During winter quarter of 2015 a group of nine of my peers and I had the opportunity to study neotropical ecology, and different practices for living sustainably in the rainforest of Costa Rica.
Each student had the chance to create and implement a research project of their choice. They ranged from studying ants, to testing water quality of rivers, and studying the effects of leaf litter. Two weeks of the trip were spent focusing on these projects, broadening our understanding of these topics. All of this took place while living on a farm in Mastatal, Costa Rica called Finca Siempre Verde (Farm Always Green).
This farm was founded by Marcos Guzman as a way to teach others techniques and ideas for living sustainably. Guzman is in charge of the farm and gives tours to educational groups who stay at Siempre Verde, and travels with them around Costa Rica. He also volunteers as a guide and caretaker in La Cangreja National Park, which neighbors Mastatal. He welcomes school groups and volunteers to visit his farm and shows them how to live responsibly by creating sustainable buildings or by practicing organic farming. Examples of sustainable practices include: composting toilets that create a fertilizer which saves money, and a lot of water. Since these toilets do not require pipes and do not use water, there is no need to worry about maintenance, and gravity does all of the work for you by carrying needed water to the showers and sinks. They also keep livestock for fresh milk, eggs, and meat. Not only is fresh and local food good for health, but it saves the cost and gas it would have originally taken to get the food to consumers.
This lifestyle does not stop at Siempre Verde. Within the small town of Mastatal, there are three other farms that welcome volunteers from around the world called Villas Mastatal, Rancho Mastatal, and La Iguana chocolates. Each farm participates in organic farming as well as the conservation of local La Cangreja National Park. By planting trees around Mastatal and near the park, they are creating more habitat for different species, which will in turn create more biodiversity. With the four farms creating this environmentally friendly area, it benefits the surrounding forest.
Research projects, similar to the ones created by the students on this trip, collect information that shows how humans impact biodiversity. Professor John “Buck” Banks has been leading student research in Mastatal since 2003. It is an exciting place to research, due to its isolation and the lack of exploration done there in the past. It is a new terrain with mysteries for environmentalists and students to discover. Students from UW Seattle test river health, and UWT students research the biodiversity of the area to see how humans impact it. There are already plans and projects in place to continue with these studies.
With continuing efforts toward a better understanding of this area of Costa Rica, future students will be better able to make informed research proposals and questions based on what they know to be available there. The implemented research will also inform the community of how their actions change the environment. With this knowledge they will know what they need to do to be more sustainable, and how they can live a happier, healthier life and inspire others, like the students participating in study abroad program, to share the knowledge they have attained.