Students report on research, conservation in Costa Rica

MEEKER — Ten Meeker High School students led by Dr. Robert Dorsett and Nicolle Kindall just returned from a two week adventure to the Central American country of Costa Rica. The group traveled as part of Ecology Project International, an organization dedicated to the enrichment of student minds through exposure to scientific field work, conservation efforts and local culture.
The trip began with a boat ride to the Pacuare Reserve, a nature reserve on the Caribbean coast that serves as one of the most important sea turtle nesting beaches in the world. Each night, students patrolled the beaches, in company of an international team of researcher scientists, searching for nesting sea turtles. During five nights at the reserve, the group saw 14 endangered Leatherback sea turtles and helped to relocate their nests to lessen the threat of poaching. The students also helped excavate nests after hatchlings emerged (to determine nesting success), studied coastal ecosystems, discussed the effects of conservation on local culture, cleaned trash and debris from almost one mile of beach and learned about steps the Costa Rican government is taking to preserve its land. Students produced their own research projects, investigating various aspects of leatherback nesting and recruitment.
Then the group traveled inland to visit La Suerte, a former cattle ranch that is being restored to rainforest. Students participated in a reforestation project, planting trees on former pasture to help conserve Costa Rica’s dwindling rainforest. A hike through secondary forest (forest that has been replanted) allowed the members of the trip to see many tropical creatures, including howler monkeys, poison-dart frogs, giant spiders, green macaws and an eyelash viper. Each student completed a research project on an organism from this tropical ecosystem and then presented it to the group. A primary rainforest hike (rainforest that has never experienced human development) impressed the students with its gigantic trees, hanging vines and an authentic swinging bridge. The group learned about the efforts of the Dole and Del Monte Corporations to convert La Suerte’s rainforest into a pineapple plantation and the business practices of these huge companies. Students were shocked to discover that Dole pays their workers only about $10 a day for 14 hours of work, discards 75 percent of their banana crop (citing irregularities in shape and size) and douses their ever-expanding pineapple and banana plantations with thousands of gallons of harmful pesticide.
After leaving La Suerte and its uncertain future, the group traveled to a Costa Rican technical school to present their turtle research projects, all in Spanish. Our host Costa Rican students, who had also participated in research at Pacuare, presented their projects. Then the American and Costa Rican students enjoyed a delicious lunch prepared by future chefs, in training at the school, and exchanged stories of their daily lives. The last day included a fun-filled four-hour rafting trip down 19 miles of the Pacuare River, one of the world’s premier wild rivers, where students mastered Class III and IV rapids and learned the importance of synchronized teamwork.
Many thanks to our sponsors, including The Fairfield Trust, Williams Production, EPYCS, Meeker Lions Club, Mrs. Cleo Jordan, Mrs. Audrey Dorsett and the many other individuals in our community who contributed to our various fundraising events. A thank-you dinner is planned for Aug. 14, with a slide show and other activities, and we invite all who are interested in learning more about our projects.