Lessons from the field: Costa Rica

I'm nearing the end of my masters' program. Its' been a reflective 2.5 years. Often times during this program, I have changed my outlook and views on conservation. My past field experiences have led me to be inspired, have allowed to me question practices, and often times lead me to want to do more. Each field experience has been a present neatly packaged, waiting for me to unwrap its lessons. Sometimes I don't realize the lessons until after I have been home for a few months. Costa Rica has been no different. I have wanted to go to Costa Rica for sometime to experience and take photographs. However for this field experience I left my camera equipment at home. I did my best with an IPhone.


Yorkin Village

Our first stop was Yorkin Village to stay a few days with the Bri Bri people. This ecotourism experience started with a brave woman who wanted to preserve her culture. She took big risks and with a lot of hard work, she is making it work and helping many Bri Bri people maintain their roots and not leaving their homes to find work. What struck me the most about the village was their high regard for nature. Living off the land, they treated the Earth like a precious gift. They did not separate themselves from nature, but instead a part of it. Life is simple but I got the impression that it was very sacred. The very short time that I spent there made me wonder how our own world might be different if people didn't feel above nature, but a part of it. Even though Yorkin village seems far from civilization, they are not immune to the changing world or technology encroachment. While I visited I was able to chat about how technology is influencing the Bri Bri people. In many ways technology is helping the Bri Bri people run their ecotourism business more efficiently, but in other ways it is a distraction that they are struggling with.


Medicinal Walk

Estacion Las Tortugas

After our brief stay with the Bri Bri people, we headed to Estacion Las Tortugas. Estacion Las Tortugas was founded in 2000 by Stanley Rodriguez. This turtle station was created to help save and protect Leatherback Turtles on the Mondonguillo Beach. I was most interested in this part of our trip as I have done significant research on turtles before and during this graduate program. A smooth running and organized operation, we had the opportunity to participate in night patrols. We were lucky enough to see a Leatherback Sea Turtle come up to nest on our first night of patrol. It was a surreal experience, being around an animal that big. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity and definitely will forever be a touchstone experience for me. In all three of my field experiences there have been a number of touchstone experiences, and they have deepened my love for nature, and my commitment to teach others about conservation. I can only define this experience and the others I have as religious experiences that allow me to feel connected to nature. I also realize the importance and value of these experiences and think as an elementary school teacher, it is something that I need to make sure happens for many of the students I teach. I need them to feel that connection to nature so that they will feel a desire to save it. While at the turtle station, we were lucky enough to meet Stanley Rodriguez. To hear him tell us that running a turtle station provides little or no financial means, but he feels very rich was so inspiring. This is a definite lesson that I need to take back to my students, feeling rich with experience. Another important lesson I took back from the turtle station was the delicate balance that conservation must play a role. The leatherback sea turtles are poached on these beaches, in fact poaching is probably the greatest risk to them in Costa Rica. However the poachers also need to live and turtle eggs provide a steady source of income for their family. It made me realize that while I wanted to dislike the poachers, I felt compassion for them as well. As conservationists we need to strike that balance to make sure human needs are met while educating others on protecting the environment and all species that live in it.



Leatherback Hatchlings making their way to the ocean.

Monteverde Biological Reserve

Our last stop was the Monteverde Cloud Forest. The reserve was established in 1972. There were many lessons I learned along the way about the Cloud Forest including its dynamic ecology and the biodiversity it holds. The biodiversity in this dense forest seems very much like a secret. You know its there, you can hear it and sometimes you see it. However the forest is so dense, I had expected in my head to be teeming with wildlife. It is but it is so very well hidden. I get the impression that we would have had to stay there many weeks living in the forest to see some of the magical wonders that exist. The biodiversity of the cloud forest is threatened these days as it deals with climate change. The clouds and moisture that provide a rich ecosystem is dissipating with a warmer climate. There are so many lessons to take back from the Monteverde Biological Reserve, but the one that I will focus on with my students is climate change. What was nice to see while I was there was the amount of people that were visiting the biological reserve. Some fellow students and I did an inquiry about who visits and I even saw people take a cab to see this magnificent wonder. As conservationists we sometimes get caught up in the doom and gloom of things, but this was so encouraging to see. Of all the places that we visited, this was my favorite. The beauty of the forest was breathtaking.



At the end of these field experiences I want to go home. Mostly because my clothes are icky! However I have not visited a place yet that I don't want to go back to. Costa Rica is no exception. What impressed me was that the whole country felt dedicated in small ways to conservation and it was a very green eco-friendly country. I feel like portions of the United States have a lot to learn from this country.


Resources

Estacion Las Tortugas. (n.d) Retrieved from http://www.estacionlastortugas.org/.

Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve. (2019). Retrieved from https://cloudforestmonteverde.com/.


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© April 2019 by  Becky Lewis - Capture It Photographs