Extending Geoporter’s reach: A volunteer’s view

Geoporter recently expanded their work to the town of Piedras Blancas, Costa Rica. As a new Geoporter volunteer, this was an incredible opportunity for me to be part of the work Geoporter does. 

During my second week interning for Geoporter in Bahia Ballena we drove to the small community of Piedras Blancas to conduct a workshop.


For the past three years Geoporter has based their projects in Bahia Ballena. However, their plan is to expand their work world-wide, and a first step is the expansion to Piedras Blancas.

Since this was my first workshop I was as interested in the material as in the participants from Piedras Blancas. The workshop was conducted in Spanish, so at times I had trouble following the presentation and questions, but it was also a great opportunity for me to practice my Spanish.


Amy taught us the basics of GPS and GIS, and then the group enthusiastically began to map. Through different types of activities the participants learned what they could do with a GPS unit and how latitude and longitude locations work with a GPS. Afterwards Amy demonstrated an interactive map and how it can be used to make informed decisions on global and local issues. The group wanted to learn more and so requested a follow-up workshop a few weeks later.

In Bahia Ballena time goes by quickly and it seemed like before I could blink it was already time for our second trip to Piedras Blancas. This time on the drive down I recognized places and landmarks from our previous trip, so the hour drive flew by. One objective for this workshop was to teach the participants how to create their own map using the online mapping tool, ArcGIS Online.


By this time I had created some maps on my own and knew how to work with the program. So I was an active participant, but it was funny for me to try listen and speak in Spanish instead of English. The participants from Piedras Blancas were very interested in learning.  The group was tasked with brainstorming different projects that could use GPS maps and these were some ideas:

  • Investigating contaminated waters in the high density housing development
  • Reforesting areas of the community to bring back wildlife
  • Mapping out areas of concentration of trash to demonstrate the need for curb-side trash pickup in the district of Piedras Blandas
  • Exploring sustainable agricultural practices

Another workshop will be held the middle of May. I’m working on my Spanish so I can join the conversation even more. I’m also looking forward to the drive because Costa Rica is such a beautiful country and the coast road offers amazing views.


Mobile data collection to understand tourists during Whale Festival

Humpback whales are magnificent creatures. In the rural coastal community of Bahia Ballena, Costa Rica, humpback whales from both the northern and southern migrations visit to have their offspring and teach them how to swim.

Each September since 2008, the community of Bahia Ballena has organized the Festival of Whales and Dolphins to celebrate these magnificent creatures. Each year, the Festival has increased in size. This year more than 5,000 tourists, over the course of three weekends, took boat tours out into the oceans for a chance to see these animals surfacing, and at times jumping out of the water.

With the Festival growing in size and more people becoming aware of the event, Festival organizers wanted to understand where tourists were visiting from and if it was their first festival. Organizers already do community-to-community marketing with flyers and interviews on the national news programs.

Survey123 for ArcGIS on Mobile Phones

Survey123_WhaleFestival_2015During the 7th Annual Festival of Whales and Dolphins in September of 2015, a small group of four high school students worked with Geoporter to map where tourists came from using Survey123 for ArcGIS. A simple survey was created in both Spanish and English to inquire where people came from, how many were in the group, if it was their first time at the Festival.


Where Did Festival Tourists Come From?

A total of 292 surveys were conducted over 6 days. These surveys captured the location of 1,615 individuals.

  • Of 1,650 people, 1,549 (96%) were from Costa Rica
  • 66 (4%) were from one of 7 countries

Festiva2015_CountryBreakoutOf the 1,549 visitors from Costa Rica, they came from 81 different cantons, and 7 different provinces.


  • The following Cantons had more than 50 people attend the festival of the course of the three weekends:


A final report (English and Spanish) was submitted to the Organizers of the Festival for use for planning and marketing for 2016. Those who used Survey123 are developing other ideas to gather data that will help them better understand their community.

Ten things I learned volunterning with Geoporter…

Last year Lucy visited Bahia Ballena to get involved with Geoporter. She shares what she learned in her time with us.

  1. Costa Rica is one of the most incredible countries in the world. Don’t believe me? Browse Geoporter’s flickr for just a few moments to appreciate the incredible diversity of plant and animal life, the friendly and open nature of Ticos and Tica’s alike, and the awe inspiring weather, from rainstorms to breath-taking sunsets.


  1. Kids are fun! An afternoon geocaching with the young people that attend Forjando Alas youth group was amazing. Their enthusiasm to learn more about GPS technology and their energy to apply their knowledge RIGHT AWAY is infectious! Plus, it’s smiles all round when they answer the quiz questions you came up with correctly! 1498025_916501508433644_2134112300767272216_o
  1. We all have more to teach each other than we realise. Skills you might take for granted in yourself can be seen as incredibly valuable by another. Turns out, knowing how Facebook works and its little quirks is actually pretty handy to Geoporter and the growing businesses of Bahia Ballena.
  1. A GPS isn’t a compass (or an iPhone on map mode!). Note to self – spinning gets you nowhere!
  1. No matter where you are in the world, rubbish is still a sad reality of life. It has the potential to ruin paradise unless we take action. Luckily, Geoporter and the folks of Bahia Ballena are on the case.


  1. Learning a new language is HARD. But learning it is fun, especially when you get words mixed up! And when you finally start to get there – it’s so rewarding!
  1. Language is never a barrier to friendship. I will be eternally grateful to Flor for taking me into her home for a month, and to the (seemingly never ending!) stream of her family members who became my friends and helped me feel welcome in Bahia Ballena.


  1. GIS can generate more questions than answers! Geoporter has been on an incredible journey, mapping the trash of Bahia Ballena. Brilliant actions have been taken as a result of these maps, and the community continue to educate themselves about their waste. But, studying the maps always leaves new questions to be answered – what happens to the trash once it leaves the community? Are we sending the right type of trash to be recycled? Asking questions is vital to educate ourselves about the impact we have on the world around us, and Geoporter continues to do that.
  1. Water is an incredibly precious resource. We all know this of course, but living for a month in a community that’s developing rapidly and is working with Geoporter to map its water sources brought home just how vital it is that this resource is secured for all in the future.
  1. Sea levels are rising. Whilst millions of us already know this, coming face to face with the reality of rising tides in Bahia Ballena was shocking. Trees are being eaten up at an alarming rate, leaving beaches and wildlife without protection. Thankfully, Geoporter and the community of Bahia Ballena are taking steps to mitigate this, but the question still stands – will we still have coastal rainforests in ten years time?


Dale un Sábado Cada Mes a Tu Comunidad: Sábados de Surf y Servicio

Sabados_Surf y Servicio espanol

Dale un sábado a nuestra comunidad para que sea un lugar mejor. A partir de ahora hasta agosto de 2016, únase a al programa Sábados de Surf y Servicio en PNMB para hacer servicio comunitario. Para aquellos que participan en la actividad de servicio, se ofrecerán clases de surf, centrándose en la juventud. También tendremos fútbol en la playa o simplemente disfrutar de la playa con otros participantes. Las actividades de servicios varían por mes, pero el servicio se enfocará en el mantenimiento de los árboles sembrados en el parque como parte del proyecto Semilla de Ballena, haciendo limpiezas de playas, y ayudando a proteger nuestras costas.

Todos están bienvenidos a unirse!! Si usted desea colaborar mensualmente y convertirse en un amigo de esta Iniciativa de Sábados de Surf y Servicio por favor escribir al correo de AmyWork – amy (at) geoporter.net

Apreciamos mucho la generosidad de nuestros colaboradores y esperemos su participación.

Los últimos colaboradores:

Artifice;  Asociación de Guías;  Bahia Ballena Tours;  Ballena Info Center;  Bodhi Surf;  Costa Rica Cultural Tours;  Cristal Ballena;  CuidArte;  Cuna del Angel;  Flutterby House;  Hotel Vista Ballena;  Kura Design Villas;  Licorera don Isreal;  P.N.M.B.

Surf and Service Saturdays

Give a Saturday to your community to make it a better place. From now through August, join us for Surf and Service Saturday’s in PNMB to do community service. For those who participate in the service activity, surf lessons will be offered, focusing on the youth. We will also have soccer on the beach or just enjoy the beach with other participants. The service activities will vary by month, but the focus will be on maintaining trees planted in the park as part of the Semilla de Ballena project, doing beach cleanups, and helping to protect our coastline.

All are welcome to join. If you are a business and wish to become a monthly supporter of this Surf and Service Saturday Initiative please write Amy Work – amy (at) geoporter.net.

We appreciate the generosity of past collaborators and look forward to your participation.

Past collaborators:

Artifice;  Asociación de Guías;  Bahia Ballena Tours;  Ballena Info Center;  Bodhi Surf;  Costa Rica Cultural Tours;  Cristal Ballena;  CuidArte;  Cuna del Angel;  Flutterby House;  Hotel Vista Ballena;  Kura Design Villas;  Licorera don Isreal;  P.N.M.B.



DÓNDE / WHERE:  PNMB – Entrada Playa Chaman  / Marino Ballena National Park – Playa Chaman Entrance

ENFOQUE DE SERVICIO / SERVICE FOCUS:  6 de febrero – Celebración del Día Mundial de los Humedales  / World Wetlands Day

FECHAS / DATES:  Primer sábado de cada mes / First Saturday of every month

  • 6 de febrero (este sábado)
  • 5 de marzo
  • 2 de abril
  • 7 de mayo
  • 4 de junio
  • 2 de julio
  • 6 de agosto

Desechos y Reciclaje en Costa Ballena || Trash and Recycling in Costa Ballena

One group's recyclable materials, December 2015. Photo Credit: Melissa Rejeb

One group’s recyclable materials, December 2015. Photo Credit: Melissa Rejeb

¿A dónde va basura de Costa Ballena? ¿Puedo reciclar?

El Proyecto Calles Limpias, Aguas Limpias de Geoporter, ha estado mapeando la basura en las calles y  las playas desde el año 2012. Con esta información, las acciones han sido tomadas por varios negocios y organizaciones comunitarias para prevenir la basura entren en nuestras calles y en última instancia nuestros océanos.

Queríamos saber más sobre de dónde nuestra basura va y lo que ocurre con los materiales reciclables cuando son mezclados con la basura. Compartimos aquí lo que hemos aprendido de nuestro reciente viaje a la Municipalidad de Osa y el relleno sanitario, donde nuestra basura semanal va. Nosotros le enviaremos información actualizada en un futuro próximo.

Al final, le toca a nosotros para asumir la responsabilidad de los residuos que generamos. Podemos tomar medidas para reducir, reutilizar y reciclar.

Where does Costa Ballena Trash Go?  Can I Recycle?

Geoporter’s Clean Streets, Clean Waters Project has been mapping street and beach trash since 2012. With this information, actions have been taken by various community businesses and organizations to prevent trash from entering our streets and ultimately our oceans.We wanted to know more about where our garbage goes and what happens to recyclables when they are mixed in with trash. We share here what we learned from our recent trip to the Municipality of Osa and the landfill where our weekly garbage goes. We will send updated information in the near future.

In the end, it’s up to us to take responsibility for the waste we generate. We can take steps to reduce, reuse and recycle.

¿A dónde va mi basura?
El vertedero está justo al sur del puente en Palmar Norte. En 2016, hay planes para abrir una nueva relleno sanitario en la propiedad. Este nuevo centro estará cubierto y permitirá a la protección de los trabajadores contra el sol y lluvia.

¿Puedo reciclar?
Sí. Actualmente hay 3 familias que han recibido el permiso de la Municipalidad para separar los materiales reciclables de la basura, todos los días cuando la basura llega al sitio.

¿Debo separar mis materiales reciclables desde mi basura?
No es necesario. En el próximo año cuando el nuevo centro de recepción se ha abierto, Sí.

¿Por qué esperar hasta que este centro ha abierto? Debido a que las familias van a trabajar juntos cuando se abre el nuevo relleno sanitario. Actualmente trabajan para sí mismos, de recibir el pago de lo que recogen.

¿Qué se recicla?
Las botellas de vidrio, botellas de plástico y latas de aluminio se reciclan. El Municipio no tiene actualmente la capacidad de reciclar papel o cartón

Where does my trash go?
The landfill is just south of the bridge in Palmar Norte. In 2016, there are plans to open a new receiving station on the property. This new center will be covered and will enable the workers protection from the sun and rain.Can I recycle?
Yes. Currently there are 3 families that have received permission from the Municipality to separate recyclable materials from the trash, daily when the trash arrives on site.

Should I separate my recyclables from my trash?
It is not necessary. In the coming year when the new receiving center has opened, Yes.

Why wait until this center has opened? Because the families will be working together when the new center opens. Currently they work for themselves, receiving payment from what they collect.

What is recycled?
Glass bottles, plastic bottles and aluminum cans are currently recycled. The Municipality does not currently have the capacity to recycle paper or cardboard.

More details here    ||    Más detalles aquí

Where does Costa Ballena Trash End Up? Can I Recycle?

As part of our Clean Streets, Clean Waters Project, we wanted to find out more about where our garbage in Costa Ballena goes and what happens to recyclables if they are thrown out with the trash. We took a trip to the Municipality of Osa before the 2015 holidays to meet with Yanitza Rojas and to the landfill where our weekly garbage ends up.

As we prepare for 2016, we want to share with you a few things we learned so that you can keep this in mind as we continue to try and keep our streets clean and oceans free of debris. Because in the end, it’s up to us to take responsibility for the waste we generate.

Landfill south of Palmar Norte, December 2015

Landfill south of Palmar Norte, December 2015, Photo Credit: Melissa Rejeb

Where does my trash go?

Trash picked up weekly from the Municipality of Osa is taken to a landfill that has been in operation for 34 years. The landfill is just south of the bridge in Palmar Norte. In 2016, there are plans to open a new receiving station on the property. This new center will be covered and will enable the workers protection from the sun.

Can I recycle?

Yes. Currently 3 groups, or families totaling 25 people, have received permission from the Municipality of Osa to separate recyclable materials from the trash, daily when the trash arrives on site. These families receive payment from selling the recycled goods back to the companies of Florida Bebidas and VICESA. Each bottle has a price and that price varies by the color or the material.

Should I separate my recyclables from my trash?

Currently No, but in the near future, Yes. In the current situation, each of the three families works for themselves. What they pull as recyclables is what they are sell. In 2016 when the new receiving station is opened, the three families will work together to sell the recyclable materials they pull from the garbage. Thus, in the future, they will work together and split the profits accordingly.

The current leader for all three families has stated that in the future, to have recycled materials separated from trash will be beneficial and will improve their productivity. To do so now, would mean that families will continue to keep bags of recycled materials to themselves. These bags may not see the landfill because they will have been set aside for their family to collect the profit.

In the coming months we expect to hear from Yanitza that the new Receiving Station has been opened and that separation of materials will be beneficial to the workers at the landfill. Until this point, if you do separate, keep in mind that it will help only certain families and continue to promote competition. We are working with Yanitza to develop a solution to help residents label or identify what materials are recyclable and what is general trash such as placing recyclable materials in green or transparent bags. Or something such as a label on the bag.

What materials are recycled?

Glass bottles, plastic bottles and aluminum cans are currently recycled. The Municipality does not currently have the capacity to recycle paper or cardboard. Paper and cardboard cannot get wet, and the Municipality does not have a storage location that will prevent paper and cardboard from getting wet before it is shipped off to another part of Costa Rica to be recycled.

With permission from the Municipality, workers separate recyclables from trash, December 2015. Photo Credit: Melissa Rejeb

With permission from the Municipality, workers separate recyclables from trash, December 2015. Photo Credit: Melissa Rejeb

One group's recyclable materials, December 2015. Photo Credit: Melissa Rejeb

One group’s recyclable materials, December 2015. Photo Credit: Melissa Rejeb

New Receiving Station for landfill to open in 2016. Photo Credit: Amy Work

New Receiving Station for landfill to open in 2016. Photo Credit: Amy Work


See more photos on Flickr.


Reforestation of 1,000 trees in the month of October

 Where have all the birds gone? The sloths? What about the trees on the beach? Not to mention the beach? Semilla de Ballenas is a new project this year for Geoporter to reforest our town. We want to protect our beaches from erosion as it is already happening. We want to bring wildlife back to our town by providing suitable habitats and food for animals who used to call our town home but who have been forced out due to deforestation and development. We want to provide shade for people in town as they walk the streets or watch a soccer game.


What started as an idea among a few individuals has been embraced by the people, businesses and organizations of Bahia-Uvita. Manual from La Cusinga is our local reforestation expert who helped identify seeds from local and native trees to collect from April to June.


At the time of collection, the seeds were planted by Artifice in a yard to see which ones would germinate. The seeds that germinated were transplanted into tetra-pak (juice and milk containers), coffee bags, and ice bags filled with soil to provide the nutrients and support as the seedling transformed into trees. From more than one thousand seeds collected from five species, 500 seeds from three species germinated into seedlings and then into trees ready to be planted. The three species are Manglillo (Aspidosperma cruentum), Sota Caballo (Pithecelobium longifolium) and Cedro Maria (Calophyllum brasiliense).


From June to September of this year and under the guidance of Bodhi Surf and Costa Rica Cultural Tours, volunteers from student and adult travel groups from Global Leadership Adventures and Discovery Corp built a nursery to protect the seedlings as they grew into trees. The nursery was built on land donated soley for the purpose of the reforestation project. The plan for the nursery is to provide long-term protection for future seeds to germinate. These groups also helped to identify and map potential locations for areas suitable for planting trees based on a number of criteria.


The month of October here in Bahia-Uvita is a month that can be slow for many residents due to the downturn in tourism in what is the rainiest month of the year. However, fewer tourists also means more time for locals to spend vacationing or doing other work in the community. Thus as a collective group, we decided to use the month of October to plant the 1,000 trees that we had acquired (500 from seedlings we collected and 500 small trees donated by the electric company).


Over the course of three Saturdays (October 31st being our last event), we managed to reforest 850 trees and using GPS and GIS, map the locations of these trees. An estimated 100 people have participated in helping to reforest various areas of the community. Working with the Park Rangers at Marino Ballena National Park, we planted almost 600 trees along the beaches. Trees were also planted along the stream bed of a recently dredged creek bed.

Through the coordination of Licorera don Isreal, both local BM supermarkets donated food for the snacks. Other local tour companies, tourist information centers, and private businesses have donated beverages, fruits, other resources and time. One local hotel, Kura Design Villas sent eight of its employees down from the mountain to help plant trees. Another local hostel, Flutterby House, also sent its volunteers to help out. Other hotels and businesses such as Bahia Ballena Tours, Bahia Aventuras, Ballena Info CenterCuna del Angel, and Cristal Ballena also donated person hours and snacks. Three local wood shops donated scrap wood for signs and stakes to help protect trees from cars. 


What started with a small idea and a desire to reforest the beaches, streams, and mountains of Uvita has turned into a community-wide project. As we care for these trees over the next five years, and continue to plant more, only time will tell if our efforts will revitalize lost habitat, protect our precious beaches from coastal erosion, and provide shade for people walking the dirt streets in town.


As more residents and volunteers participate in the project, we hope that Semilla de Ballena will continue to grow for future generations through the trees planted and maintained over the years, as well as new trees that drop seeds to expand our reforestation efforts.


200 people in 7 months

Since March of 2015, over 15 different groups, primarily from the United States, have visited Bahía and learned about Geoporter and how GIS and GPS are being used by the community. Some groups had the ability to participate in longer projects, but in total, 200 unique individuals, both students and adults, have participated in Geoporter projects since last spring.


These groups come from a variety of different sources. They include groups from Bodhi Surf, Global Leadership Adventures, Best Adventures Travel, Holbrook Travel and most recently, Discover Corps. This year we also had three university groups; Johnson State College, the University of Alabama and the University of Georgia.


  • Global Leadership Adventures (GLA) is for high-school-aged youth from countries around the world. They spend 14 days here in the community in the program Protecting the Pacific. The five summer 2015 groups mapped trash along the beaches and helped identify locations to plant trees as part of the Semilla de Ballena Reforestation Project. They also spent many hours helping to build the Vivero, or nursery that will house next year’s seedlings and trees. This is the third year working with GLA.
  • Discover Corps is an adult and family-oriented program in association with The National Peace Corps Association. This year Geoporter worked with six different groups ranging in size from a single family to 19 individuals. These groups participated primarily in the Clean Streets, Clean Waters program and continued our awareness campaigns to keep the community clean and trash free.


The three university groups had different focuses:

  • Johnson State College, Vermont – Received a presentation and saw the projects in action while they visited and participated in various community projects.
  • University of Georgia, One Health through Bodhi Surf – heard how GIS is being used to help investigate some health concerns in town such as contaminated waters. They also saw in action the Participatory Whale Monitoring project during their boat tour.
  • University of Alabama, Spatial Ecology and Conservation Lab – helped examine the relationship between the trash data collected and the location of household trash containers on the streets of Bahía.


These groups have helped to explore community projects in greater detail. Many have also taken what they’ve learned about how to apply GPS and GIS back to their own communities or projects. Geoporter looks forward to continuing to work with these groups and new ones in the coming months. If you are interested in bringing a group down, contact us and we can help you arrange a trip.  

Volunterns from around the world spend months with Geoporter

The impact a volunteer provides to an organization is difficult to measure. It is not the number of hours worked, but rather the values shared and lessons learned from both the organization and the volunteer that are so important. Geoporter has been extremely fortunate to collaborate with some incredible volunteers.

Since our inception, Geoporter has had three official interns, or what we call volunterns. The position is volunteer based but also designed similar to an internship. In addition to the three volunterns, a few Bodhi Surf interns spent some time assisting us as well. The work of these individuals has helped contribute to the success of Geoporter. We would not be where we are without the support of these individuals.

Maggy Wenzlau, from Stanford University, was our first volunteer. She helped create and examine the Clean Streets, Clean Waters data. Fiona Lewis came from Australia during her “gap” year and was so committed to the project that she returned for a second visit! Fiona helped train community members on social media and also gathered information and documentation for future volunteers. Christian Gehrke was our most recent volunteer. He spent time in July and August collecting aerial imagery of Bahia Ballena using a drone on loan from Ohio Wesleyan University.  


From Bodhi Surf, Ruben Minnema, from Holland, helped Geoporter pull together our first year-in-review report. Melissa Rejeb, from Brussels, helped capture some amazing photographs of various Geoporter events, and Erin Robinson, from Deloitte and Touche, helped us create budgets for future years.

Each of these individuals has moved on to other opportunities, but their impact on Geoporter endures. We look forward to the arrival of Lucy Bell-Reeves from London in mid November to assist with our marketing efforts.  

Changes in attitudes changes in latitude

What started as a student-led project to clean up the local soccer field and school grounds has led to a community wide effort in Bahia Ballena to keep the city clean. Local efforts have made a huge difference in managing trash, and in turn, helping to protect the waters of adjacent Marino Ballena National Park.


Weekly cleanups that mapped collected trash, led to local businesses organizing resources to construct mini trash and recycling centers around town. Discussions with the local municipality have led to an agreement for the municipality to pick up the trash from these eight new trash/recycling containers in town. Local businesses still retain the responsibility for placing bags in the containers to ensure an easy pickup for the municipality.


While Anita and I were visiting Bahia Ballena in September, we encountered U.S. tourists Laurie and Bob who were participating in community projects through Discover Corps during the 7th Annual Festival of Whales and Dolphins. We first met them picking up an empty soda bottle to recycle when they recognized Amy. When asked how they were enjoying the Festival, they replied how different the community was to that of the community across the river where they had visited earlier in the week. In that community, they had purchased ice cream from the store and searched extensively just to throw away the wrapper. They remarked how clean the Bahia Ballena soccer field was earlier that day where they played a makeshift softball game and how the houses and shops leading to the park were brightly colored and the trash centers were brightly painted. “I would love to come down and volunteer more in this community” remarked Laurie to which her husband replied, “It is great to spend my vacation in a place that is excited and appreciative to work on their community spaces!”. We couldn’t agree more!

Geoporter seeks to catalyze change here and our neighboring communities!

~ Roger Palmer