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.

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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.

A look at our year in 2014

We’ve closed the doors on 2014. Where has it gone? Geoporter has been busy in Bahía Ballena and beyond! Funds and support from our 2013 Indigogo campaign, from providing community-based geospatial education experiences to 230 students from 16 different groups, and from a new from a collaboration with the Woods Institute at Stanford University provided us with a little under $15,000 to help us achieve the following in 2014:

TaniaLuzGeoporter Assistants:  We provided stipends for two local community members to assist the Geoporter Director, allowing Amy to focus on tasks to grow and expand Geoporter. These two Assistants, Luz Badilla and Tania Calderon, have been working approximately ten hours per week since June. They are a wonderful asset to Geoporter, spearheading the day-to-day operations of the “Clean Streets, Clean Waters” and the “Participatory Whale Monitoring” projects. They are also helping with outreach to the community, while stepping into leadership roles and becoming Geoporter instructors at community-based trainings.

LuzJovino-RanchoQuemado3 New Communities:  We expanded the geographic area where we work to include three communities in the Osa Peninsula: Rancho Quemado, El Progreso and Bahía Drake. Two workshops, totaling three days, focused on implementing GIS and GPS to monitor community resources and identify community boundaries. The Geoporter Director and three local Geoporter community members conducted the workshops in each community during the slower tourism months from September to November. This work was conducted as part of the Osa and Golfito Initiative (INOGO) and the Caminos de Liderazgo Project, under the supervision of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. In 2015, we look to continue this collaboration and work with two additional communities conducting similar workshops.

Cheves-Reymer-Guias-Training-GeoporterNew Guides and Captains:  We trained seven additional boat tour guides to use GPS and participate in the mapping of humpback whales, their offspring, and other cetaceans throughout an additional two seasons. Previous captains and guides assisted training these new guides. Boat tours to see the migration of humpback whales and their offspring is the primary economic driver of Bahia Ballena and geospatial technologies is helping this tourism sector to better understand develop sustainable tourism practices to keep from stressing the whales.

“Clean Streets, Clean Waters”:  The community transitioned from data collection and mapping of trash in the first part of the year to taking action and applying these actions to make a change in the amount of trash in the streets and beaches.

  • Villia-Dario-Sticker-NoTiroBasura-GeoporterWe developed a silent “Yo No Tiro Basura” sticker campaign with community members who mapped trash. Using a local printing company, 4,100 stickers were created with funds donated from thirteen local businesses and organizations. This campaign raised the level of awareness to making a commitment to not throw trash in the streets.
  • Community members created a video using local photographs to highlight the beauty of Bahía Ballena and how it is affected by the trash that is left behind. This video was showcased in front of 5,000 tourists during the 6th Annual Festival of Whales and Dolphins in September.

Ninos-GPS-Basura-GeoporterSchools and Youth: We advanced teachers’ and youths’ understanding and use of GPS and GIS by working with Escuela Verde and Escuela La Flor de Bahía Ballena and the after school program of Forjando Alas.

Joseph-Margarita-T3G-GeoporterTeacher to T3G Institute: We supported Margarita Morales, the Director and a teacher at Escuela Verde to apply and attend the T3G Institute on the Esri campus in Redlands, CA. Alongside other educators from around the world, she learned the skills and pedagogy to incorporate GIS into her classroom as well as prepare her to conduct outreach to other educators in her school and in the region.

Jovino-Luz-Fiona-Quebradas-GeoporterVolunteers and Quebradas:  We learned from and engaged with another volunteer, Fiona Lewis from Australia, for two months in late spring. She worked with students at Escuela Verde, helped create necessary organizational documents, supported training, and worked with Geoporter assistants, Luz and Tania. She also supported the implementation of a new community project, mapping the quebradas (or creeks) in town for emergency purposes and to identify point sources of pollution.

Traveler’s Philanthropy Program:  We established a long term funding opportunity with Bodhi Surf, one of the local tourism companies in the region. Geoporter was selected as one of three local organizations to receive funds from Bodhi Surf’s Traveler’s Philanthropy program. Previous guests are given the opportunity to donate pre-established funds to Geoporter or contribute more, if they choose to do so. We hope this will be a continuous source of funding for 2015.

In looking back over this past year we managed to do much with the resources we had. We are committed to continue the work we have started in the southern Pacific region of Costa Rica and expanding our efforts. We are looking forward to the exciting things to come in 2015 with Geoporter. You continued support and interest in Geoporter helps us continue to grow, allowing us to make a difference in the live and communities in which we work.

Thank you!   Pura Vida!   Gracias

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.