Thursday, September 22, 2016

Expedition Report - Costa Rica 2016

This year's CSU-LSAMP course wrapped up with a flurry of activity - during their month-long stay in Costa Rica, our students spent time doing research in the coffee-growing highlands, the village of Mastatal in the shadow of La Cangreja National Park, the Pacific coast at Playa Hermosa, the San Luis valley, and the San Gerardo Biological Station. Here is a link to the complete expedition report with pictures and student reflections -- enjoy!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Day one!

Our learning adventure in Costa Rica began with all students arriving early this morning and catching a bus across town to the hotel that we're calling home for the next few days. After introductions and some orientation sessions, we enjoyed lunch in our open- air classroom on the roof of the hotel (view out towards the city pictured above). After lunch we enjoyed (yes, enjoyed!) a statistics lesson delivered by Dr. Diana Lieberman -- getting some practice in anticipation of collecting data in many settings this coming month. In the evening we went out on the town in small groups to local restaurants -- a good start!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Costa Rica Bound!

Preparations are underway for this year's California State University Costa Rica field course! Thirteen students from different CSU campuses ranging from Sonoma to Monterey Bay to Los Angeles will be converging next week in San Jose (CR), where we'll spend several days discussing local culture, customs, and scientific issues. From there we'll head south to explore sustainability issues in the coffee highlands of TarrazĂș, and then on to the small farming village of Mastatal to do fieldwork linking forest condition to biological diversity. After that it's on to the coast, and then the cloud forests of Monteverde -- all in all, a schedule teeming with adventure and learning -- be sure to check back here for updates. Pura Vida!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Wrap-up in Mastatal, transitions

Last morning in Mastatal

We wrapped up our month-long stay in Costa Rica in a frenzy: several days of last-minute data collection, statistical analyses (lots of Bonferroni corrections to post-hoc pairwise comparisons!), final presentations, and teary goodbyes! All of the students presented the results of their research projects in the outdoor classroom at Rancho Mastatal on Friday afternoon - followed by a celebratory pizza party at Siempre Verde and some frantic packing Friday night. Then we retreated to the urban bustle of Alajuela Saturday morning before departing Sunday to various destinations in the U.S. and Latin America. This week we reconvened for class sessions to talk more about statistics and data analysis, and create research posters, which were presented by the students at the UW Tacoma Student Showcase on Friday the 13th. As the euphoria of surviving a month in the field fades and everyone transitions back to "real-life", several students are planning to return to Mastatal later this year to pursue a newly created sustainable/organic farming internship at Siempre Verde; others still are focusing on ways to incorporate sustainability techniques they learned in Mastatal to their lives back home in the Pacific Northwest.
Presentations in Mastatal

Farewell to the rainforest

Student Showcase back at UW Tacoma!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Turtles, cats, and restoration on the Osa peninsula

We're wrapping up a week-long excursion to the coast, culminating in a four - day stay at the Piro Biological Station on the Osa peninsula. Here we have had a chance to patrol beaches for turtle nests, help gather and analyze motion-sensor camera data for big cats and their prey, and hike in old growth rainforest. Tomorrow we trek back to Mastatal for our last week of the course!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Costa Rica Field Studies - Winter 2015

Ready for adventure in Alajuela

Hiking in Mastatal

Off to a good start to our month-long Neotropical field ecology course in Costa Rica! Participating in this year's course are ten students from both the Tacoma and the Seattle campuses; after several days in the highlands in the coffee-growing area of Tarrazu, we are now settled in the farming community of  Mastatal, nestled in the rainforest below La Cangreja National Park on the Pacific slope. Students are hard at work on their independent research projects - this year they include studies on frog/toad, spider, and ant diversity, water quality assays of local rivers, and the anti-microbial properties of leaf-cutting ants. We are spending a few weeks here before heading to the coast and then further south to the Osa peninsula, after which we'll spend our final week in late February here wrapping up research projects and giving presentations on results. More updates to follow!

Tour of CoopeDota coffee mill
Preparing for tree planting, Los Altos de Copey de Dota
At the "lab", Rancho Mastatal

Rancho Mastatal

Blue-crowsned motmot

Monday, November 10, 2014

A call for a more holistic approach to conservation science

Conducting our fieldwork in the Gede restoration forest this week, we learned that there are large challenges looming for conservation in the vicinity. The Kenyan government has given permission to an energy company to explore for oil & gas in the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, the main site where we have been working the past several years (and just 2km away from where we are doing fieldwork this week). This exploration will entail cutting large (4m-wide) swaths through the three different forest habitat types (Brachystegia woodland, Cynometra thicket, and Mixed forest) in order to sink drills deep into the ground - potentially disastrous for the resident wildlife, not to mention the integrity of the forest reserve. A Chinese company that has been subcontracted to conduct the exploratory drilling has decamped to a (former) corn field just adjacent to our restoration forest plots in Gede. The local newspapers summarized the situation in a a story they ran late in the week
View of BGP staging area for oil/gas exploration from our study site

This type of threat to the preservation of forest habitat and rare animals is, sadly, not uncommon - witness the ongoing challenges to conservation and indigenous rights faced in the Yasuni National Park in Ecuador. Arabuko-Sokoke Forest (ASF) is home to a critical mass of endangered/threatened birds and mammals, and, as the last remaining big patch of coastal forest in East Africa, is extremely critical to numerous conservation efforts. For the past five years I've been working with a local NGO that has amassed a ton of data on many of the endangered species in the forest; together we've worked to collect more data and publish scientific papers that try to describe the habitat needs of threatened bird species as well as the complexities of managing for a disparate array of wildlife  (including a herd of African elephants) in the confined space of a small forest reserve, among other things. But arguably a much bigger threat to conservation is the fact that ASF is also ringed by 50+ villages of Giriama (one of the nine coastal ethnic groups that comprise the Mijikenda) residents - with a total population of 100,000 or so local residents who have historically relied to varying degrees on forest products (bushmeat, wood for charcoal production & fuelwood, etc.). Reducing some of the pressure on the forest associated with such intense anthropogenic disturbances is key to conserving the Arabuko habitat and the species within, of course. And, as elsewhere in tropical biodiversity hotspots, there have been some well-meaning and effective programs established over the years aimed at providing alternative incoming generating activities for locals, including butterfly rearing and bee-keeping programs as well as a terrific environmental education scheme. But these can seem woefully inadequate in scale when put in a geopolitical context. 

     Of course, apart from the poaching concerns, there is also the ever-present issue of security in this country - as I write this, rioting youth have blocked the streets with coral and burning tires in nearby Timboni village in protest over the inaction of police in response to a killing in the streets of Watamu Saturday night. The ongoing battle with Al-Shabab in neighboring Somalia (a conflict which just marked its fourth year anniversary) and its attendant unrest also continues to threaten stability throughout the country. This ultimately leads to heightened threats to the environment: as tourism has plummeted due to security concerns, many people have been reduced to relying on dwindling forest and marine resources for survival.

The challenge for conservation science is incorporating all of these issues into cogent, practical, and effective solutions. A scientific approach to the underlying ecological issues is of course absolutely essential -- as is a fierce and passionate dedication to the conservation of biodiversity. At the same time, conservation strategies that willfully ignore the basic needs and misunderstand the culture of local people will never be effective or sustainable. Working together with local communities to solve social, economic, and environmental challenges will be the key here. Several recent articles circulating in the scientific community have argued eloquently for a more holistic, inclusive approach to conservation science - a call that extends to working to ensure an increased diversity of perspectives within the scientific community as well. This approach would be well-suited to situations such as the ones facing many communities here in coastal Kenya.
     In the meantime, here on the ground in Kilifi District, a number of local community groups along with concerned NGOs presented the governor with a petition protesting the oil & gas exploration plan a few days ago. Let's hope this diverse array of voices will be heard, and more rationale attitudes prevail -- we already face enough challenges!