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.


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.  

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