other native Azuero tree species as family members, including the barrigón (Psuedobombax septenatum), the cuipo (Cavanillesia platanifolia), the cedro espino (Pachira quinata), and the balsa (Ochroma pyramidale).

The Ceiba is recognized for its considerable height and its buttressed base that provides extra support. Like its brother the cedro espino, the Ceiba oftentimes produces spikes on its trunk to discourage adventurous mammals from feeding on the bark or leaves of the tree. The leaves of the Ceiba are themselves distinctive, being alternate and palmately compound, with 5-8 leaflets radiating from a single point.

The buttress of the Ceiba helps support its sizable trunk c. National Parks of Singapore

When the Ceiba flowers, it is a major culinary event, and the menu attracts a diverse clientele. Each Ceiba can produce as much as 200 liters of nectar each season, and the flowers are visited day and night by a wide range of animals. Nocturnal diners include bats, monkeys, marsupials, butterflies, and moths, while the daytime hours are generally the domain of bees, wasps, and hummingbirds.

Though the flowers of the Ceiba are hermaphroditic, an internal security system prevents the tree from pollinating itself and producing offspring of poor genetic quality. As such, the trees rely on outside actors to transport pollen. Bats are particularly important pollinators for the Ceiba. Paternity studies of Ceiba trees on the banks of Amazon River have discovered considerable genetic mixing between trees on both sides of the wide and slow moving waterway. Scientists determined that bats were responsible for the long-distance pollination, with the flying mammals moving pollen more than 2 kilometers back and forth between riverbanks.

Flowers of the Ceiba pentandra c. Wikimedia Commons

In Panama, the Ceiba pentandra flowers between November and March, going on to form oblong green fruits on the end of its branches. Trees can produce anywhere between 500 and 4,000 fruits, which dry in the sun and burst open to reveal bunches of cotton-like fibers surrounding hundreds of individual seeds. With the first strong wind, the fluffy fibers take wing, bearing away the seeds to new locales. Thanks to its effective wind-dispersement system, the Ceiba is often one of the first trees to colonize the open areas of forests.

Downy fibers help Ceiba seeds catch a breeze c. Digital Musings

The Ceiba seeds’ high rate of germination (71% with untreated seeds) helps make the tree relatively simple to cultivate in nurseries. Protected seedlings grow quickly, with saplings growing to 40 centimeters in as little as 3 months. Mature Ceiba trees are usually some of the tallest in any forest, growing as many as 13 feet per year and reaching heights of 50 meters. One of the tallest living trees in Central America is a Ceiba found on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica that is over 80 meters tall.

The striking crown of the Ceiba pentandra c. Reinaldo Aguilar

The Ceiba pentandra grows in areas of low elevation in West Africa and throughout Central and South America, being found as far north as Mexico and as far south as Bolivia. It is a tree of great cultural significance for many different peoples in these regions.

For the Maya, the Ceiba pentandra is the tree of life. The Maya say that the roots of the Ceiba reach down into the chambers of the underworld and that the branches extend into the heavens.

Leaves of the Ceiba pentandra c. Carlos Navarro

In Trinidad and Tobago, “The Castle of the Devil” is a particular Ceiba pentandragrowing deep within the forest where it is said that the demon of death resides. Folkore tells of a carpenter who carved seven rooms inside the tree and tricked the demon Bazil into entering. Legend has it that Bazil resides in the tree to this day.

In South America, the Huaorani Indians say that the Amazon River was born from the water-filled trunk of a giant fallen Ceiba pentandra.

In West Africa, the Ceiba is known to the Senegalese as the “tree of words.” At one particular health clinic in Senegal, the sick often approach the roots of a nearby Ceiba to discuss their problems.

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For more folkloric tales of the Ceiba pentandra and other neotropical trees, click here.

For high-resolution photos of the flower, fruits, seeds, and leaves of the Ceiba pentandra, click here.

AEP and University of Maryland Agree to Collaborate on Spider Monkey Research Project

In July, the Azuero Earth Project gained a new ally in the fight to protect the critically endangered Azuero spider monkey.

In a memorandum of understanding signed on July 5, the AEP and the Fagan Laboratory at the University of Maryland officially launched a collaborative effort to improve understanding of the ranging behaviors of Ateles geoffroyi azuerensis, a subspecies of the Central American spider monkey that lives only in the Azuero peninsula.

 The Azuero spider monkey is considered critically endangered, with as few as 145 individuals remaining in the wild, and very little is known about its behavorial tendencies. To fill in the gaps, researchers from the Bill Fagan Lab at the University of Maryland will use GPS collars to track the monkeys in the Azuero.

The Azuero spider monkey c. Natalia Reagan

Over the course of the two-year long study, researchers hope to gain a better understanding of how the animals interact with one another and with their environment, especially focusing on how the monkeys have changed their behaviors in response to deforestation of their dry forest habitat.

 Using data collected from the tracking collars and GIS maps developed by the AEP, researchers will be able to better determine where the monkeys live, what they eat, and how they travel from place to place.

Once the data has been collected, AEP and University of Maryland researchers hope to engage other key actors in the region in order to develop strategies for protecting the spider monkeys and promoting their survival as a species.

Using both land cover maps developed by the AEP and field data, researchers will also work to determine which tree species are most important in providing food and habitat for the spider monkeys. The information will be then put to use as part of the AEP’s ongoing effort to create a biological forest corridor that connects spider monkey habitats in different parts of the Azuero using tree species appropriate for the social and dietary habits of the Azuero spider monkey.

Find out more about the Bill Fagan Lab here.