Jun 06 2011
We arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica this afternoon. Costa Rica is a mountainous country located in Central America between Nicaragua and Panama. Our friendly driver delivered us safely to our first location La Selva Biological Station (www.ots.ac.cr). We dropped off our luggage, followed some leaf cutter ants, and ate dinner. We are looking forward to tomorrow morning when we will be able to see more of the station and more of the people (researchers and other educational groups) that we are sharing the station with.
More about Costa Rica …
We are quite fortunate to have this opportunity to study in the lowland jungles in Costa Rica. The biodiversity is matched by few other places in the world.
More about La Selva Biological Station …
La Selva was originally established in 1954 by Dr. Leslie Holdridge, as a farm dedicated to experimentation on mixed plantations for the improvement of natural resources management. It was purchased in 1968 by the Organization for Tropical Studies and declared a private biological reserve and station. (http://www.ots.ac.cr/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=162&Itemid=348) Our guide, Joel, shared with us today that the reserve is still plagued with banana and cocoa as invasive species. Today, 67% of the reserve is primary rainforest. Secondary rainforest has now replaced much of the land that was once used for agriculture.
Joel amazed us with his knowledge of the rainforest and his keen eye to locate animals and plants of interest. Some of the student’s favorites included Bullet Ants, Black Otter, Strangler Figs, and Wedge Billed Wood Creeper, just to name a few. I’m sure you’ll be seeing more pictures and stories on their pages.
As we hiked through the jungle with Joel, we came upon an abandoned house situated on a bend of a river. Years ago (prior to 1970), people would travel from Puerto Viejo to LaSelva by boat. Joel’s uncle lived in this house, and he was employed by OTS to transport folks.
It was a perfect location for a home and boat keeper.
Our time at La Selva included working with a research biologist named Jenny. For three years she has been studying the parenting behaviors of poison dart frogs. Our service component of the trip involved cleaning her tadpole cups. The interesting portion of this service was that we had to go off trails In order to reach the tadpole “homes”. Basically we were bushwhacking through the jungle, and I have to honestly say that it was a little unnerving for me, but students jumped right in. We emerged from the jungle unscathed, and Jenny really appreciated the help.
After three days in the low land rainforest we traveled to Earth University. Earth’s mission is to provide an educational opportunity to promote social and environmental changes to better the planet. The students come from many places in the world, especially from developing countries. The majority of students are on scholarship. There is an entrepreneurship component so that graduating students will have the skills to go back to their home countries and make a difference in their own communities. We had the opportunity to visit with Karina (CostaRica) and Aloyce (Kenya) who’s business “Karibu Company” utilizes sustainable farming techniques.
Aloyce and Karina, as well as the other students, were selected for their leadership capabilities, and their commitment to make the world better. To say that these two people were inspirational is an understatement. I know that they had an impact on all of us.
While at Earth University we had the pleasure of meeting Mario who showed us other methods of sustainable agriculture. We toured a banana processing facility and another facility that recycled banana plant waste into paper.
Things turned a little smelly as we visited an organic farm. Almost everything on this farm is recycled. Even the waste from animals is collected, and the methane gas is used for power. The students had a ball at the farm.
We all hated to leave Earth (doesn’t that sound delightful) but our schedule said it was time to move on to our next research station. And it was nine hours away. No worries, the PD gang had fun along the way, and we stayed in San Jose for the night.
The scenery of the rainforest was amazing, but could you imagine what it would look like from above the canopy. The arial tram ride we took provided us that vantage point. It was peaceful and exciting at the same time. The Broccoli Trees were grand.
We had one day of “city life” in San Jose, and then it was off to Las Cruces Research Center. Our six hour trip was unlike a typical road trip in the states. Our stop for the banos included some photo shots of crocs in a river. Our second stop was a beachside adventure since we stumbled upon a surfing competition. The sand was dark, and the waves were crashing.
The original property for the Las Cruces station was purchased by botanical enthusiasts, Robert and Catherine Wilson in 1958. The Wilsons collected plants from all over the tropics, and many visitors continue to enjoy their gardens today. I spent much of my free time enjoying the orchids and bromelias, just to name a few.
But plants are not the only thing you’ll find in garden, after all, we are in Costa Rica. While I was sitting quietly by myself, I heard a loud rustling in the tree above. It was a beautiful toucan. Even though there are over 800 species of birds found in Costa Rica, (and half of them can be found at Las Cruces) I was still surprised.
When the Wisons imported and planted the exotic plants, they probably weren’t concerned about invasive plants to the area. Can you say “kudzu”. No, it wasn’t kudzu, but rather ginger, banana, and fittonia. Our students got down and dirty (machetes in hand) and removed these plants that lined some of the trails.
We hope this Tropical Ecology course is the first of many to come, and thus we established a permanent succession monitoring plot. An 8 x 8 meter section was staked out, and the plant life of each quadrant was cataloged. This land was pasture, but with time it will hopefully be restored rainforest. PDS student will be able to collect data for years to come.
The pasture land is a result of years of a slash and burn approach to agriculture. This area in particular, saw the clearing of land to grow sun tolerant coffee. When coffee is grown among trees and other vegetation, there is less need for artificial pesticides and fertilizers. Other benefits include minimized soil erosion and improved biodiversity. We watched the video “Birdsong & Coffee” which is a documentary about agroecology and fair trade. (http://olddogdocumentaries.com/vid_bsc.html). Besides investigating the environmental impact that agriculture has had on the rainforest in this area, we also have learned more about the importance of fair trade for the farmers. Many of the area farmers have had to stop growing coffee because they cannot make it economically. The large coffee manufacturers pay pennies per pound to the farmers and reap the benefits of higher prices on the grocery shelf. There is a huge discrepancy between what the coffee manufactures make, and what they pay the farmers. We visited Roberto and Noemi, who’s farm would be described as agroforestry. They are passionate about farming and protecting the environment for future generations.
So you may ask what can we do to support farmers, like Roberto and his family, who want to protect the environment and provide the necessities for his family. Roberto belongs to a coop which includes 60 other farmers from the area who sell coffee directly to the customer. Buying “fair trade” food will provide a fair price to farmers for their crops. Buying “shade grown coffee” will support farmers who protect the rainforest and biodiversity. We visited the coop that Roberto belongs to and purchased some of the coffee.