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.

Mobile Mapping of Humpback Whales

This weekend marks the third and final weekend of the 7th Annual Festival of Whales and Dolphins. Each weekend over a thousand tourists have come to Bahia Ballena to venture out on a boat and watch these incredible creatures.


These whales arrived mid-July from their home in the Antarctic waters. Southern humpback whales number around 3,000. They migrate to the warmer waters off the coast of Costa Rica to have their calves. While they are here, the mothers teach their calves how to surface for air and how to breach, the awe-inspiring behavior that is spectacular to see.

This season, guides and captains are using their mobile devices to record the whale sightings. In the previous three years, GPS units were used. With smart phones becoming more popular, we were able to shift monitoring and data collection to mobile devices.

Screenshot 2015-09-17 16.40.00

Using Esri’s Collector App, nine guides and captains are participating in this year’s monitoring of whales from the Southern hemisphere. (Four others use GPS units on the boats). Collector enables offline data collection, meaning the data capture doesn’t use minutes to capture and collect the data, an extremely important factor. Once back on land and done for the day, guides and captains connect to a wifi location and serve up their data.

The ability to collect data with mobile devices has enabled the map to be updated on a daily basis.  Check out the work of Bahia Ballena’s guides and captains in their live map of the whale and other cetaceans.


These whales will remain here until about mid-October, when the calves are strong enough to make the journey back south.

The Pura Vida of The Pollination Project: The Impact of $1K in Costa Rica

Humpback whales from northern and southern migrations in the Pacific Ocean travel every winter to the breeding grounds near the equator. These humpback whales now have a breeding environment off the coast of Costa Rica that is less polluted than it was a year ago, before The Pollination Project seeded Bahia Ballena.

Bahia Ballena is a small coastal community with 3,000+ residents that has transitioned from a rural fishing village to one that brings in more than 20,000 tourists annually to see these magnificent creatures in their natural breeding grounds. Over the past year, residents of Bahia Ballena have been using GPS units and computers with GIS (computer mapping and analysis software), that were purchased with support from The Pollination Project, to improve the environment of their community and the habitat of the whales that call the ocean waters home for about four months every year.


This geospatial travel lab of four GPS units, rechargeable batteries and two computers has enabled Geoporter to train and educate community members to use these technologies to investigate their community. Over five months residents, including youth, categorized and mapped trash along the streets and beaches in town. After the 6 am Friday morning trash classification activities, key residents and leaders gathered to review the trash maps, created by residents, to examine concentrations of trash and identify new locations to place trash and recycling containers. By going door to door, residents collected enough money from ten companies and organizations in town to build and construct eight new trash and recycling centers with roofs to protect from the daily rains.

geoporter-laflor-basuraResidents know that placing these trash cans is not the final solution to eliminating trash in the streets and beaches and protecting the marine habitat, but rather there needs to be a behavioral shift in the people. With this in mind, residents and the resident Geoporter in town shared the GPS and GIS technologies with students in the local elementary school. Students learned how to use the technologies while also understanding their role in creating and eliminating trash in the streets. Using the trash map created from data collected by the students, the director of the school was recently informed that the school earned its first Blue Flag as part of the Bandera Azul program. Bandera Azul is a national program designed to recognize schools, communities, organizations that develop and implement environmentally friendly practices by balancing conservation, development and protection of natural resources.

With the new trash and recycling centers placed in the ground at the end of October, residents are now preparing for another high season of tourists and mapping the streets and beaches again to see if the new trash centers have made an impact in the amount of debris in the streets. With over 128 cm (50 in) of annual rainfall, it doesn’t take long for the trash in the streets to make the 2 km journey to the ocean and the winter breading grounds of humpback whales in Marino Ballena National Park. But trash isn’t the only thing residents are concerned about. ballenas-geoporter-jovino-bahiaballena-They also want to know when the whales are arriving, where they can be spotted in the ocean and the departure dates so they can help protect the whales and their habitat. Guides and captains from different Tour Companies are using these technologies to map the daily humpback whale sightings during the different migration seasons which will help them understand the whale patterns today as well to see changes in whale numbers, location, and arrival and departure dates in the future.

Without the support of The Pollination Project, Geoporter would have been without the geospatial travel lab to take to different locations to train and educate community members to apply the technologies and carry out projects themselves. The application of these technologies has earned national news recognition with two articles being published in La Nación, one of the national newspapers in Costa Rica, about residents using GPS and GIS in to map trash and monitor whales. Residents of Bahia Ballena along with Geoporter are grateful for this support and have had the opportunity to take this travel lab to other nearby communities to share ideas and help support other communities to start learning how to use GPS and GIS. With these seed funds, Geoporter applied for and recently received its 501(c)3 status in the U.S. to continue educating communities around the world to learn to use these technologies for themselves to investigate their community and make the change they wish to see in the world. Thank you for pollinating our project and helping us get started on our dream to change the world through education with GIS and GPS!

We currently have an IndieGoGo Project to help raise funds to continue this project. Won’t you help us continue to make a difference.