The first ever CIRENAS summer program was a huge success! Our group of students enjoyed a three week journey, traveling through a number of Costa Rica’s ecological regions, engaging with communities and learning about Costa Rican wildlife and conservation. The group started out in the Rincon de la Vieja area where they studied different models of ecotourism and their impacts on communities and the environment. Evening discussions flushed out some interesting debates surrounding the role of the consumer and the difference between being a tourist and a traveler. Activities included, horseback tours, scientific research presentations, hikes, farm tours and finally a trip to the caves of Bara Honda where the group descended into huge limestone caverns riveted with spectacular formations.
After 4 days in the volcanic north, the group arrived at CIRENAS campus, where they were met by a greeting party of new companions, including visiting instructors Arin Trook and Liessa from the Yosemite Institute in California (along with her son, eminent fishing guru Kosma). The newest members of the CIRENAS family were welcome additions- they set a thoughtful tone for group meetings with group-building exercises like “angel cards,” and their morning yoga lessons were enthusiastically attended. During their time on campus, the group transplanted dozens of trees for the nursery, did a beach clean-up and rescued one of the campus chickens from the jaws of a boa constrictor (only to eat it for dinner that night).
The group headed to San Miguel to focus on the marine conservation component of the course. Located 20 km up the coast from campus, San Miguel is a small fishing community that hosts a project site for the Costa Rican nonprofit PRETOMA, the Project for Sea Turtle and Shark Conservation. The organization conducts research and protects sea turtle nests from poachers by finding and relocating the nests to hatcheries (grids of sand with designated spaces for transplanted nests, protected by plastic netting). PRETOMA is preparing a new site in Costa de Oro, and the CIRENAS crew volunteered with them for five days, helping to build the new site’s hatchery by day, and patrolling the beach for nesting turtles by night.
The group then made their way to the town of Quebradas de Nando, just in time for the national holiday celebrating the annexation of Guanacaste province! The students were able to participate in a celebration and “Guanacasteco” cultural activities held by the students of the town’s elementary school- students practiced their lasso skills on a wooden calf, tried to climb a greased flagpole, and learned some popular bombas, Guanacaste folk poems. The students also passed on the new knowledge they gained at PRETOMA, giving a presentation at the elementary school about sea turtle biology and conservation.
The final stop of the course was Cuerici Biological Station in the Cerro de la Muerte area. This private protected area spans the misty, wet, high-altitude cloud forest and the Paramo, a unique “tropical tundra” ecosystem above the treeline. The students capped off their experience with hiking and a pond-to-table dinner of rainbow trout caught from the station’s sustainable fish farm. Finally, the group drove back to San Jose from Cerro de la Muerte on the Pan-American highway, past wind farms and alongside pilgrims from all across the southern reaches of the country, plodding through the rain towards the Cathedral of Cartago to celebrate the Dia de la Virgen.