Helping our local turtle population – Story of a family man with a  passion

Helping our local turtle population – Story of a family man with a passion

Turtles are one of the most iconic and majestic encounters that you can have underwater. Scuba diving and seeing one is always a thrill. But like many of our amazing creatures they are under threat. Some scientists estimate that sea turtle populations have decreased by 90% over the past 100 years. 90%!!! Think about that for a moment.

sea turtle costa rica

Turtles are under threat

There are many factors that have contributed to this . Humans, as ever being the major cause of most of them. They do face natural threats like predation, but, with things like long lining, marine debris, consumption of turtle eggs and turtle meat and marine pollution, the odds of their survival are ever smaller.

One of the factors that make it hard for nesting populations to recover is the fact that only 1 in 1000 to 10,000 of sea turtle hatchlings actually get to adult hood. All these threats combine to make life very hard for them. But, we as ever want to what we can to help.

Isla Damas Turtle nesting beach

Just 1 km from our town of Quepos is the beach of Damas. On this beach, every year Olive Ridley turtles, one of the seven species of sea turtles come up and nest. They visit between the months of June and November with the hatchlings emerging from October to December time. They are on an unprotected beach and subject to poaching from the nearby community. This makes it hard on the population that comes to nest.

Milo sea turtle saviour

But, they have some help. One man, Francisco “Milo” Duran Parra has taken it upon himself to do what he can. Helping the population that is coming and nesting there over the past few years and we want to help him. He lives about 3km up the beach in a very isolated area and most nights when he can he patrols the beach. Retrieving nests that he can to place them safely in the nursery that he has then constructed. He hopes to get there before another person, out to poach the nests does, but sometimes he is not lucky. With the currently situation, we fear that more people will be out looking for the eggs to sell and eat as times are more difficult.

Once they begin to hatch, he releases them again, back into the ocean to make it on their own. By doing this, he is increasing their chances, even a small amount, which makes all the difference.

He has help from his family and a couple of neighbors, who, when able to, will assist him with his mission but this is not a regular occurrence. When the hatchlings are released many of the local community will go and see this amazing event but he never asks for anything. He loves the turtles and wants to help in whatever way he can.

How can we help?

Here at Marine Conservation Costa Rica, we love all aspects of our ocean world and want to help. This project is on our doorstep and we want to help Milo with his mission. Right now, the new season is fast approaching, he has already begun preparing and repairing the nursery for the nests as the turtles come up. But it needs help. The nests need protection from natural predators, like crabs and birds, and from other predators like curious dogs and raccoons. How do we do that? By building the nursery down at least 80cm and reinforcing it with fencing. This takes materials and man power.

sea turtle nursery Damas island

We have worked out, that to get the nursery built, that it is reinforced and well protected it will take approximately $500. This includes the materials and the labour to dig the existing perimeter down deeper to protect it from scavenging crabs. We need your help with this. We are asking for donations that we can pass to Milo and his family to help them this upcoming season. Looking to the future we will want to expand our help with this project, including volunteering with his patrols, but right now, this is the most urgent need for the project before the larger nesting population arrives.

sea turtle nursery quepos

This is just one of the small things that we can do to help Milo with his amazing mission of protecting the sea turtles and we hope it will be the start of something more that we will be able to do in the future.

If you can donate any amount to the Damas sea turtle project, please click below, enter your details, and we will see that your generosity goes to the right place.

Let’s help Milo with the turtles. Thank you!

Spotlight on Coral – Threats to Coral

Spotlight on Coral – Threats to Coral

Threats to Coral Reefs

If we are to be able to protect coral reef systems it is very important to know what kind of threats corals are dealing with right now!
We can divide these threats in three groups: abiotic threats, biological threats and anthropogenic threats. So let’s take a look…

Abiotic threats to Coral Reefs

Abiotic threats are caused by physical or chemical factors that  affect living organisms and the functioning of an ecosystem. For instance in reef systems temperature, light, pH and salinity but also things like chemical components in soil and water.
A current and widely known result of changes in physical factors is coral bleaching. Coral bleaching happens when corals lose their vibrant colors and turn white.

But there’s a lot more to it than that. Coral are bright and colorful because of microscopic algae called zooxanthellae. The zooxanthellae live within the coral in a mutually beneficial relationship, each helping the other survive. But when the ocean environment changes, particularly to an increase in temperature, the coral is put under stress and expels the algae. When the algae is expelled, the coral’s colors fade until it looks like it’s been bleached. If the temperature stays high, the coral won’t let the algae back, and the coral will die. The leading cause of coral bleaching is climate change. A warming planet means a warming ocean, and a small change in water temperature—as little as 2 degrees Fahrenheit—can cause coral to drive out algae. Coral may bleach for other reasons, like extremely low tides, pollution, too much sunlight, change in pH. 

Other abiotic threats can be the wind, weather and the waves that cause the physical damage of coral reefs. Turbidity can cause a lack of sunlight for the corals, this makes the corals unable to perform photosynthesis. Other things that may cause stress to the corals are a change in sediment levels, pressure, salinity, current, ocean depth and nutrients.

bleached coral
bleached coral costa rica

Biotic threats to Coral Reefs

Biotic threats are caused by the living components of an ecosystem, for instance the fishes, invertebrates and competing corals. They are mostly natural interactions between corals, parasites, predators, or coral disease. They can also be non natural threats, like invasive parasites, predators and coral diseases that have been introduced to a coral ecosystem.

Anthropogenic threats to Coral Reefs

Anthropogenic threats are threats caused by humans. Humans may also be indirectly responsible for many biotic and abiotic threats; like ocean warming and the introduction of non-native species in many ecosystems all round the globe.
Most coral reefs occur in shallow water near shore. As a result, they are particularly vulnerable to the effects of human activities. This is both through direct exploitation of reef resources, and through indirect impacts from adjacent human activities on land and in the coastal zone. Many of the human activities that degrade coral reefs are inextricably woven into the social, cultural, and economic fabric of regional coastal communities. 

Pollution, overfishing, destructive fishing practices such as using dynamite or cyanide, collecting live corals for the aquarium market, mining coral for building materials, and a warming climate are some of the many ways that people damage reefs all around the world every day. 

One of the most significant threats to reefs is pollution. Land-based runoff and pollutant discharges can result from dredging, coastal development, agricultural and deforestation activities, and sewage treatment plant operations. This runoff may contain sediments, nutrients, chemicals, insecticides, oil, and debris.

When some pollutants enter the water, nutrient levels can increase, promoting the rapid growth of algae and other organisms that can smother corals.

Coral reefs also are affected by leaking fuels, anti-fouling paints and coatings, and other chemicals that enter the water. Petroleum spills do not always appear to affect corals directly because the oil usually stays near the surface of the water, and much of it evaporates into the atmosphere within days. However, if an oil spill occurs while corals are spawning, the eggs and sperm can be damaged as they float near the surface before they fertilize and settle. So, in addition to compromising water quality, oil pollution can disrupt the reproductive success of corals, making them vulnerable to other types of disturbances.

Ocean acidification is mainly caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide gas in the atmosphere dissolving into the ocean. This leads to a lowering of the water’s pH, making the ocean more acidic. This in turn causes the hard limestone skeletons of coral to become weaker and in some areas the reef is crumbling away.

Many factors contribute to rising carbon dioxide levels. Currently, the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas for human industry is one of the major causes.

diseased coral

In many areas, coral reefs are destroyed when coral heads and brightly-colored reef fishes are collected. They are sold for the aquarium and jewelry trade. Careless or untrained divers can trample fragile corals, and many fishing techniques can be destructive. In blast fishing, dynamite or other heavy explosives are detonated to startle fish out of hiding places.

This practice indiscriminately kills other species and can demolish or stress corals so much that they expel their zooxanthellae. As a result, large sections of reefs can be destroyed. Cyanide fishing involves spraying or dumping cyanide onto reefs to stun and capture live fish. This can kill coral polyps and degrades the reef habitat. More than 40 countries are affected by blast fishing, and more than 15 countries have reported cyanide fishing activities.

Other damaging fishing techniques include deep water trawling. This involves dragging a fishing net along the sea bottom. There is also muro-ami netting, in which reefs are pounded with weighted bags to startle fish out of crevices. Often, fishing nets left as debris can be problematic in areas of wave disturbance. In shallow water, live corals become entangled in these nets and are torn away from their bases. In addition anchors dropped from fishing vessels onto reefs can break and destroy coral colonies.


What can we do to stop threats to coral reefs?


Without a doubt, at this time, humans are causing the most threats to coral reef systems. Coral have thrived on earth for it is thought to be over 500 million years. Humans have been around for the last 200,000 years. With industrialization and the greed in recent decades, there is a real possibility that we could wipe them out in the next 50 years.
Coral restoration projects can only do so much. We all need to make positive changes in our lifestyles to help coral reefs. If we can slow climate change, reduce C02 emissions, and choose to spend money on sustainably produced products, we might be able to make a difference!

So next time you turn off a light or walk to work, remember you are helping coral reefs!

If you would like to support our project, we accept donations through PayPal at paypal.me/Marinecostarica 

sebastiaan marine conservation intern

Sebastiaan Moesbergen joins us from the Netherlands. He is currently studying applied Biology at University and has been enrolled in our internship program since the beginning of March. As part of his internship he is assisting us with research and investigation and has been spearheading our spotlight on coral articles. Thank you Sebastian!

Spotlight on Coral – Pocillopora damicornis

Spotlight on Coral – Pocillopora damicornis

We are back with our spotlight on coral. Pocillopra damicornis is the third principal hard coral that we work with in Costa Rica. Our coral intern Sebastian has created this great article all about it.

Here are some cool coral facts about Pocillopora damicornis!

What is Pocillopora damicornis?

coral restoration costa rica

Pocillopora damicornis is a species of branching stony coral, commonly known as Cauliflower coral. The species is distinguished from other species by having thinner branches and less regular verrucae. While small, regular verrucae exist, most of the protuberances are irregular and are often not true verrucae at all but are more like incipient branches. As a result, Pocillopora damicornis exhibits greater branching than does P. verrucosa. Colonies are usually less than 30 cm tall. Reported growth rates of Pocillopora damicornis vary substantially between locations in the Eastern Tropical Pacific, from 1.27 cm per year in Colombia to 3.96 cm per year in Panama.

Pocillopora damicornis occurs at all depths between the surface and 40 m deep or more, and is particularly abundant between 5 to 20 m. It is equally abundant in lagoonal areas and clear water reef slopes. Commonly forms monospecific, densely packed stands many tens of metres across in water 5 -10 m deep.

Restoration Success with Pocillopora damicornis

coral restoration project

We started our coral restoration project with Pocillopora damicornis and Pavona gigantea. Pocillopora is a great candidate for reef restoration, as a branching coral it is easy to harvest from wild coral colonies and it is also relatively easy to micro fragment. Pocillopora has responded well in our coral nurseries with good growth rates in both table nurseries and line nurseries. This coral species has a faster growth rate than the two massive coral species, which means shorter time in the nurseries, and therefore less maintenance and costs.

Geographic Range of Pocillopora damicornis

Pocillopora damicornis has a broad range which extends from the pacific coast of the americas america all the way to East Africa and the Red Sea. in the tropical pacific and through to oceania and southeast asia. The range of this coral in panama is it even considered as one of the major reef building species.

coral restoration in costa rica

Feeding methods of Pocillopora damicornis

Cauliflower corals are a filter feeding species that catch plankton and other small organisms from the water column using their hair-like tentacles. 

Sexual Reproduction of Pocillopora damicornis

Pocillopora damicornis is a broadcast spawner with the capacity to function as a simultaneous hermaphrodite. Pocillopora damicornis, like other Pocilloporid species in the eastern Pacific, has low rates of recruitment.

Histological evidence indicates that spawning is likely to occur during a few days around the new moon. The reproductive activity in the eastern Pacific is related to local thermal regimes. This then results in a generally higher incidence of coral recruits at sites with stable, warm water conditions. Also during warming periods in areas that experience significant seasonal variation. Pocillopora damicornis is also able to spread asexual due to natural fragmentation, making this coral a good candidate for restoration efforts.

Specific Living Conditions for Pocillopora damicornis

  • temperature: 20 °C -30 °C (optimal is 26 °C )
  • salinity: 34- 38 ‰ 
  • Depth: 0-40 meter
  • Ph: 8,1- 8,4
  • DKH: 8-12
  • Habitat: occurs in all shallow water habitats from exposed reef fronts to mangrove swamps and wharf piles
  • sedimentation, Pocillopora is relatively tolerant as long as there is adequate water motion


We hope you enjoyed the article, thank you to our intern Sebastian Moesbergen for writing it.

If you are interested in joining our team at Marine Conservation Costa Rica you can contact us. We run internships, volunteer programs and research opportunities, please contact us here.

sebastiaan intern

Sebastiaan Moesbergen joins us from the Netherlands. He is currently studying applied Biology at University and has been enrolled in our internship program since the beginning of March. As part of his internship he is assisting us with research and investigation and has been spearheading our spotlight on coral articles. Thank you Sebastian!

Spotlight on Coral – Pavona gigantea

Spotlight on Coral – Pavona gigantea

We are continuing our Spotlight on Coral Series of Blog. This week we look at another or our 3 types of hard coral that we are fragmenting in our coral restoration project at Marine Conservation Costa Rica. So here’s an indepth look at Pavona gigantea…..

What is Pavona gigantea?

Pavona gigantea is known as plate coral or leaf coral. It is a common coral that grows in relatively shallow and protected areas. Pavona has a naturally occurring growth rate of between 9 and 12 mm each year and also grows large plate colonies. They have visible coralites with a width of between 3 and 6 mm. The colonies tend to have a furry appearance due to the extension of their tentacles during the day.

Restoration Success with Pavona gigantea

Fragment of Pavona
restoration of Pavona Gigantea

Pavona gigantea can be relatively easy to harvest and fragment, as it often grows in plate formation. The younger growth to the edge of a plate is often thin and can be easily harvested. The older growth is thicker and extremely dense. The Pavona has responded well to micro fragmentation in our restoration project. Pavona gigantea seems to be reasonably resilient to stress and we have had a low mortality rate.

Geographic Range of Pavona gigantea

Pavona gigantea is found in the pacific ocean, growing along the coast of middle america from Mexico to Ecuador and in the Galapagos and Cocos Islands. In the Mid- Western Pacific, it is found in reefs located in the middle of the ocean. This is around the body of water between Japan and Papua New Guinea.

Feeding methods of Pavona Gigantea

Pavona Gigantea in Costa Rica

Corals consume particulate organic matter and absorb dissolved organic matter. However, their consumption of plankton is limited to zooplankton that is in the 200- 400​ ​μm size range. They use their tentacles to obtain this food. The same as other hard corals, Pavona gigantea depends on receiving most of its energy from it’s symbiotic relationship with the Zooxanthellae. These use photosynthesis to harness energy..

Sexual Reproduction of Pavona Gigantea

Typically Pavona gigantea colonies are gonochoristic, broadcast spawners. This is that there are both male and female colonies releasing eggs into the water column. Spawning takes place at the beginning of the rainy season, normally between May and July. Interestingly, in a few studies of Pavona gigantea, hermaphroditic colonies have also been discovered! This is likely to be an example of sequential cosexuality. It is when corals can begin their reproductive life as males and then become hermaphroditic. It has been suggested that sequential cosexuality is an adaption to guarantee sexual reproduction and increase connectivity among populations.

Specific Living Conditions for Pavona gigantea

Temperature: 18 °C -29 °C
Salinity: 34- 37 parts per thousand
Depth: abundant between:0,5 -20 meters Ph: 8,1
Dissolved oxygen concentration: 4.55 mL/L

Nitrate concentration: 0.831 ​μmol/L Phosphate concentration: 0.357 μmol/L Silicate concentration: 1.776 μmol/L

We hope you learnt something. Thank you Sebastian for the great info and help with this. If you want to learn more about our project you can contact us here or apply to become a volunteer or intern here in Costa rica.

Sebastiaan intern with marine conservation costa rica

Sebastiaan Moesbergen joins us from the Netherlands. He is currently studying applied Biology at University and has been enrolled in our internship program since the beginning of March. As part of his internship he is assisting us with research and investigation and has been spearheading our spotlight on coral articles. Thank you Sebastian!

Spotlight on Coral – Porites lobata

Spotlight on Coral – Porites lobata

Intern life in Lockdown

The life of a marine conservation intern is a busy one. With current times our interns are safely back home and helping us from afar. As part of this one of our interns, Sebastian Moesbergen has been researching our coral species here in Costa Rica. Our first one here is Porites lobata.It is one of our 3 types of hard coral that we, at Marine Conservation Costa Rica, are fragmenting in our coral restoration project on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. We thought you would be interested in a more in depth look at this interesting coral…so here goes for some cool coral facts!

What is Porites lobata?

Porites Lobata Costa Rica

Porites Lobata is a common reef-building coral that can grow into very large colonies, building large coral reefs throughout its range. This species forms large hemispherical or helmet-shaped structures that can reach several meters across. For this reason, Porites lobata is also known as “Lobe Coral”. Though they appear to be very large, only the outer few millimeters represent living tissue, while the rest is a calcium carbonate skeleton. Porites Lobata structures only grow a few centimeters each year and may be hundreds of years old. Each structure is actually a colony of several genetically identical animals living together. In some areas, several colonies grow together to form a nearly continuous stretch of Porites Lobatas that may be tens of meters (or more) long.

Restoration Success with Porites Lobata

Coral restoration in Costa Rica

We were initially uncertain about using Porites lobata in our restoration project, as it is a notoriously slow growing coral. However, after success with 2 other species of hard coral, we decided that Porites was the obvious choice to expand our project. It is one of the dominant massive corals in our region, along with Pavona gigantea. We initially tested fragmenting Porites lobata on a small scale. Only micro fragmenting 40 new fragments that went into 2 nurseries as 2 different locations. Initially, there was little growth in either nursery, but after 2 months we had significant growth. After 3 months most fragments were at least doubled if not tripled in size. In the last 6 months we have expanded our Porites lobata nurseries and look forward to outplanting Porties lobata back onto our reefs in Costa Rica.


Geographic Range of Porites lobata 

Porites lobata has a huge geographic range throughout tropical and subtropical regions. Porites Lobata can be found from East Africa, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. They can be found all the way through Indonesia and Australian waters to the Pacific coasts of California and Central America.


Feeding methods of Porites lobata

Many corals can function as carnivores, using their tentacles to capture small planktonic animals drifting over the reef. Special stinging cells that line the surfaces of the polyps’ tentacles entangle and paralyze their prey. Other corals are suspension feeders. They use hair-like structures called cilia to collect particles of organic matter that drift down from above. The polyps of Porites lobata  are so small that researchers question if they are actually capable of capturing prey.

Luckily, corals also act as primary producers. Single-celled algae called zooxanthellae live within the tissues of reef-building corals in a symbiotic relationship. Using sunlight and nutrients from the water and their coral hosts, zooxanthellae generate energy-rich compounds through photosynthesis. These carbon-rich products may be particularly important in the energy budget of Porites lobata.

Sexual Reproduction of Porites lobata.

Coral restoration project costa rica

Unlike many species of corals, Porites lobata colonies are gonochoristic. This means they are either male or female, not both. They reproduce via broadcast spawning. This is where several individuals release their eggs or sperm into the water column at the same time. This method increases the likelihood that eggs become fertilized and reduces the danger from egg predators near the reef surface. Within a few days after the eggs hatch, larvae settle onto the reef surface and begin to form new colonies.


Specific Living Conditions for Porite lobata some scientific data for you…

Temperature range that the corals like is between 18 °C and 30 °C , for example, if the water temperature is higher than 30°C the coral starts bleaching). The Salinity ideal is between: 34 and 38 % and depth range between 0 and 30 meters. Ideal Ph is between 8,4 -7,7. They have an oxygen demand of 0,21 (μmol L−1 h−1) and a bacterial cell yield of  0,06 – 0,10( cells × 105 mL−1 h−1).


Want to become part of our team?

Want to join our team at Marine Conservation Costa Rica in the future to do a coral internship? Please contact us at info@marineconservationcostarica.org

Written by Sebastian Moesbergen
sebastiaan marine conservation intern

Sebastiaan Moesbergen joins us from the Netherlands. He is currently studying applied Biology at University and has been enrolled in our internship program since the beginning of March. As part of his internship he is assisting us with research and investigation and has been spearheading our spotlight on coral articles. Thank you Sebastian!

The Stay at home Blenny – 7 fascinating facts

The Stay at home Blenny – 7 fascinating facts

blenny fascinating facts

With people in lockdown all around the world we are all looking for inspiration from different avenues. As we dream of the ocean from the safety of our homes, I thought we could look towards the Blenny. A beautiful example of a stay at home fish. The Blenny is the common name of various species of extremely numerous small fishes belonging to the suborders Blennioidei (blennies) and Notothenioidei (Antarctic blennies). There are hundreds of different species of blennies around the world and they are all fascinating creatures. Here are some amazing facts about this stay at home fish that will hopefully inspire you.

1.They can be great copycats

Many blennies demonstrate mimicry of other species of fish. By mimicking other species it allows the blenny to get up close to other fish. For example, if they are mimicking a cleaner wrasse other fish pass by to let them clean. The blenny then takes nips or larger bites out of the unsuspecting fish. 

2.They like to hide out

Many blennies have a secretive lifestyle. This protects them from predation. They hide on the sea floors in shallow water. Many of them with cryptic coloration making them very hard to spot.

Blenny in Costa Rica
Photo taken by Gina Nicole

3. They can have a nasty bite

One genus of blenny is truly venomous and that is the Meiacanthus. This particular blenny can inject venom from its mandibular, hollow fangs. Their venom contains an opioid-like protein which they use to defend themselves.

4.They like a varied menu

Many blennies are detritivorous. This means that they consume dead plant and animal matter. Some blenny species are mainly herbivorous, and others are partially to completely carnivorous.

5.They can hang out on the land too

One species of blenny is called the rockskipper (Istiblennius zebra).It is a small Hawaiian blenny and is a representative of several that live along shores and can hop about on land as well as hang out in ocean.

6.They are a unique fish when it comes to feeding their young

One species of blenny, the European eelpout or viviparous blenny (Zoarces viviparus) is very unique. They are native to the English Channel and Baltic sea. They are the only fish known to suckle its offspring. This is done when each young attaches its mouth to the opening of a canal inside the mother. The canal leads to an ovarian follicle, which then dispenses fats, proteins, fluid saturated with oxygen, and other nutrients to them.

Blenny in Costa Rica - Photo taken by Gina Nicole
Photo courtesy of Gina Nicole

7.They are small but mighty

With so many different species of blennies in the world they all have varying temperaments.Some are calm and some can be aggressive. An example if the The Hawaiian Runula goslinei and the Pacific R. tapeinosoma blennies. Both of these are small but will readily attack a swimmer or diver by biting them.

6 things to reduce your ocean impact – even if you’re miles away from the blue

6 things to reduce your ocean impact – even if you’re miles away from the blue

What does it take to save an ocean?

Scientists will hand you their most scholarly answers based off of their scientific research and try to explain it in a very complex way. But, when it comes down to it, the answer is simply us collectively acknowledging our environmental impact and agreeing to change. The keyword in any environmental discussion these days is change. But how? The change takes you and it takes me. Whether you are based off the coastline or thousands of miles away from the nearest ocean, you matter.

Living in a landlocked state

Growing up in a landlocked state, conversations involving ocean depletion were not all too common. It wasn’t until I moved to a beach town that I was truly introduced to the issues concerning the health of the ocean. And really, the overall planet. Now, as a college graduate with a degree in Marine Environmental Science, I am surrounded and almost engulfed by the global issues. It makes me wonder how I didn’t know about all of this before. I recently asked those in my life that aren’t surrounded by a body of water. They don’t have lives dedicated to environmental studies, so what were their views on ocean related topics and their involvement. It blew my mind that the majority of the answers I received, were that they believed their actions did not have any effect on the ocean.

To be honest, growing up, my first thought when I got in the car or bought a single use plastic bottle wasn’t that I was affecting the ocean. It wasn’t until I was educated on human’s impacts that I realized we are all truly connected and dependent. Now that I am aware, I can’t turn back. I will educate others on the dramatic effects we as humans have on the matter and what we can do to change it no matter where we are.

Here are a few ways you can help the ocean whether you are near it or not:

Change your carbon footprint

walk to work

To reduce your ocean impact you can ride the bus or use public transportation. Why not use a bike or walk: The atmosphere is warming at an alarming rate due to our carbon footprint. The ocean collects the heat and without the ocean, we would be in huge trouble. The collected heat then causes marine life (especially coral) to suffer. Your personal decision to limit the amount of energy contributes to the overall effort to stop climate change.

Support environmental organizations or organizations that support environmental movements:

If you are not near an ocean, donations are greatly appreciated as well as purchasing environmentally safe products that support good causes. Nonprofit organizations are incredible and your contribution, no matter how big or small, matters. Financial contributions are a great way to feel involved and connected.

Coral restoration in Costa Rica

Where does your food come from?

Know where your food is coming from: check the labels and restaurants. Are they getting their seafood from a sustainable resource? Much of the ocean’s threat is a result from overfishing and fishing through unacceptable practices including long lining which ultimately kills bycatch such as sea turtles and sharks.

Plastic, plastic, plastic

Plastic after a dive againest debris

Reduce your use of plastic: Plastic and microplastic are two contributors to the destruction of our oceans and its marine life. Rivers and storm drains carry an enormous amount of trash into the ocean which ends up ingested by fish and much more. To cut back on the amount of plastic used, start carrying a recycled grocery bag to the store instead of using several plastic bags from your items. Use a reusable water bottle instead of single use plastic water bottles that come in plastic packaging. Bring your own to-go containers instead of the boxes they hand you at restaurants. Ultimately, become aware. Start noticing the amount of plastic that is so commonly used and get creative to come up with ways to reuse.

Use your voice

Vote to reduce your ocean impact: Vote on ocean related issues. You have a voice and your opinion matters. Voting and signing petitions grabs the attention of those who are able to actively do greater things for our planet. Use your power to take a stand and join the effort.

Keep yourself informed

Stay educated: You can reduce your ocean impact if you educate yourself on global and local environmental issues. The planet is connected and your local environment matters globally. Discuss these issues with friends or family and get involved. Watch documentaries and read the articles. Scientists and divers are out in the water seeing it with their own eyes and they have a lot to say. Listen. Being aware and acknowledging the issue will inspire others to get involved as well.

One of my favorite scientists and ocean explorers Dr. Sylvia Earle once said “No water, no life. No blue, no green”.

Kaitlyn Loucks – MCCR writer

What is coral bleaching? Why does it happen?

What is coral bleaching? Why does it happen?

coral bleaching
 Image credit: Wikipedia via CC license

Coral bleaching, the phenomenon, the event that has brought scientists from all around the world together to discuss a single question- what is happening to our coral? Climate change skeptics and environmental downfall contributors have no other option than to acknowledge the reality of this current mass global issue.

An event that has been trending and turning heads from all over, even reaching world news. It has made its way to fame and has quickly gotten the attention of the human race- but do you really know what coral bleaching is?

So what is coral?

Looking at coral from its outward appearance, it can be disguised as a simple being that has no other purpose than for fish to inhabit and feed on. Some even mimic a rock substance. It is only when you look within that you realize that it is not a simple being at all.

bleached coral

Coral colonies are made up of tiny, yet extraordinary polyps that resemble sea anemones. An algae called Zooxanthellae, or Zoox,  benefits the coral by living inside the polyps and photosynthesizing. This provides the necessary nutrition a coral needs to be able to be, well, coral.

Benefits of coral

Scientists are fascinated with the advantages that coral provides. In reality, these ancient and complex animals are what millions depend on for their survival. Some benefits of the reef include protection from tropical storms and waves. Also tourism, food, habitat and protection for many marine species, and even medicine. Imagine what would happen if we were to lose all of this due to the recklessness of our own generation? Well, the truth is that we already are on our way to doing so.

Our environment is sufferering

When you take a step back from the normality that our society has been convinced is sufficient and ideal, you will be shocked. As humans we have developed this hunger for more. We can’t get enough whether its money, power, food, clothes, etc. Then we are basing these needs off the idea that we will never run out, thus mass producing. It is only when we wake up from this false mentality that we can see what we are doing to our planet. The environment has been silently suffering from our carelessness for a long time. But it is finally grabbing our attention through natural disasters such coral bleaching. 

a bleached coral reef
Coral bleaching at Molokini Crater

Our carbon pollution is affecting our climate worldwide, especially our oceans. With life as fragile as coral, the rising temperature of only a few degrees can dramatically alter their ability to function. This can almost certainly lead to fatality, or otherwise known as bleaching. Car pollution, factory pollution, mining and burning of coal, and other destructive actions of man are collectively working together to kill coral reefs by stressing them out.

Like humans who react to fevers, the coral reacts to heat by expelling the zooxanthellae. The disruption of the zoox and coral relationship causes the coral to starve. This is due to the lack of nutrients obtained through photosynthesis. They then turn the color white we so famously see, giving it the name “bleaching”. Although most believe that a coral is dead once it has turned this holy white, it is actually still alive. It has the potential to recover. It is only once the tissue is extracted and rotting from the coral that it is officially too late. 

Other factors like overfishing, pollution, and sunscreen, work as a team to cause coral bleaching on our coral reefs. If we continue to go down this wasteful and harmful path, we will only increase the severity of coral bleaching. A species that has survived for centuries is now depleting in only a few years due to the intensity of our ways. It can take decades for a reef to recover and less than a decade to destroy it. If we continue our mass burning of fossil fuels and increase our carbon pollution in the atmosphere, these severe bleaching events will continue annually. Coral is vital to life on Earth and the mass bleaching events are a cry for help. It is now up to us to ensure that the coral reefs are not gone for good.

So what can you do?

A few ways to help save our reefs and our planet:

Transportation (biking, walking, bus)

Reef Safe Sunscreen

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Speak Up

Reduce Runoff in our oceans

Eat sustainably

Keep feet/fins off of the reef 

Meet team member JD

Meet team member JD

JD marine biologist costa rica

With the business of the holiday season behind us now, we here at Marine Conservation Costa Rica have hit the ground running as we dive into 2020 with plenty of plans to continue our coral restoration work. One of the biggest shifts that we have seen as we enter this new year is our overall increase in both intern and volunteer activity. Especially with the addition of our newest staff member, JD.

This “crazy coral kid” will be working with us through September and has already brought a bunch of new ideas and positive changes to our organization. We decided to sit down with JD the other day to catch up with him and learn a bit more about his background with marine science/coral conservation. 

Happy underwater with the coral

Hi JD!

“Growing up I was always obsessed with the ocean. The running joke with the family is that if a trip wasn’t close to the beach or didn’t have an aquarium that I could visit, I didn’t want to go and would make it extremely well-known. I always thought corals were cool but never really took the time to appreciate them.

In fact, it wasn’t until a travel course to Belize that focused on coral biology during my junior year of college where I actually realized how truly fascinating these tiny animals are and the numerous roles they place for both us as human beings as well as the countless marine animals we all love so much. Everyone was excited to swim with sharks, rays, and turtles while I was too busy focusing on getting up close and personal with every single polyp that called the waters of Ambergris Caye their home.

As tacky as it sounds, every time I dive and get to see healthy coral in its natural habitat I get this feeling of pure happiness, almost like I’m a kid again walking into an aquarium and falling in love with the ocean for the very first time. I really want to make sure everyone has the chance to experience that too.’’

– JD Reinbott

Q: What is your background with marine science/coral biology? 

cutting coral with marine conservation costa rica

I studied Marine Science as well as Aquaculture/Aquarium Science at the University of New England in Biddeford, ME and to be totally honest bounced around within the field itself. I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to focus on post graduation and was scared to make the wrong choice. It wasn’t until I randomly enrolled in a coral biology course with a field work trip to Belize where I quickly fell head over heels for coral and realized this is where I belong.

Shortly after the trip I became a certified diver and found myself traveling down to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve where I lived on a remote dive base for two months. During that time I collected metrics on things like coral population abundance, disease, bleaching, predation and overall reef composition.

This only furthered my passion for reef systems and made me want to learn more. Fast forward a year and I was now an intern at the Coral Restoration Foundation, the world’s largest coral restoration non-profit organization.

During my time I learned the various methods used to cultivate acroporid corals via in-situ nurseries and worked alongside the heads of both the restoration and science departments. It’s pretty cool to be able to say that I returned over 1,500 coral fragments back to the Florida Reef Tract during my time with CRF. Soon after I heard about the chance to move to Costa Rica and just like that I’m here! 

Q: What is your role with MCCR? 

I love coral

I would say that my primary role is to help Kat and Geo continue all the work that we are currently doing (growing coral, nursery maintenance, public outreach, underwater cleanups, etc). Also playing around with a bunch of new ideas to further expand our programs. With MCCR being so new, there is a lot of wiggle room within the organization itself. This subsequently means that no day is the same. Sometimes I’m on land figuring out new ways to compile all of our data and microfragging corals. Other days I’m building new nursery structures and creating new educational presentations.

When I throw on a BCD and a pair of fins it’s a bit of a different story. Water days can consist of anything from harvesting coral to installing new structures to scoping out new nursery locations. It could also be performing benthic reef surveys. If there is ever a day someone finds me without a coral frag in my hand, it’s probably a day where I’m working as an instructor with Oceans Unlimited Scuba Diving & Go Pro Costa Rica. The Pura Vida lifestyle has been a bit of an adjustment with just a few things to do but I love every moment of it. 

Q: What are you most excited about? 

Honestly just to get the chance to watch this new organization develop further and to also bring all of my previous coral restoration knowledge and experience to help with such expansion. Getting to look back at everything that we have accomplished a year from now is going to be such an amazing experience and I cannot wait to see what is to come. Also getting to dive in a new ocean and work with new species of coral sounds pretty cool too. 

Q: What is your favorite marine animal? 

For anyone who knows me, this answer is a given. 110% an octopus. They are literally the strangest creatures that I have ever seen underwater and yet also the most unique and eye-catching (that is if you are lucky enough to spot them). Every single time I see one underwater, I audibly scream out of pure joy. I will only continue to swim when my dive buddy comes over and begrudgingly drags me away (literally ask anyone who has ever gone diving with me if you don’t believe me).

scuba diving in costa rica

I would honestly just love to see what happens on a day to day basis within their lives, but also the one thing that always gets me is the fact that they HAVE EIGHT ARMS. LIKE COME ON HOW COOL IS THAT YOU COULD EAT AN ENTIRE PIZZA AT ONCE. 

Octopus Ecology program

Octopus Ecology program

octopus ecology course

What an exciting start to 2020! We are bringing out a new scuba diving program for our interns and volunteers and it is all about one of our favorite critters here on the reef. The Octopus. The program is called Octopus Ecology and with it you will learn all about them.

The octopus is one of the most interesting creatures here on the reef. The are very often considered to be one of the most intelligent creatures of all invertebrates. They have three hearts and all of their tentacles have a mind of their own. That is three quick facts that are amazing.

During the program the following themes are covered;

the morphology of Octopus and the roles of them within the ecosystem. We also look at where to find Octopus on the reef and how do Octopus behave as well as learning how they feed and reproduce.

Finally we look at their conservation status and what species we can find locally as well as how we record and observe them. This is then followed by two dives on the reef observing and recording any data we have on them.

octopus at night swimming

So, want to learn more? Then maybe you should sign up for our program. It is available as part of our Marine conservation internships and volunteer programs. It will be taught by our MCCR instructors and includes 2 dives out on the reef looking at Octopus habitats and behavior.

If you want to join us on this exciting program then contact us here.