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Field Trip 2: The Caribbean Slope

After spending a few weeks in Monteverde it was time for us to leave on our second field trip, this time we will be traveling along the Caribbean slope of Costa Rica and Panama.  

Our first places visited were the San Gerardo and the Pocosol stations; both stations are part of the Children's Eternal Rainforest.  The Children Eternal Rainforest is the biggest protected land in the Monteverde area and makes one of the biggest private reserves in Central America.  Here we mist netted for bats and birds, walk around exploring these new places and admire all the nature around us, obviously always learning about ecology and conservation.


VistaArenal(SanGerardo)After a few minutes of just arriving to the San Gerardo Station we got this magnificent view of Arenal Volcano.


Sophia&KarenwithHummingbird(SanGerardo)Karen Candia (Rhodes College) and Sophia Simon (University of Pennsylvania) enjoying one of our catches while mist netting for birds, a female Violet Sabrewing (Campylopterus hemileucurus).


Duncan Haley&Sandy(SanGerardo)PGHaley Evan (University of Colorado - Boulder), Sandy Hattan (Whitman College), and Duncan Coles (Colby College) enjoying the hike around San Gerardo Station.



Our camping site at the Pocosol Station.


Althea Steph&Gabriellawithbird(Pocosol)

Althea Pendur-Thorne (University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee), Stephanie Taylor (Bucknell University), and Gabriella Benko (Indiana University) admiring a White-throated Thrush (Turdus assimilis).


We left the Children's Eternal Rainforest and move to the Sarapiquí area on the lowlands of the Caribbean Slope, here the change in temperature and humidity was really incredible making the environment way hotter that we have been feeling in the last few days; but the nature surrounding us is still pretty amazing.

Night hikes, birdwatching, river swimming and many other fun and educative activities were our daily routine for the few days we stayed at La Selva Biologica Station and Isla Verde Station, our two destinations in the Sarapiquí area.


Toad(La Selva)

The Smooth-skinned Toad (Rhaebo haematiticus) one of the frogs spotted during our night hike at La Selva Biological Station.


Emma&Snake(Geovanny's)Emma Lungren (Whiman College) holding a Yellow Blunt-headed Tree Snake (Imantodes innornatus).


Thomas&Frog(Geovanny's)Thomas Meinen (Whitman College) found one of the jewels of the lowland rainforests of Costa Rica, the Green and Black Poison Dart Frog (Dendrobates auratus).



The Strawberry Poison-dart Frog (Oophaga pumilio) found resting during our night hike at Isla Verde.


Our first days exploring the Caribbean slope are over, but we still have another week to visit new destinations and discover the wonders of these new habitats.






From Wet Forest to Dry Forest: getting to Santa Rosa National Park

We left Corcovado behind and it is time to move on the Pacific slope going from wet to dry forest.  Our final destination is Santa Rosa National Park, located on the north part of the Pacific slope; but on our way there we are making a short stop at Carara National Park.  Carara National Park is located in the Central Pacific and is a transition between the wet forest and the dry forest; this moist forest has a mix of species that you can find in both wet and dry habitats being the limit of the distribution within the country for some of these species.  Here we spent the morning walking along the trials learning about many of the species found here.


Janie&KayleCashewtree(Carara)*Kaile Kimball (Husson University) and Janie Reavis (Arizona State University) climbing on lianas around a huge wild cashew tree (Anacardium excelsum).



The Spring 2018 group posing by the buttress of a huge tree at Carara National Park.


We arrived to Santa Rosa National Park and discover a completely different ecosystem than the ones we have visited before. A historical site and an area in regeneration that used to be mostly cattle pastures; this National Park showed us many species of animals: monkeys, birds, lizards, bats, insects, etc., and many species of plants that make this area an unique habitat for Costa Rica. 

We enjoyed hikes during the day, night hikes, lectures and activities that teach us about the importance of Conservation of Tropical habitat and how you can bring back nature to areas even after only a few years of regeneration and protection when things are done the right way.


CapuchinMonkey*(White-faced Capuchin Monkey (Cebus imitator) at Santa Rosa National Park.


Haley&Roach(SR)*Haley Evans (University of Colorado - Boulder) with a Central America Giant Cave Cockroach (Blaberus giganteus) during our night hike at Santa Rosa.


Owl(SR)*Pacific Screech-Owl (Megascops cooperi) spotted during our night hike.



Our bat expert, Richard LaVal, showing the students one of the species captured at the bat cave in Santa Rosa National Park.


Richard&bats.*jpgKaile Kimball (Husson University), Althea Pendur-Thorne (University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee), and Gaby Sarri-Tobar (Oberlin College) admiring the Short-tailed Fruit Bat (Carollia perspicillata).



Eli Nixon (Bates College) and Janie Reavis (Arizona State University) on top of a Fig tree (Ficus sp).


GroupatMirador(SR)*Spring 2018 group at the mirador in Santa Rosa National Park, with the view of some volcanoes on their back.


The first field trip is over, but now is time to meet our new home and make it to Monteverde where we will be learning more about Conservation and Tropical Biology. 



The last days at Corcovado: Hike to Llorona and Visit to Isla del Caño

Corcovado has been an amazing place to be, after spending a few days learning about the species of plants and animals found in this Wet Forest it was time for us to do a hike to Llorona beach; the reason to do this 10 km hike (one way) is to explore probably the most amazing forest you can find in Costa Rica, to get to our destination we have to hike through a pristine patch of forest, here the students do the hike at their own pace and feel and experience this old growth forest on their own particular way.

During the hike we got to see an amazing forest with really tall trees, monkeys, many species of birds, lizards, frogs, insects, fungi and lots of other interesting wildlife.



The amazing forest of Corcovado on the way to Llorona beach.


Emma Kayle&Caitlin(Llorona)Emma Lungren (Whitman College), Kaile Kimball (Husson University), and Caitlin Nordheim (University of Tampa) standing by the buttress of a big tree at Corcovado.


We got to see an amazing sunset as we were getting close to our hostel on the way back, this was probably the best way to end an incredible day in the Tropical Wet Forest.


Sunset(Llorona)Sunset view at Corcovado. 


After a wonderful day exploring a primary wet forest in Costa Rica it was time to visit Isla del Caño, this island is located 17 km away from the shore. We visited Isla del Caño to lear about island biogeography, explore the forest there and compare it with the forest we had hike the day before and also to have our first experience snorkeling in Costa Rica. Another amazing day on which we got to see many species of marine wildlife: lobster, stingray, shark, sea turtles, and many species of fish were spotted during the time we were exploring the water around the island.


MantaRaya(IslaCaño)Southern Stingray (Dasyatis americana) spotted during the snorkeling around Isla del Caño.



One of the stars during our snorkeling around Isla del Caño, a Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata).


F9LoyNR7RDWh5uPAeBsepg_thumb_7f5Gaby Sarri-Tobar posing with the Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata).


Anna&Tortuga(IsladelCaño)Anna Zizza (University of South Carolina) getting close to the Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata).


It has been an amazing journey in Corcovado, but our time here its done and it is time now to go and explore other areas of this tropical paradise.









Learning Tropical Ecology in the best classroom (Part 2 - Visit to Paradise)

After visiting the Sierpe Mangroves we move to our next destination, Corcovado National Park. After a 1 hour boat ride along the Pacific Coast we arrive to the place that was our destination for the next 6 nights, as soon as we got out of the boats we knew we were just arriving to paradise, staying right in front of the beach, with a wonderful forest right behind us, we knew the next few days in the wonderful wet forest of Costa Rica was gonna bring us many amazing species to discover and lots of knew things to learn about Tropical Ecology.

Hikes around the magnificent forest of Corcovado, night hikes, bird watching and many other different activities show us the wide arrange of species found on this area and the importance of conserving tropical forest.  

Just after a few hours of arriving to Corcovado we hear a staff member calling the whole group to come and check something, we ran a few meters to check what was happening just to discover that someone has just found a Baird's Tapir (Tapirus bairdii), the largest terrestrial animal of the Neotropics. 


Danta(Corco)Baird's Tapir (Tapirus bairdii) at Corcovado.


Caitlin kailey Sandy&Danta(Corco)Caitlin Nordheim (University of Tampa), Kaile Kimball (Husson University), and Sandy Hattan (Whitman College) amazed by the presence of the Baird's Tapir (Tapirus bairdii).


Baird's Tapir (Tapirus bairdii) feeding at Corcovado. 


Emma Kailey&Sandy with Katydid(Corco)Emma Lungren (Whitman College), Kaile Kimball (Husson University), and Sandy Hattan (Whitman College) admiring a leaf Katydid. 


Janie&Danta(Corco)Janie Reavis (Arizona State University) posing with the second Tapir (Tapirus bairdii) we saw at Corcovado, this individual was calmly eating some bananas just a few meters away from us.



The night hikes are one of the prefer activities for the group; at Corcovado we got to see frogs, insects, spiders, lizards and one species of snake.


Sophia&Snake(Corco)Sophia Simon (University of Pennsylvania) with the star of our night hike, the Brown Spotbelly snake (Coniophanes fissidens).



Learning Tropical Ecology in the best classroom (Part 1)

After spending a couple days in the city it is time to start our first field trip and learn about tropical ecology in the best way possible, visiting many different ecosystems that we could find in a tropical country with many wonders as Costa Rica has to offer.

Our first stop its at a ecosystem that people may not think about it as a tropical habitat, the Paramo, but this habitat is an important part of the highlands in the Tropics and offers a good amount of interesting species of which many of them are only found at this habitats.

To explore this ecosystem we stopped for a couple of hours at a mountain called Cerro de la Muerte at an elevation of about 3200 meters (10 500 feet) and learn about this important habitat and the particular species found here.


ViewofCerroView of Cerro de la Muerte 


GroupatCerroPart of the group learning about the Paramo, an important ecosystem found at the tropics highlands.



The highlands are important habitat for many species of plants and animals, hummingbirds are one of the important groups found at this habitat. Here a female of the Magnificent Hummingbird (Eugenes fulgens) posing for us.


After visiting the amazing Paramo it was time to move down the mountain and get to the lowlands where the warm weather was waiting for us.  At the lowlands our first stop was at a town call Sierpe in which we will be exploring another really important ecosystem, the Mangroves.  The mangroves of Sierpe is one of the biggest and most important on the Pacific side of the Neotropics.

We arrived to Sierpe at night to spend the night at a hotel and patiently wait for the morning to explore the Mangroves around the area.  The next morning we got into a boat and move along the Sierpe river exploring the mangrove habitat and all the species associated to this area, at the end of the morning we stopped at an area dominated by red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) and got the chance to walk around the prop roots of this species.


As we arrived to Sierpe we had the chance to celebrate a birthday, here Emma Lungren (Whitman College) with her birthday cake; what a great moment to get a little dessert for all of us.


ManglaresSierpeSierpe Mangroves.


Caitlin&KaylewithCrab(Sierpe)Caitlin Nordheim (University of Tampa) and Kaile Kimball (Husson University) admiring a little spider that decided to join us during our boat trip.


Haley(Manglares)Haley Evan (University of Colorado - Boulder) ready for her hike on the Red Mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) roots.


Sandy(Manglares)Sandy Hattan (Whitman College) enjoying her time at the mangroves.


Gabriella&Steph(Manglares)Gabriella Benko (Indiana University) and Steph Taylor (Bucknell University) after a little "jungle gym" at the mangrove roots.









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