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This blog serves all CIEE Monteverde programs:  Tropical Ecology and Conservation, Summer Tropical Ecology and Conservation, and CIEE's program on Sustainability and the Environment.

 To filter content for each program, please select the appropriate category on the right.

Enjoy.  These blogs are designed to showcase how we learn and what you will do as a CIEE student in Monteverde, Costa Rica.  The CIEE Difference is clear:  we learn by doing and in amazing places. Join us!


Spring 2018 Tropical Ecology & Conservation program has started

The Tropical Ecology & Conservation Spring 2018 cohort has arrive to Costa Rica. Eighteen enthusiastic students arrive to San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, eager to learn about biology, ecology, and conservation and also admire all the beauties that this amazing country offers.

Before heading to our field trip the students have 2 days to explore the city; during these days they get in contact with the locals, learn about urbanization and Costa Rican culture, and have the first contact with biology with a review about flowers and fruits.

The first morning in San Jose, the students get an assignment in which they get a picture of a tropical fruit and with this, they go to the Central Market and learn about the name, seasonality, and uses of fruits that are really common in Costa Rica and they will be in constant contact during the whole time they will be in the country.


1Sophia Simon (University of Pennsylvania) gathering information about her tropical fruit from a Costa Rican fruit seller.


5Janie Reavis (Arizona State University) choosing the perfect Star Fruit, the fruit assigned to her.


After exploring the Central Market of San Jose and getting in contact with some of the locals, the students start learning about flowers and fruits, they had a lecture about flower morphology and the variations found within tropical flowers, to a better learning and understanding of the topic they got to dissect some flowers to get first hand and view in all these different parts.


2Emma Lungren (Whitman College) dissecting a Lily flower and learning about all the whorls and parts that form this flower.



Eli Nixon (Bates College) and Thomas Meinzen (Whitman College) with many different flower parts separated.


And of course the students got to share all the information they learned about the fruits at the market, and there is no better way to learn about tropical fruits than getting to try most of these delicious fruits found on this region.



A good variety of Tropical fruits for the students to give it a try.


3Steph Taylor (Bucknell University) tasting some of the new "weird" tropical fruits.


7Mallory Barbier (University of Tennessee - Chattanooga) and Althea Pendur-Thorne (University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee) cutting some fruits and getting them ready to be tasted.


After an exciting day learning about culture and biology no better way to finish than having our first dinner as a group at a Typical Costa Rican food restaurant in which the students go to try most of the unique dishes with fresh ingredients produced in Costa Rica.



The Spring 2018 Tropical Ecology & Conservation group at the entrance of a Costa Rican Typical food restaurant.


After exploring San Jose for a couple of days the students are ready to go and explore the different ecosystems of Costa Rica and the many natural wonders they have to offer.  First stop of the field trip: the Mangroves of Sierpe and the forest of Corcovado National Park.








Advancing sustainable coffee production practices at LIFE farm in Monteverde, by Mackenzie Agosta (Arizona State University, School of Sustainability)

This past October I was an intern at LIFE farm in Monteverde, Costa Rica. LIFE is a family owned coffee farm that strives to produce environmentally friendly coffee. They are unique from other coffee farms because they make their own organic compost on site from coffee skins and animal waste. Some of their goals include using less synthetic fertilizer for coffee production in order to reduce costs and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as utilizing their organic compost as fertilizer for the coffee plots.

On LIFE farm in Monteverde

In order to meet these goals I created an updated map of the farm; a database that consisted of physical characteristics and management history of all thirty-eight coffee plots; and a protocol for an experimental design to test the effectiveness of organic fertilizer as a replacement for synthetic fertilizer.

I started by first recording data collected from interviews I conducted on the farm in English and Spanish. This data includes the farm’s land use history, physical characteristics of the plots, and varying management practices. Using this data, I then organized it into a database the farm could use as a template for future management strategies. I also created an updated version of the farm’s map for a better visual representation of the farm layout, as well as for educational purposes for farm visitors. Using the updated map and database, I then created a protocol describing an experimental design the farm could use in order to test whether the addition of organic compost could compensate for the reduction of synthetic fertilizer. I presented this protocol to the owners of the farm and they are planning on conducting the experiment on four coffee plots this upcoming March, when the next coffee season begins.

I am currently a third-year student working towards a Bachelor of Science Degree in Sustainability, so this internship with LIFE gave me the opportunity to put my knowledge on this subject and background in science to the test.

All of these skills were newly acquired; including developing my Spanish skills, knowledge on the coffee production process, creating a database in Excel, statistical data analysis, and designing an experiment.

My biggest contribution to the farm was first the database, because previously the farm didn’t have any written documentation on how the farm was managed. This database can be used on LIFE and other farms as a more systematic way of managing coffee plots and for guidance on future management strategies.

My next big contribution was the protocol for experimental design. This achieves their goal of utilizing their use of organic compost, as well as reducing the use of synthetic fertilizer and therefore reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. No matter what the results show, the experiment will give LIFE insight on how to better manage their organic compost and coffee plots. LIFE’s results can also be a model and inspiration to other coffee farms as a way to produce more sustainable coffee.

Working on LIFE farm provided me with substantial hands-on knowledge and guidance on how coffee is produced and all the challenges associated with it. People around the world enjoy coffee every morning and normally don’t think twice about where it comes from, how it was grown, or its impacts on the environment. It was extremely rewarding being behind the scenes and potentially contributing to the added environmental deliciousness of your next sip of coffee.

Mack is congratulated by LIFE Farm manager
Mackenzie with coffee guru César Santamaría of LIFE Farm



For the past month I have been working with CORCLIMA on their carbon sinks inventory. CORCLIMA, also known as The Monteverde Commission for Resilience to Climate Change, is a network of leaders that encourages broad public participation, with representatives from public institutions, private organizations and community members. Their goals are to align and unite efforts in the Monteverde region to reduce carbon emissions, increase carbon sequestration, and adapt to climate change. The ultimate goal is to make Monteverde the first carbon negative region in the country.

 Carbon negativity occurs when the amount of carbon absorbed through the forests is more than the amount that is emitted from the region. CORCLIMA has already been working on the emissions inventory and my work was based on starting with the carbon sink inventory. The were several main goals that I needed to accomplish, but the most important one was coming up with the questions that would be in the interview. This was very important because before starting to make tree plots that will calculate the amount of carbon captured, we have to interview the landowners to gather general information about their property, which will later be determined by CORCLIMA as to whether or not it is an appropriate property to put one of the plots. After making the interview, I was able to visit six properties and interview the landowners. Through this I was able to see the effectiveness of the questions and clear up any issues that were found.

Many landowners had questions about the plots that might be put on their property, so I was thankfully able to make one of the plots myself on my professor’s property, plotting the coordinates of all the trees and measuring their diameters. This was an extremely valuable experience that I could look back on and explain the process to the landowners that I interviewed. During the interview process it was made clear that the landowners would like to receive some sort of recognition for participating in the project and with this new information I made a template for a certificate of participation that will be awarded to the participating landowners once the plots are established. At the end of the internship I provided CORCLIMA with the interview, six completed interview with landowners, summaries of each interview, a certificate of participation, and a draft email to be sent to landowners before visiting them. The tree plot that I made was more of an exercise for me to see how it will be done and so I could explain the sizing etc to the landowners.

I feel like my greatest contribution was making the interview, because it is a tool that CORCLIMA will continue to use throughout their work on the carbon sink inventory. For me personally, I found it very valuable to learn how to make an interview, making sure all questions are relevant to the purpose and that they are clear so that people understand them. I chose to work with CORCLIMA in this project because I am very passionate about climate change and educating the public the issue. I had never previously worked on anything like this, so everything that I produced for CORCLIMA was something new that I learned throughout my time working in the internship.

Marce  Hector  Catie
Catie Strickland learns from Hector Castaneda and Marcela Morales about the techniques used to quantify carbon emissions


The focus of my internship was promoting environmental education through working with the Monteverde Conservation League in the Bajo del Tigre reserve, which is one of their protected areas. My initial focus within the reserve was set to be in the Casita de los Niños (Children’s Room), where my supervisor and I brainstormed over the course of a few days our shared visions of what the room would look like.

Sophie prepares an interactive exhibit
Sophie prepares an interactive educational exhibit

I am extremely passionate about environmental and outdoor education, especially with children. There is a huge disconnect between nature and people, but it is this generation’s children who are not experiencing the outdoors fully. Fewer children are spending time outdoors, even though there is countless research that has shown just how cleansing and beneficial being in nature is. This past year I have focused much of my time trying to interpret and solve this disconnect, as well as determine how nature is cleansing to me personally. 

This passion of mine has also helped direct the kind of route I want to take in the future, and interning with this organization has given me a wonderful example of something I see myself being heavily involved in. I want to find a job either with kids or young adults, and help spread awareness about what it means to not only experience nature, but truly appreciate it as well for what it is. I am currently a trip leader at my University (University of Redlands, in Redlands, CA), so pairing outdoor leadership with the environmental education component that I gained from this internship has been extremely rewarding and motivating.

I have learned how to better adapt to big changes in a project. Once I have a plan or vision, I work hard until the job is finished. However, due to the storm that hit during the first half of the internship timeline, my responsibilities shifted and I had to quickly change my focus while still maintaining a positive outlook for the next weeks. While changing original goals and intentions was an honest challenge for me, I came out of this internship with a better sense of how to combat frustrations in all stages of a project.  

Sophie with plant and helping jose
Jose (of the Monteverde Conservation League) teaches Sophie how to use power tools (left) and she learns about plant-animal interactions in the tropics, as part of her internship


I chose to work with native plant landscaping because there is a need to re-establish native vegetation in the landscaping around a local business as a means of creating a more resilient environment. The particular focus of my work is to remedy the damage caused to the trails around Art House following Tropical Storm Nate. Art House experienced extensive flood damage, partially caused by unsustainable landscaping methods, such as the replacement of native plants with invasive ornamental plants which lessens the resiliency of the area. I have prior experience working with native plants as means for sustainable landscaping in flood control. Previously, I had worked to restore the riparian zone along Nancy Creek at Marist School in Atlanta Georgia. Similar to this internship, that restoration project involved removing invasive vegetation and replacing it with native vegetation that would improve flood control. For this reason, I took a particular interest in this internship.

Grace Gaskin and Felipe Negrini working togetherGrace, with mentor Felipe Negrini, preparing the stepping stone tiles for the hardscaping at Casa de Arte

The main focus of this internship is to use sustainable landscaping in order to improve the quality of the environment of the trails in front of Art House. This includes the removal of invasive ornamental plants and replacing them with native vegetation which will not only be more resilient in the face of events such as flooding from storms, but will also preserve biodiversity as well as add an aesthetic component to the area which will hopefully lead to an increased interest in the trails, as well as Art House. Following the storm and the resulting flooding, the property of Art House had aextensive issues that could not all be handled by the owner. This internship is benefitting not only the environment, but also the local community by helping this local business fix some of these damages.

After initially analyzing the property, I determined that the biggest impact could be made by improving the entrance to the trails that lead up to the Art House gallery. The immediate entrance from the main road was flooded and had large amounts of mud and debris which had been deposited when the river swelled. As of October 18, 2017, I have removed the debris and level the soil which had made the entrance difficult to pass through. I also have removed large groups of invasive plants which did not provide any soil stabilization along the creek, a factor that contributed to the large amount of flooding in the entrance. In addition to removing the mud and these plants, I have created 10 cement stepping stones decorated with recycled glass and tiles collected from various places in Monteverde. These will be placed strategically in the entrance as a means of minimizing the collection of mud and allowing for easier passage. The invasive plants which I removed will be replaced with native species that will provide soil stabilization with the long-term goal of offering a higher degree of protection from flooding. Finally, I have been constructing a bench from recycled wood, which will be placed at the entrance, with the goal of attracting more people into the area. Overall, my biggest contribution so far has been the progress of removing the problematic invasive vegetation which had contributed to the flooding and therefore decreased resiliency of the landscape. Through this internship, I have broadened my knowledge of the different techniques of sustainable landscaping, such as how the removal of the invasive plants and replacement with native plants will create a much more resilient environment in the face of increasing dramatic climatic events from climate change. 

Grace Gaskin INSH products
A selection of selection of stepping stone tiles created for Casa de Arte as part of the CIEE Internship Program


Grace drilling
Grace makes a bench for the Casa de Arte




This past October I interned under Justin Welch, in Monteverde, Costa Rica, to help with his startup company Vision to Reality Consultants (VTR). My internship specifically focused on determining the feasibility of producing biodiesel in Monteverde and determining the best preparation methods and uses for Effective Microorganism mixes. Over the next year, VTR seeks to experiment with different collection and composting techniques in order to lay the groundwork for a large-scale composting operation run by the Monteverde Municipal District. Dani Ufheil with barrels

When I arrived in Monteverde, I was already pursuing my undergraduate degree in Biological Systems Engineering at Iowa State University, but I was unsure about what area of focus I wanted to follow. During my first month in Costa Rica, I learned about an abundance of environmental issues, but one problem that stuck with me was the challenges encompassing waste management. Growing up in the United States, I had always done my best to recycle but was ignorant about the current management practices and problems that waste management posed. It wasn’t until I visited La Carpio, the location of San Jose’s landfill, that I was truly exposed to the issues of waste management and understood that improvements to the system were a necessity.

I knew I wanted to intern under Justin because of the excellent opportunity it provided me to learn more about the components of the waste stream produced by humans, as well as the different options for waste management. As the internship progressed, I was enlightened by what I learned about all the different forms of waste humans generate and enthralled by the enormous potential for improvement within the waste management system. My experience in this internship has inspired within me a passion for developing improvements in the waste management system and has helped me decide to pursue a focus in Biorenewable Resources within my degree when I return to Iowa State next semester.     

I began this internship with very limited knowledge about the different forms of waste and how they are managed, and I couldn’t even begin to comprehend the complex connectivity of Justin’s waste management plan for the Monteverde Municipality. I gained valuable knowledge and research skills when investigating the process and components that go into making biodiesel. I was required to investigate biodiesel from not only a technical basis, but also a business point of view in order to assess the feasibility of biodiesel production.  I conducted interviews to practice communicating in Spanish and to learn about the different components of the organic waste stream produced by local businesses. I had to consider the different management techniques of the organic waste stream that could be used to simultaneously minimize environmental impacts, improve productivity within Justin’s business and enhance overall waste management practices within the municipality. Overall, my greatest contribution to this internship was the information I accumulated for VTR that helped clarify the goals and capabilities of the company, and my greatest accomplishment was obtaining the knowledge that helped clarify my personal future goals.

Dani shoveling and a barrel that is ready
Dani prepares an effective microorganism mixture (left) and a finished barrel, ready for effective microorganism mixture production (right).




Celebrating the Independence of Costa Rica

On Friday September 15th Costa Rica celebrated 196 years of Independent life.  In a country with no army and a great education system this holiday means a big celebration for people of all ages.  

Every single town in the country has a traditional parade with school kids demonstrating their patriotism and their artistic skills in front of the communities where people leave their houses to be part of this important celebration. The parade is full of music, color, tradition and happiness and our Tropical Ecology & Conservation Fall 2017 students wanted to be  part of this cultural experience.


IMG_3397School kids marching with Costa Rican flags, one of the most common scenes during the parade.


IMG_3370Many different schools have their own bands playing music during the parade.


IMG_3381From left to right: Stevie Lennartson (Occidental College), Rachel Blood (Oregon State University), Anika Lindsey (Oberlin College), Raquel Peterson (Whitman College), Lexie Codd (Seattle University), and Cait Barnes (Belmont University) enjoying the parade.


IMG_3386Lots of color in the traditional Costa Rican vestment from the Independence period.


IMG_3389Even the little kids enjoy being part of the traditional parade.


IMG_3391Nick Siebert (Saint John Fisher College) amazed by the Costa Rican Independence parade.


IMG_3400High school students dressed with clothing from different provinces and used for different social activities during the 1820's.



Nora Lazerus (University of Colorado - Boulder), and Maddie Tilyou (University of Pennsylvania) joining the parade and dancing with the traditional Costa Rican mascaradas. 







The end of the journey

The Tropical Ecology & Conservation Summer 2017 program has come to a end.  For 2 months the students experienced the life of a Tropical biologist exploring the different ecosystems of Costa Rica.

For 16 days of those 2 months, the students lived in homestay with Costa Rican families while working on their independent research project, during this time the students have the opportunity to practice their Spanish with their new families and get immerse with a new culture, for some of the students this is one of the highlihgts of the program.  As a farewell CPI, the Spanish language center, organize a picnic with the students and all the families that hosted them during this time, and the students give a presentation in Spanish in which they put their best effort in showing all the cultural and language learning they got during their time in Costa Rica.


IMG_3492Drew Rosso (University of Notre Dame) with his homestay mom Virginia Trejos and his tico sisters.


IMG_3495Amanda Ogden (Utah State University) enjoying some final time with Yadira Loría her homestay mom for two weeks.


IMG_3497Christine Bradley (California Polytechnic State University) posing for the last memory with her mom Miriam and brother Andrey from the Ortega Salas family.


The last days at the Biological Station has been focused on putting all the information gather from the independent research into a written format; but also as a good practice for future professionals the students have to prepare an oral presentation about the findings of the research they conducted for a little over two weeks; during this symposium the students have to opportunity to show to the staff, their classmates and the general public the really interesting scientific findings about the different topics studied in Monteverde.



IMG_3512Derek Frank (University of Minnesota-Twin Cities) talking about the spiders webs found in bromeliads and how they act as keystone species for the communities of invertebrates found there.


IMG_3523Talking about a really interesting topic on fire resistance in different species of Cloud Forest trees here it is Vikram Norton from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.


IMG_3530Jimmy Webb (University of Arkansas) explaining his results about the anti-bacterial properties of some medicinal plants used by locals in the Monteverde Community.


It has been an amazing journey for the students and staff of the Summer 2017 Tropical Ecology & Conservation program and hopefully all the learning lessons and the whole experience will stay with the students for a really long time and will be apply to their professional careers and life.  It is time for the students to go back home, but on the way back to San José we have a last short trip to Arenal to enjoy the beauty of the volcano and enjoy some time at the hot springs.


UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3b0Sarah Aitken (University of Pennsylvania) enjoying the view of Arenal volcano.


Student's Projects, Independent Research in Tropical Ecology (Part 3)

The Independent Research is coming to an end, and the students are finishing their data collection and coming to great conclusions with the data they are finding.


Christine Bradley from the California Polytechnic State University is studying the Owl butterfly (Caligo spp) and its oviposition preference and caterpillar survival on native and invasive host plants in the Order Zingiberales. Some families in the Zingiberales order are introduced, like the banana family or Musaceae, and some other families like Heliconiaceae and Maranthaceae are native.  Christine studied the oviposition preference, number of eggs found per plant, and instar sizes of two different species of Owl butterflies Caligo memnon and C. illioneus on six species of plants in the Zingiberales order, 5 species of native plants (4 in the Heliconiaceae family and 1 in the Maranthaceae) and 1 especies, Musa acumminata in the introduced family Musaceae.


Image1Christine Bradley (California Polytechnic State University) checking one of the Heliconia plants looking for eggs or caterpillars of the Owl butterfly (Caligo spp).


Image2Christine marking one of the Owl Butterflies (Caligo spp).


Drew Rosso from the University of Notre Dame looked at the function of drip tips on Cloud Forest plant leaves.  Drip tips are pointy projections found in lots of different leaves in the tropics, these drip tips help the leaves with their water shedding capacity to keep the surface of the leaves clean and dry; most of the studies in the tropics about drip tips function has shown some important capacity on shedding rain water but none of them have show the importance of drip tips draining water from mist in cloud forest species.  For this reason Drew choose seven different species of leaves with drip tips and one without and placed them in aquaria with artificial misters to simulate the cloud forest mist and determine if the drip tips had an effect on the reduction of water on the leaf surface.


IMG_3102Drew's set up of the leaves receiving mist from an artificial mister.


IMG_3100Picture of the inside of one of Drew's experimental aquariums, different drip tip types on the leaves and the erlenmeyer below them to collecting the water drained after the mist exposure.


IMG_3115Drew Rosso (University of Notre Dame) measuring the water collected from one of the leaves with drip tips after the mist exposure.




Student's Projects, Independent Research in Tropical Ecology (Part 2)

The research keeps going on and our students continue gathering really interesting data for the different topics they are all exploring.


Vikram Norton from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst is studying the fire resistance of Cloud Forest Trees. Vikram found that in temperate and lowland tropical forest different characteristics of trees bark will  give them different resistance to fire and as the climate is changing globally forest fires are becoming more common; forest fires are not common in Tropical Cloud Forests, but as the temperatures are increasing and these forests are becoming drier this may becoming a problem in the future, hence his interest on this topic. Vikram choose 10 different common species of trees in the Monteverde area and collected a small piece of bark from 3 individuals of each species, for each bark sample he measured the density, thickness and weight (dry  and wet); and once the samples were completely dry after spending 48 hours in a food dehydrator the fire trials began, he put the samples over a direct flame and measure the time it take the sample to reach 60 degrees Celsius and the time it takes to set up on fire.


IMG_3079Vikram Norton (University of Massachusetts-Amherst) getting his bark samples ready to measure the wet and dry weight.


UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3afSome of the 30 different bark samples, from 10 different species, Vikram is examining during his independent research project.


IMG_3126Vikram Norton (University of Massachusetts-Amherst) doing his burning experiments, here measuring the temperature of one of his bark samples.


Sarah Aitken from the University of Pennsylvania is looking at the predation and dispersion of seeds by Agoutis (Dasyprocta punctata). To see this Sarah is using peanuts as seeds and she is using different treatments with animal dung;  to observe if seeds that have go throughout the digestive system of an animal and expelled out in the dung have a higher chance of survive the predation of a seedeater Sarah is setting up in the field 10 stations with 10 seeds (peanuts) as control and 10 stations with 10 seeds cover with different kinds of animal dung: pig, horse, and cows and measure the number of seeds taken by agoutis or any other animals.  Sarah also wants to see if seeds that are placed in an area with traces of a big predator will deter these seed predators or dispersers to come close to them, for this she is using seed stations with cat pee and seed stations with nothing on them as controls. 

IMG_3094Sarah Aitken (University of Pennsylvania) setting up her seed stations on the field.


IMG_3087Sarah Aitken (University of Pennsylvania) ready to cover one of her seed stations with horse dung.


PoopSeed stations cover with A) horse dung and B) cow dung.


IMG_3470Main predator of Sarah's seeds, the agouti (Dasyprocta punctata).