Returning to Costa Rica


“Costa Rica is every nature enthusiast’s dream. From seasoned field biologists, to avid birders, university students, and animal lovers, this small Central American country draws everybody in with force. Lush rain forests, towering volcanoes covered in clouds and dense vegetation, dry forests, vast coastlines with reefs, marine turtle nesting sites and migrating whales, it is an endless fauna and flora nested between two continents, between two oceans.” - Costa Rica herpetologist, Dr. Jay Savage.

Fifteen years ago to the date, when as a second-year graduate student at the University of Missouri-Columbia, I was allowed to step away from planning my doctoral research in the cold winter/spring of 2003. An opportunity arouse for me to immerse myself for seven weeks in Costa Rica, from January to March, as part of a Tropical Ecology and Conservation course geared towards Latin American students. The course, given by the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) is a tour de force on the study of animal and plant life in the tropics. That year, students from 13 countries spent all this time together traveling to various field stations and nature preserves to learn and practice how to do science and conservation with the help of over 15 visiting professors.

Today, I am back in Costa Rica at the OTS Tropical Ecology and Conservation course as one of those visiting professors. It has come full circle for me both professionally and personally. We called that OTS course "The Watershed" and to this day, some of the students are still good friends and colleagues. Being back in Costa Rica as a guest professor at an OTS course is a new watershed moment for me and I hope it is as well for the 20 Latin American students whom I will work with for the next two weeks.

My task is to impart two modules together with together with five other professors from Latin America. In the first module, the OTS students will learn and debate on how, why, and when, to do conservation. What it entails to do conservation. What is the balance between research and policy? Education and outreach? How do you measure conservation, and how do you achieve conservation? After that, students will learn about the intricacies of obtaining funding, leveraging our interests as conservationists with those of the funders and the institutions where we work.