An Afternoon at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

Many travelers visit Costa Rica with dreams of experiencing and capturing the country’s incredible environmental heritage: spotting a resplendent quetzal, hearing the distinct call of the bellbird, observing a strangler fig growth that has completely taken over its host tree, leaving behind hollow ribs of its own.

These singular experiences form just stitches in the country’s environmental tapestry. Costa Rica accounts for only 0.03 percent of the earth’s surface, but it boasts nearly 6 percent of its biodiversity. The Children’s Eternal Rainforest, one of Monteverde’s private reserves, contains seven distinct life zones in its 23,000 hectares. Travelers with minds for science and sustainability flock to Costa Rica for good reason; here they can see flora and fauna that can’t be found anywhere else.

This past Sunday, UGA Costa Rica’s team of naturalists and interns visited the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve to experience a bit of this biodiversity, enjoying a few hours of hiking, climbing to the continental divide and identifying birds and plants with every step. We’re grateful to live in a country that values environmental conservation, puts these ideals to work with lasting public policy, and allows visitors from all around the world to take part in sustainable tourism.

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Want to experience the cloud forest for yourself? Stay with us at Ecolodge San Luis and we’ll sort out the details for you. Utilizing the expertise of local staff, we personalize authentic Costa Rican adventures and contribute to a growing landscape of sustainable tourism.

Blog post and images by Rachel Eubanks. For more photos from Monteverde, follow us on Instagram.

We found some magic today ✨ here's hoping you did the same! Photo by @rachel_eubanks

A photo posted by UGA Costa Rica (@ugacostarica) on

UGA Partners with Fit4Earth to Provide Immersive Science Education

This week UGA Costa Rica hosted a special group of middle school students as part of the Fit4Earth scientific immersion program. For the fourth consecutive year, this organization, founded by Gaby von Breymann and Pat de la Cruz, has partnered with UGA Costa Rica to deepen students’ understanding of global environmental issues.

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Resident naturalist Gaby Benitez leads students in a workshop about composting and sustainable waste management tactics.

As part of this experiential learning program, thirty students from the Country Day School in Alajuela visited the UGA campus in Monteverde, where they spent a week learning about butterfly conservation, carbon offset efforts, how biodigesters work, the importance of water quality, waste management and sustainability.

By partnering with UGA Costa Rica, Fit4Earth enables students to engage with local experts such as José Montero, UGACR’s Research Coordinator, a butterfly researcher of 15 years and an author of two books on butterflies and moths. As Gaby Benitez, a resident naturalist from Austin, Texas, explained, this program provides an exciting opportunity for students to “get involved out of the classroom with learning experiences that are more hands-on.”

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By visiting UGA Costa Rica, students from Country Day School, the first K-12 LEED certified school in Costa Rica, gain real world experience that can only be found in immersive, engaging programs like Fit4Earth. As resident naturalist Insiyaa Ahmed explained, “the best way to learn is to do it yourself.” This week, Country Day School students took ownership for their education and their environment in a unique living classroom.

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Clara, a 6th grade student from Argentina, expressed the positivity of her experience even though she first felt hesitant to attend the week-long trip. Even though she didn’t have many friends in attendance, Clara found the chance to connect with her classmates while taking part in activities such as camera trap research and water quality testing. “I really like it and I think that I’m going to do it again,” she said in regards to the program.

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Aja, a Country Day School science teacher from Gwinnett, Georgia, said that the Fit4Earth program not only educates her students on the importance of environmental conservation, but also takes them out of their everyday urban environment and into a sustainable living community where they can learn to live more simply. By partnering with Fit4Earth, UGA Costa Rica can continue in its mission of educating and empowering future generations to protect the planet starting right here in the students’ stunning backyard of Costa Rica.

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Blog post and images made by Rachel Eubanks.

Research Spotlight Video: Water Quality with Darixa Hernandez

As you’ve read before on the blog, UGA Costa Rica hosts an ongoing research project focused on water quality, currently led by graduate student Darixa Hernandez. Recently Hernandez traveled from the streams of Monteverde to the Gulf of Nicoya to gather water samples from the Lagarto, Guacimal and Aranjuez watersheds.

UGA Costa Rica’s resident naturalists assisted Hernandez with a week’s worth of sampling, utilizing the unique opportunity to help with various research projects in addition to their work guiding educational tours. For this project the group gathered macroinvertebrates and water samples to monitor three watersheds along the Bellbird Biological Corridor. Back in the lab, Hernandez expects these samples to reveal the differences in water quality from the protected headwaters of upper elevations compared to those in coastal areas, where human activity impacts the environment more because of agriculture and development.

I tagged along with Darixa, her assistants and head naturalist Martha Garro Cruz to create this video about the research conducted through UGA Costa Rica as part of its aim in educating visitors about environmental conservation.

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Photos, video and blog post by Rachel Eubanks

Feliz Cumpleaños, Denver!

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Denver poses for a portrait after having her face painted at el Día de San Luis.

Today Denver Gordon, one of our resident naturalists, turns 24 years old! Here at UGA Costa Rica, our staff operates like a family (and not only because many of our local employees really are related). We love to celebrate birthdays together with cake, singing and sometimes a broken egg on the head!

For her birthday, we asked Denver a few questions. We hope you enjoy getting to know her as much as we do!

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Denver holds her intricately-made farole, or paper lantern, before the Independence Day celebrations began. Photo by Rachel Eubanks.

Hometown: Murrells Inlet, South Carolina

Favorite color: Orange

Favorite animal: Sea turtle

Favorite part of living in Costa Rica: Seeing the sunsets

Best memory of working at UGA Costa Rica: Spotting an olingo (a furry, bushy-tailed arboreal animal) with fellow naturalists Molly and Ernest while climbing a tree at night.

Best aspect of being a naturalist: I like to be outside and teach people and the ecosystem [here in the cloud forest] has a lot going on. I like continuously learning about it while showing other people.

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Blog post and photos by photojournalism intern Rachel Eubanks.

Costa Rican Independence Day

On Thursday communities all over Central America celebrated 195 years of independence from Spain. After Spain’s defeat in the Mexican War of Independence, news of the region’s freedom spread by a running of the torch, beginning on September 9th in Guatemala and continuing by foot through Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and eventually Cartago, Costa Rica, the capital of the country in 1821.

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Costa Rican “independence was not gained as a result of warfare,” Julio Jurado Fernández from the Tico Times explains. “There was no war of independence. Costa Ricans became owners of their own destiny by simply ratifying Guatemala’s declaration” of freedom.

As a result, Independence Day in Costa Rica focuses less on military victory, especially since Costa Rica holds no standing army, and more on the value of education and a celebration of Costa Rican culture with comida tipica, traditional dress, music and dancing.

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Young girls in traditional dresses march through the streets of Santa Elena.

Here in Monteverde, we celebrate el Día de la Independencia the traditional Tico way, with a lantern march the night before the holiday and a town parade on the 15th of September. Take a look at the photos below to celebrate Costa Rica’s independence with us.

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Blog post and all images by photojournalism intern Rachel Eubanks.

An Insider’s Tips to Working at UGACR

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Today on campus we welcome three new resident naturalists (bienvenidos Beth, Elizabeth and Insiyaa!) who will be living, researching and teaching with us for the next few months. Here are my top five tips for making the most of your experience as an intern or naturalist at UGA Costa Rica.

  • Be as present as possible. When you first arrive on campus, it’s easy to ask yourself, “what am I doing here?” Living in the jungle isn’t always easy, especially in the rainy season or with pests like lawn shrimp, but life at UGACR quickly feels comfortable. If your mind is focused on life back home or what your next move should be (I’m guilty of both), you won’t be able to fully enjoy your work here. Remember, this is your time for pura vida!
  • The more Spanish you learn, the better. One of the best parts about living and working at UGA Costa Rica is the opportunity to meet locals from Monteverde de San Luis. Ticos here are kind, hospitable and passionate about this small valley town of around 500 people. The more you can communicate with the ladies at the lavandería and other members of the full-time staff, the more Monteverde will feel like home.
  • Just say yes. Whether someone has asked you to share a cup of (locally grown and roasted) coffee with them or to dance at a community celebration, it’s not only polite to say yes, but it’s also a simple way of opening yourself to new cultural experiences. While Costa Rica is considered to be fairly estadounidense, or Americanized, you’ll still find social differences here worth observing and experiencing.
  • Lend a hand. If you want to improve your Spanish or become acquainted with locals, one of the best ways to do that is by lending your time and help. Go to the farm and plant lettuce in the greenhouse with Marlón or pull on a hairnet to help in la cocina after dinner. A friendly attitude is essential to acquainting yourself to campus.
  • Never stop learning. Whether you come here as a student, tourist or worker, UGA Costa Rica functions as a playground of learning. Each person here has a specialty and feels passionate about education. If you want to know more, like how to make the perfect empanada, pin butterflies for a collection or successfully run up la trocha, somebody here will be happy to help, so just ask!

Blog post by photojournalism intern Rachel Eubanks.

Combating Bird Strikes Through Research and Design

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A rufous-breasted wren, photographed by Rachel Eubanks at the University of Georgia in Costa Rica on Wednesday, June 22, 2016.

At the University of Georgia in Athens, I walked to many of my classes through the open plaza that connects the psychology building to the journalism building. Before skipping downstairs to the basement “photo cave” for my photojournalism classes, I would sometimes see out of the periphery of my right eye a small, colorful creature lying on the gray cement below the building’s four stories of windows.

Sometimes other students would also notice the dead birds on the plaza, stopping to snap photos on their iPhones and sending them to their friends, perhaps alongside broken heart emojis. I, too, would stop for a moment and wonder why birds died so often by my college building, but never bothered to look up and realize the reason.

Bird strikes have become normalized in many of our minds.

One thousand six hundred forty miles away from Athens as the crow flies, the University of Georgia’s campus in Costa Rica conducts research and maintains efforts to prevent the occurrence of bird strikes.

As soon as you walk to the edificio principal, or the student union, you can see window decals in the shapes of hummingbirds, butterflies and toucans. Birds often mistake reflections for a continuation of the outside environment or see through the windows and think they can fly through them. These window stickers, when used in large quantities, act as one of many ways we can prevent the bird injuries and deaths by reducing the incidence of bird strikes.

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Large windows reflect the environment outside, creating confusing scenes for birds and greater opportunity for bird strikes. Photo by Rachel Eubanks.

I recently sat down with Martha Garro Cruz, UGA Costa Rica’s Academic Programs Facilitator, to learn about her research on bird strikes at UGA Costa Rica. Martha, 29, grew up nearby in Santa Elena and became interested in bird strike research through her past work with Rose Marie Menacho.

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Martha Garro Cruz holds an orange-chinned parakeet on the University of Georgia campus in Costa Rica. Photo by Rachel Eubanks.

Menacho, an environmental educator and researcher based in Monteverde, has worked extensively to research bird strikes in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and recently presented her work on bird strikes in Costa Rica at the Monteverde Arenal Bioregion conference.

While most information on bird strikes currently reflects findings from the United States and Canada, this type of research is especially important to Costa Rica because of the country’s high level of biodiversity and the importance of bird watching to Costa Rica’s tourism industry.

In the United States alone, an estimated 100 million to 1 billion birds die each year as a result of bird strikes.

Thankfully, everybody can do something to combat this problem. Here at UGA Costa Rica, Cruz has incorporated a citizen science component into her research on bird strikes, relying on students and guests to observe and record bird strikes when they occur on campus in addition to her own observations and data collection. Cruz conducts her research three consecutive days per week using a numbered window system to track where strikes occur most frequently and which bird species are most susceptible to strikes.

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For five weeks Cruz worked with Jocelin Alarcon, pictured above, and Christy Li, two interns from Lehigh University, on her bird strike research. She expects the project to take a total of two years. Photo provided by Martha Garro Cruz.

While the majority of bird strikes occur at low-rise buildings, such as the journalism building I frequented on the campus of the University of Georgia, 44 percent of bird strikes occur at residences. So whether at your home or in the workplace, you have the ability to combat the prevalence of bird strikes.

Here are a few ways to prevent bird strikes in your own community:

  • Draw designs on the outside of windows using UV pens or window markers
  • Tie strings to the tops of windows, leaving 10 centimeters between each, or use tape to create a similar pattern of vertical lines
  • Close your blinds when you exit a room or leave the house and turn off lights at night
  • Encourage the companies you work for to invest in high-tech, beautifully-designed methods to avoid bird strikes, like those mentioned in the article below


Learn More:
 View this video by National Geographic on how we can prevent millions of bird deaths through innovative window designs

Blog post written by photojournalism intern Rachel Eubanks

The Monteverde Arenal Bioregion Conference

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This weekend, over sixty researchers and Monteverde community members gathered for the third-annual Monteverde Arenal Bioregion conference, hosted at the campus of UGA Costa Rica.

“In the last three decades, the regions of Monteverde and Arenal, Costa Rica have emerged as premier sites for research, conservation, and education.  However, this is a critical time for conservation in and around the Monteverde-Arenal bioregion due to both the rapidly changing climate and increasing human activities,” the Monteverde Institute explains of the initiative.

The Monteverde-Arenal protected zone includes over 60,000 hectares of land. UGA Costa Rica, which sits in the San Luis valley of Monteverde, operates within a network of private reserves, sharing boundaries with the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and the Children’s Eternal Rainforest.

Leaders from these well-known reserves along with the Monteverde Conservation League, the Monteverde Institute, study abroad organization CIEE, and others met at the conference to focus on the progress of independent research projects and the potential for collaboration among conservation organizations.

Researchers from the United States also attended MABI, traveling from the University of South Florida, the Soltis Center at Texas A&M University and even attending as independent scientists to learn about current research, communications and outreach. 160812_REE_UGACR_Conference_0006

The University of Georgia, both in its work in the United States and here in Costa Rica, aims to cultivate “groundbreaking research and discovery,” as university President Jere Morehead explains in a video address to UGA students returning to school this month.

Hosting events like the Monteverde Arenal Bioregion conference allows the university to build upon its aim to become a top research center and reinforces UGA Costa Rica’s goals of fostering sustainable living practices in the Monteverde area.

As UGA Costa Rica research coordinator José Montero explains, “the most important or significant aspect [of the conference] was the opportunity to see different organizations with different agendas working for education, conservation, and research, trying to create together a better place for future generations.”

To support UGA Costa Rica in its mission of international education and sustainable scientific research, visit our website and become a friend of UGACR. 

Blog post and accompanying images made by photo intern Rachel Eubanks.

Community Connection: Musical Theatre in Monteverde

This weekend, Far Corners Community Musical Theatre celebrated its tenth year of bringing the dramatic arts to Monteverde with its production of Les Miserables. According to La Nación, this year’s youth production of the classic Broadway musical, based on the 1862 novel by Victor Hugo, was the first performance of the popular play in all of Central America.

Each night the theatre at the Monteverde Friends School hosted a standing-room-only crowd, with fans spilling out into the school’s courtyard to see the performance. Here are some of our favorite moments from the show:

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Thank you to the performers, musicians, staff and volunteers at Far Corners for sharing their talents with the community here in Monteverde. You can support the organization’s mission of providing artistic outlets to communities like Monteverde by contributing to their generosity campaign.

Images and text made by UGACR photo intern Rachel Eubanks.

Costa Rican Traditions: Las Carreras de Cinta

If you had been driving up la trocha this Sunday afternoon, passing through San Luis on your way to Santa Elena, you might have been tripped up by a line of rope strung between a tree and a fence, cutting the road in a limbo.

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You would have also needed to make your way through a rural type of traffic, as a dozen riders mounted their horses for las carreras de cinta, or the ribbon races, where competitors attempted to insert estacas, or small carved sticks, into rings attached to rope.

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Friends from the community gathered at la Escuela de los Altos de San Luis, which educates students from first to sixth grades, to raise funds for the school. The school term starts back today and las carreras provided a way for the school to raise money for its everyday needs.

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On Sunday, families also played bingo, indoor soccer, and purchased home-made food to contribute funds to the school. In las carreras de cinta, people placed bets on which riders would successfully pierce the argollas, claiming prizes such as rope for horses and bottles of wine.

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Sunday’s fundraiser and las carreras de cinta provided an example of what the people of San Luis value most: community events, the agrarian lifestyle and the importance of family.

Post and all images made by intern Rachel Eubanks.