After the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, then-Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin decided that environmental awareness needed to become high-priority. The following year, Nelson launched the first Earth Day on April 20, 1970. Over 20 million people rallied across the U.S., germinating conversations about conservation and environmental awareness. Continuing to grow over the years, Earth Day went global in 1990, with 200 million people in 141 countries participating, according to Earth Day Network and LiveScience.com.
As an institution whose mission it is to increase the understanding of the fusion between humans and the environment, University of Georgia Costa Rica strives to use instruction, research, and outreach to achieve socio-cultural, ecological, and economic sustainability. What better day than Earth Day to highlight the number of ways in which this campus continues to blossom in its daily environmental efforts!
“The mission of UGA Costa Rica is to advance our understanding – through instruction, research and outreach – of the interconnected nature between human and environmental systems, particularly the concepts of socio-cultural, ecological, and economic sustainability.”
UGA Costa Rica’s campus is nestled in the cloud forest of San Luis de Monteverde, Costa Rica. Prior to 1975, the surrounding area was a coffee plantation and dairy farm. As a result, the lush primary forest that once blanketed these mountains was heavily deforested, significantly affecting wildlife and biodiversity.
But now, through reforestation and other conservation practices, the UGA Costa Rica campus is bouncing back, 62 hectares (155 acres) strong! In 1995, the land was part of the Ecolodge San Luis and Biological Station, and was purchased in 2001 by the University of Georgia Foundation.
First fun fact: Only 10 of 62 hectares were used for construction – the rest is a private reserve for the wildlife, with trails meandering through the cloud forest’s massive strangler figs and umbrella-like cecropia trees. According to the 2013 UGA Costa Rica Sustainability Report, about 60% of campus remains forested, 30% is used for sustainable agriculture, and 10% is developed.
What else, you ask? I’m just getting started.
The campus has an organic farm, located close to campus – only a five-minute hike along a leaf-littered, winding trail. A yearly average of 15% of the food comes directly from the terraced beds and hard work of agriculture interns and farm manager. Lettuce, carrots, limones, radishes, eggs, tomatoes – I’m salivating just thinking about how fresh all of it is!
After having a hearty Costa Rican dinner and a day’s worth of adventures zip lining or exploring the cloud forest on foot, it’s time for hot showers thanks to the solar heating systems perched on top of bungalow roofs! And while we’re talking about bungalows, let’s appreciate the means by which they were constructed. Most of the material used to build campus lodging is a beautiful dark, orange-tinted wood, which is; drumroll please… sustainably harvested teak wood.
It’s the little things that count, too; UGA Costa Rica uses and sells bars of soap and other hygiene products, locally made. The best part – they’re organic and don’t have harmful antibiotic properties that would harm the hard-working microbes in the biodigesters.
Ah, the biodigesters.
UGA Costa Rica has two biodigesters. It’s essentially a fancy word for waste cleaning machine. Waste, anything from human or livestock fecal matter, is disposed of into one end of a balloon-like cylindrical tube. Microbes living inside the digester break down the matter, releasing water and methane as byproducts. The methane rises and collects in what appears to be a floating tube. The gas is syphoned via a long hose to the kitchen and used to fuel certain kitchen stoves! Recycling resources – yeah!
Another major benefit of the biodigester is that during the microbial cleaning process, things that would cause serious harm to the environment, like fertilizers, methane, and waste in general, are filtered out, so the water that is being emptied back into the ecosystem is much more pure –great news for water quality in the area!
All extra food scraps are either gratefully garbled up by our humanely raised campus pigs, or taken to our compost pile to be broken down and used as soil for the farm.
UGA Costa Rica also has plans to become carbon neutral, meaning it will offset the carbon it has emitted, mainly via its reforestation program, a project that sprouted in 2008. Campus biodigesters, composting, and recycling habits also play a roll in offsetting carbon.
And don’t forget about social sustainability; the majority of UGA Costa Rica employees are local Ticos (Costa Ricans), which not only provides them economic benefits, but also cuts the need to drive to more distant jobs and generate more emissions.
If you’re interested in learning more about the campus’s daily quest toward sustainability, be sure to check out the detailed 2013 UGACR Sustainability Report.
Happy Earth day from the UGA Costa Rica staff and interns! Use the hash tag #everydayshouldbeEarthDay today to show and share your support for our home!
Post contributed by Alex Fylypovych, UGA Costa Rica Photojournalism Intern