Iniciativas de descontaminación en UGA: El Biodigestor / UGA decontamination initiatives: The Biodigestor

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UGA Costa Rica en el año 2008 quiso desarrollar el campus de una manera sostenible. Para esto evaluó y creó un plan de manejo para la finca, en el que se decidió incorporar en el año 2011 el primer biodigestor o sistema de descontaminación productiva de aguas residuales dentro del campus, un prototipo en el área de Monteverde.

La biodigestión consiste en la fermentación producida por bacterias anaeróbicas, componentes de las excretas (humanas o animales), sobre materia orgánica, éstas se aprovechan ubicándolas en un contenedor hermético, donde se generan altas temperaturas que destruyen y reducen las bacterias que podrían causar enfermedades. Las altas temperaturas llegan a “destruir hasta el 95% de los huevos de parásitos y casi todas las bacterias y protozoarios causantes de disentería” (Botero y Preston, 1987, P. 4). Es por esto que los residuos luego de ser procesados pueden ser aprovechados para la finca como fertilizante y abono.

In 2008, UGA Costa Rica wanted to develop the campus in a sustainable way. A plan to manage the farm was created, and in 2011, UGA decided to incorporate the first biodigestor/decontamination system of wastewater within the campus.  This biodigestor was a prototype in the Monteverde area.

 The biodigestion process occurs via the consumption of organic material by anaerobic bacteria. These organic components consist of human or animal excrement and other organic matter. The process occurs when these components are placed in an airtight container, where the anaerobic decomposition of these organic materials generates high temperatures that destroys or greatly reduces the concentration of bacteria that could cause illness. High temperatures “destroy up to 95% of parasite eggs and almost all bacteria and protozoa which cause dysentery” (Botero & Preston, 1987, p. 4). This is why the waste can be used on the farm as fertilizer after being processed.

 

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El encierro de los animales se limpia para dirigir las excretas a un filtro
The animal enclosures are cleaned up, excretement are directed to a filter

 

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El filtro por el cual pasan las excretas para ser dirigidas al reactor evita que pase material grueso o duro que puede ser difícil de descomponer dentro del biodigestor esto también evita daños a la bolsa.
The filter through which the excretion passes separates out the thick or hard material that would otherwise damage the reactor, or be difficult to decompose.

 

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El reactor es una bolsa hermética donde se produce la digestión anaeróbica, ahí se descompone el material orgánico que viene del establo para luego pasar al tratamiento secundario en las lagunas. Es en este proceso donde también se produce el biogás.   
The reactor is an airtight bag where anaerobic digestion takes place, organic material that comes from the stable decomposes there to pass to the secondary treatment in the lagoons.  In this process that biogas is also produced.

 

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Lagunas con plantas acuáticas para el tratamiento secundario de los efluentes que provienen del biodigestor.
Lagoons with aquatic plants for the secondary treatment of the effluent that comes from the biodigester.

 

Ya para el año 2013, por la eficiencia del primer prototipo instalado en la finca, se desarrolló otro biodigestor en el campus principal. Como resultado de ambos biodigestores se ha logrado procesar una mayor cantidad de materia orgánica generando más abono sólido y líquido, así como más biogás. Además, se implementaron las lagunas, donde el agua que sale del biodigestor de la finca lleva un tratamiento secundario con plantas acuáticas, las cuales absorben la materia orgánica restante, terminando de descontaminar las aguas residuales. Estas plantas también son utilizadas como alimento para cerdos y vacas.

La digestión anaerobia, como resultado produce una mezcla de gases que sirven como combustible (biogás), que puede ser aprovechado en diversos usos como fuente de energía renovable produciendo calor y electricidad.

La tecnología del biodigestor en el campus es considerada una herramienta multipropósito muy provechosa, ya que genera combustible, abono líquido y sólido. Además, el biodigestor juega un papel importante en la conservación, reduciendo la contaminación ambiental, según Carreras N. (2017, 3p.) el principal componente del biogás es el Metano (50-70%), este gas, contribuye al efecto invernadero y con esta tecnología en vez de ser liberado a la atmósfera es aprovechado como fuente de energía.

By the year 2013, due to the efficiency of the first prototype installed on the farm, another biodigester was developed on the main campus. As a result, both of the biodigesters have been able to process a greater amount of organic matter generating more solid and liquid fertilizer, as well as biogas. In addition, the lagoons at the farm were implemented, where the water leaving the biodigester has a secondary treatment with aquatic plants, which absorb the remaining organic matter, finishing the decontamination process of the waste water. These plants are also used as food for pigs and cows.

Anaerobic digestion as a result produces a mixture of gases that serve as fuel (biogas), which can be exploited in various ways as a source of renewable energy by producing heat and electricity. 

The biodigester technology on campus is considered a useful multipurpose tool, since it generates fuel, liquid and solid fertilizers, as also an educative oportunity. According to Carreras N. (2017, 3p.) the main component of biogas is methane (50-70%). This gas, which is known as a major contributor to the greenhouse effect, is harnessed as an energy source, rather than released into the atmosphere.

 

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Cámara de tratamientos de aguas residuales del campus principal
Main campus sewage treatment chamber

 

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Tubería que transporta el gas hacia el reservorio de biogás y tubería que comunica ambas cámaras para el proceso de tratamiento de aguas residuales
Large pipe on left: pipe that transports the biogas to the reservoir seem below.  Horizontal pipe consolidates both chambers for the wastewater treatment process

 

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Reservorio de almacenamiento de biogás.
Biogas storage reservoir

 

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El biogás siendo utilizado para el gas de la cocina
Biogas being used for gas in the kitchen

 

A través de los años en los que UGA Costa Rica ha experimentado con esta tecnología, se ha logrado compartir el conocimiento e instalar cinco biodigestores en diferentes fincas de la comunidad de San Luis y Monteverde.  Esto se ha logrado a través de programas académicos con estudiantes, donde se ha fortalecido el aprendizaje a través de la experiencia.

Through the years in which UGA Costa Rica has experimented with this technology, it has been possible to share knowledge and install five biodigesters on different farms in the community of San Luis and Monteverde. This has been achieved through academic programs with students, where their experience has been strengthened through service learning.

Mariela Vásquez G. pasante de fotoperiodismo/ photojournalism intern


Bibliografía

Botero R., Preston T.R. (1987). Biodigestores de bajo costo para la producción de combustible y fertilizante a partir de excretas. “Manual para su instalación, operación y utilización”. Recuperado de http://www.produccion-animal.com.ar/Biodigestores/04-biodigestores.pdf

Carreras N. (2017). CURSO DE FORMACIÓN TEÓRICO-PRÁCTICO DE ENSAYOS EN BACH (BMP) Y CONTINUOS DE DIGESTIÓN ANAEROBIA BASADOS EN LA NORMA VDI 4630. España: CIEMAT.

 

Una experiencia de aprendizaje en UGA Costa Rica Service Learning in UGA Costa Rica

Bosque nuboso de la Reserva de Monteverde/Casey Urban y Malcolm Scobell en el laboratorio durante la clasificación de muestras de macroinvertebrados
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve/ Casey Urban and Malcolm Scobell in the laboratory during the macroinvertebrate sample classification

 

Malcolm Scobell y Casey Urban llegaron en junio a nuestro campus para realizar su pasantía con el programa de estudios en el extranjero de la Universidad de Lehigh, Pensilvania, donde actualmente cursan su tercer año de la carrera de ingeniería ambiental. La pasantía duró 7 semanas quedándose en casa de personas de la localidad de San Luis, ubicación de la sede satelital de la Universidad de Georgia en Costa Rica. Según comenta Casey, ella eligió este destino por su valor ambiental y fue recibida como parte de la familia en donde residió.

Malcolm Scobell and Casey Urban arrived in June to our campus to begin their internship with the study abroad program at Lehigh University, Pennsylvania, where they are currently in their third year of environmental engineering. Their internship lasted 7 weeks and they participated in home stays in the town of San Luis, where the satellite campus of the University of Georgia at Costa Rica is located. Casey chose this destination for its environmental value and she felt like a member of the family at her home stay.

 Piranga olivacea (Cardinalidae) Fotografía de Martha Garro/Muestra Botánica de Crotalaria maypurensis (Fabaceae)
 Piranga ilovacea (Cardinalidae) Martha Garro Photography/Crotalaria maypurensis (Fabaceae) botanic sample

 

El objetivo de la pasantía es aprender a través de la experiencia, por lo que los estudiantes formaron parte de diversas líneas de investigación que se realizan dentro del campus, incluyendo el proyecto liderado por Martha Garro Cruz, el cual se enfoca en estudiar el comportamiento de las aves y tratar de reducir los choques contra las ventanas. A través de una búsqueda sistemática, ella ha registrado el comportamiento y señales de este fenómeno en una base de datos. También contribuyeron con el proyecto liderado por el pasante naturalista Riley Fortier, montando muestras botánicas del herbario de UGACR donadas por William A. Haber, logrando contribuir con un total de 274 muestras de plantas montadas.                                                                   

The objective of this internship was a service learning experience in which the students
participated in several lines of research carried out on campus, including the project led by  Martha Garro Cruz, which focuses on studying the behavior of birds around windows in order to reduce bird strikes. Through systematic observation, she has been recording information about these behaviors and signs of this phenomenon in a database. Casey and Malcom also contributed to the project led by resident naturalist Riley Fortier, mounting botanical samples from the UGACR herbarium donated by William A. Haber, managing to contribute a total of 274 mounted plant samples to the collection.

 

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Los estudiantes de Lehigh junto al profesor Donald Morris, especialista en ecosistemas acuáticos quien los acompañó durante el proyecto de calidad de agua en UGACR.
The Lehigh students with their Professor Donald Morris, who studies aquatic ecosystems provided guidance during the water quality portion of the internship at UGACR.

 

En la última semana de su pasantía todos los estudiantes que conformaban el programa (Grace Boak, Shrivats Agarwal, Mariah Matias, Natalee Castillo, Tristan Morales y Juan Camilo Arbelaez) junto con el profesor del departamento de Ciencias de la Tierra y del medio ambiente, Donald Morris, quienes estuvieron en otras áreas de Costa Rica, se reunieron con Casey y Malcolm en UGA Costa Rica para realizar la última fase de su aprendizaje a nivel grupal.

In the last week of their internships, the Lehigh students that were interning in other parts of Costa Rica (Grace Boak, Shrivats Agarwal, Mariah Matias, Natalee Castillo, Tristan Morales and Juan Camilo Arbelaez) along with Donald Morris, Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences, met with Casey and Malcolm at UGA Costa Rica to carry out the final phase of their learning.

 

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Los estudiantes reunidos en el laboratorio de UGACR para conocer los objetivos de su participación en el proyecto de calidad de aguas
The students meeting in the UGACR laboratory to learn about the objectives of their participation in the water quality project.

 

Los pasantes participaron del proyecto de calidad de agua de las tres cuencas predominantes en el Corredor Biológico del Pájaro Campana en Puntarenas, investigación activa de la UGACR donde aprendieron a recolectar, clasificar y analizar muestras de macroinvertebrados acuáticos y otros parámetros físicos y químicos del agua . El Dr.Thomas Shahady investigador principal junto con José Montero de UGACR co-investigador, lideran este proyecto, el cual tiene el objetivo de crear un índice confiable para la calificación de la calidad del agua dentro del Corredor Biológico, como una herramienta para monitorear la salud de los ecosistemas acuáticos de la región así como para la toma de decisiones y empoderamiento de las comunidades locales.

They participated in an active water quality research project of UGACR that studies three prevailing basins in the Bellbird Biological Corridor in Puntarenas, learning to collect, classify, and analyze aquatic macroinvertebrates samples, and other physiochemical indicators of water quality. Dr. Thomas Shahady from Lynchberg University, is the principle investigator of this project, along with biologist and co-investigator José Montero from UGACR. The aim is to create a reliable index of water quality within the Biological Corridor as a tool to monitor the health of aquatic ecosystems in the region and to promote decision-making and empowerment of local communities.

 

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Durante el proceso de capacitación, explicación del cronograma a los pasantes
During the training process, explaining the schedule to the interns

 

Garro, facilitadora de programas académicos de UGA Costa Rica junto con José Montero investigador, Coordinador de Investigación, Instrucción y Pasantías capacitan, empoderan a los estudiantes, explicándoles la teoría y metodología a utilizar, brindándoles el conocimiento con respecto al trabajo de campo de recolección de muestras, así como también de las fases posteriores como de taxonomía y análisis de resultados.

Garro (facilitator of academic programs at UGA Costa Rica) along with José Montero (research, instruction, and internships coordinator at UGACR), guided the students by explaining the theory and methodology to be used – for example, the process of collecting samples in the field, as well as later phases such as taxonomy and analysis of results.

 

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Pasantes tomando datos para medir la corriente, la profundidad y el ancho del río/ Conteo de macroinvertebrados para calcular la calidad del agua
Interns taking data to measure the current, depth and width of the river/ Counting macroinvertebrates to calculate water quality in the laboratory

 

Las muestras de macroinvertebrados son tomadas en diferentes periodos durante el año abarcando los cambios ocasionados por los efectos estacionales. En este caso fue el tercer muestreo del año 2017. Los pasantes del programa participaron del trabajo de campo, aprendiendo a utilizar diferentes herramientas, recolectando las muestras e información de manera sistemática.

Samples of macroinvertebrates are taken at different periods during the year, covering changes caused by seasonal effects. In this case, it was the third sampling of the year 2017. Program interns participated in fieldwork, learning how to use different tools, collecting samples and information in a systematic way.

 

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Los estudiantes fueron divididos en tres equipos, en esta ocasión juntos(as) expusieron lo aprendido
The students were divided into three teams, this time explaining together what they had been learning

 

El último objetivo para los pasantes consistió en realizar una presentación del proyecto de aguas exponiendo las fases del proyecto, la metodología, los resultados analizados e interpretados a través de gráficos utilizando el método científico y apropiándose de su proceso de aprendizaje en UGA Costa Rica.

The last objective for the interns consisted of a presentation of the water project, using graphics to explain the phases of the project, the methodology, the analyzed results, and the interpretation using the scientific method. Through service learning here at UGACR, students were able to take ownership of the learning process.

 

Mariela Vásquez G. pasante de fotoperiodismo/ photojournalism intern

 

Desempolvando la historia de San Luis Unearthing the History of San Luis

 

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El sábado 5 de agosto la Asociación de Desarrollo de  San Luis de Monteverde convocó a su comunidad para presentar el folleto San Luis y su historia.

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El folleto fue posible gracias al trabajo de la comunidad en conjunto con estudiantes de la Universidad de Costa Rica liderado por Yossette Sojo.

 

 

 On Saturday, August 5, the San Luis Development Association summoned its community to present the San Luis y su historia  brochure. The booklet was made possible thanks to the work of the community in conjunction with students from the University of Costa Rica led by Yossette Sojo.

 

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El proceso empezó el año pasado y culminó con la presentación del folleto en el centro comunitario de San Luis, lugar donde según Sojo se realizaron la mayor parte de los talleres. Utilizando herramientas como creación de árboles genealógicos, líneas de historia, recolección de fotografías e información se esclareció la historia de este pueblo.

The process began last year and culminated with the presentation of the brochure in the San Luis community center, the place where most of the workshops took place. Collecting photos and information and using tools such as genealogical tree creation and timelines clarified the story of this town.

 

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San Luis fue fundado en 1918 y la primera familia que la habitó estuvo constituida por don Ramón Leitón Montero y Doña Florencia Méndez Bolaños. El estipular la fecha de origen de este pueblo fue uno de los pilares esenciales del proyecto de investigación. La recolección y selección de imágenes fotográficas fue de importancia para recorrer la historia, desempolvando el quién, el por qué y el cómo, que en algún momento sucedió. El folleto es un recorrido cronológico con la descripción de acontecimientos importantes. Empezando por establecer la primera llegada hasta eventos de mayor importancia de la comunidad.

San Luis was founded in 1918 and the first family that inhabited it was Mr. Ramón Leitón Montero and Mrs. Florencia Méndez Bolaños. Stipulating the date of origin of this town was one of the essential pillars of the research project. The collection and selection of photographic images was essential to explain the history, unearthing the who, the why and the how that occurred. The brochure is a chronological timeline of significant events, beginning by establishing the first arrival into San Luis followed by events of greater importance of the community.

 

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La Asociación de Desarrollo Integral de San Luis constituida en 1974, lidera el avance de la comunidad en sus diversas facetas, desde educación hasta infraestructura comunal. Esta entidad ha llevado a cabo distintos proyectos como la construcción del centro comunitario, puentes, una plaza de fútbol y un proyecto de turismo rural comunitario. La Asociación de Desarrollo Integral ha venido recuperando la historia y cultura de la comunidad.

    The San Luis Development Association, established in 1974, leads the advancement of diverse aspects of the community, from education to community infrastructure. The association to executed various projects including the construction of the community center, bridges, a soccer field, and a rural tourism project. The Development Association has been recovering the history and culture of the community.

 

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Parte importante de la actividad fue el brindar un especial reconocimiento a las personas mayores que han forjado la historia y que han visto crecer a este pueblo. A mano izquierda don Carlos Badilla, que fue un vecino y agricultor por muchos años y que al final de su permanencia en San Luis tuvo una lechería en la finca en donde hoy día se encuentra UGA Costa Rica y a la derecha don José Vargas, que fue el segundo maestro del pueblo en la primera escuela que existió en la comunidad ubicada al costado norte del cementerio.

An important part of the activity was to give special recognition to the elderly people who have forged history and who have seen the growth of San Luis. On the left is Mr. Carlos Badilla, who was a farmer in San Luis for many years and who, during his last years living in San Luis, owned a dairy farm where UGA Costa Rica is today. On the right is Mr. Jose Vargas, who was the second teacher in the first school that was established in the community, located north of the cemetery.

Para más información acerca de la comunidad  / For more information about the community:   http://sanluis.or.cr/es/inicio/

Mariela Vásquez G. pasante de fotoperiodismo/ photojournalism intern

 

Hands on the Herbarium!

William A. Haber arrived in Monteverde in July of 1973 with a doctoral thesis in mind. Initially studying glass-winged butterflies and their hostplants, he did not immediately expect to curate some of the most crucial insect and plant collections in the history of the region. His goal within the botanical community was to create one of the most thorough Costa Rican plant collections. His success produced four duplicate copies of this particular collection: One at the Missouri Botanical Garden, two currently at the National Museum of Costa Rica, and one now with us, inherited from Haber himself in 2009.

CAB_2017_3080_JuneIf Haber didn’t donate his personal collection to us, we wouldn’t have the extensive herbarium that we have today. With a plant collection that is double the age of UGACR, it is crucial for us to maintain and improve his legacy.

The collection that can be seen in the herbarium is currently a closet full of dry plant samples organized in old 80’s newspaper clips and manila folders. The newspaper has scribbled handwriting on the outside, informing us of its origin and collection number. The current project is to go through every specimen to make sure each is mounted in a professional way and has a thorough description.

 

Dr. Ann Willyard is a systematic botanist that teaches at Hendrix College in Arkansas. This is her first year coming down to UGACR with the study abroad program that has been coming here for many years. Her knowledge in the complex taxonomy of the ever-changing plant families is much needed. She brings a lighthearted tone to this particular work.

“The mounting part is more like an arts and crafts project than a science project,” Ann Willyard says. The students mount the plants using glue and then compiling the families together. Each dried plant sample is glued with a paper notation of who collected it, when and where. Any seeds or extra valuable plant material is placed in an envelope. The project goes from family to family, working its way all through the herbarium cabinets. When the project is finished, there will be a hearty collection of around three thousand plants, all pressed and organized together by family.

 

Resident Naturalist Riley Fortier is guiding the students through the whole process. He specializes in the study of tropical plants here and is taking initiative to mediate the process, along with Herbarium and Carbon Offset Coordinator Lucas Ramírez. After dedicating time to study and shadow our staff and researchers, Riley is turning into a Plant-O-Rama connoisseur and has been leading trainings on identification and plant components. His hand has been felt in the online community as he identifies species on more than one database.

CAB_2017_1422_Fit4Earth“Not many people know what an herbarium is to begin with, so being able to directly help in the preservation of ours makes me really excited. I think the students have fun mounting the plants, and even artistic people enjoy it… It’s really nice to have all of that help, because we made a huge dent in the work thanks to those students.” – Riley Fortier

Riley is a protagonist for UGA Costa Rica’s growing citizen science program, branching out to facilitate the process of peer review and crowd-sourcing information. It’s a gratifying step in a long-term interest of his.

“In college, most of my interest was in plants just because we have so many trees in Oregon and our campus is a certified arboretum… But I think it all started in my middle school, Sunnyside Environmental School, where a large part of our curriculum was environmental science and service learning. We had a native plant garden right outside our school and one of the things we had to do was learn more of our native plants each year.” – Riley Fortier

 

Riley uses the Tropicos database from the Missouri Botanical Garden that sets the standard for botanical taxonomy and classification. The vast majority of the plants in the Missouri collection have been identified down to the species level, which is the most precise. In our collection, they are often only identified to the family level. Riley has to use the online database to identify each specimen down to the exact species name, referencing the standard that the Missouri Botanical Garden sets.

One of the challenging parts is incorporating the newest annotations and changes to scientific names, based on the most recent taxonomy. These annotations indicate when the species, genera, or even families have been changed or reclassified.

 

The samples that were previously in newspaper might last 15 or 20 more years, but using the grease paper to mount and store them correctly will preserve them for easily over a century. With only a handful of herbariums in Costa Rica, the preservation of a unique collection is the compelling aspect.

“Many schools who previously had herbariums had to get rid of them just because they didn’t have anybody maintaining them. Botanists are in short supply these days, so we’re pretty lucky to have one here” – Riley Fortier

The Hendrix students are taking full advantage of their lab time. Their project includes finding, pressing, drying, and mounting their own plant collection. Not only are they focused on plants, but they’re pushing their mounting skills to the next level with personal insect collections. The collections of these young scientists may also last for centuries to come!

 

Post and photos created by Photojournalism Intern Charles Austin Boll

 

It’s a Monkey, It’s a Margay! No, Just Ernest Again.

 

The T.A.C.T. (Terrestrial and Arboreal Camera Trapping) project started when Ernest was wondering why there is hardly any information on the stratification of communities of medium to large mammal throughout the rainforest.

Ernest Minnema has been traversing the world for the past 10 years as a naturalist at various field stations. Being a new-age explorer has led him throughout Australia, Brazil, Guyana, Panama, and now Costa Rica.

Originally from the Netherlands, Ernest has grown into a exemplary force on the UGACR naturalist team. For the past 14 months, he has illustrated the most pristine night hikes, carbon offset work, sustainability tours, and of course, mammal talks.

He now looks into the composition of mammal communities through different layers of the forest. His main focus is what species are present, what are their behaviors, and their spatial and temporal distribution. This starts to draw patterns of when and where we find some of the most elusive animals in the world, with a central reference point in the pre-montane wet forest.

“Any time I had an issue as a kid, I would walk into the forest, climb up into a tree and find a seat… that was my way of escaping the world below when I wasn’t happy. It’s because most people don’t look up too often.” – Ernest Minnema

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Ernest has committed to mentorships and personal practice to acquire the skills necessary to quicken his efficiency. Now he spends two and a half days climbing twenty trees to collect data every three weeks.

It is relatively common to see camera trapping on the forest floors, even in our surrounding reserve areas. What is incredibly unique about Ernest’s work is that it includes mammals in all four layers of the rainforest: the forest floor, understory, canopy, and the emergent layer of the canopy. Some mammals are rarely found on the ground, so it’s a new look into the entire animal kingdom.

This particular practice is something new to all rainforests, not only Costa Rica. He breaks the mold by conducting one of the only arboreal camera trapping projects in Central America.

The goal to close out the year of data will not only show differences in stratification but the change of diversity and migration between the two seasons.

“Seeing a large mammal is one of the hidden gems in the forest.” They are some of the most elusive animals who demand space to exist, travel, migrate, and hunt.

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Ernest also has a deep love for arachnids and reptiles, but figured that his climbing and camera skills could combine to fit a greater need in science.  It’s not about what he could do, but what was valued in the scientific community.

Because there isn’t much scientific precedence or peer-reviewed literature concerning mammal distribution in the area, it will create baseline knowledge to test more theories in the future. He’s formulating a recipe to blaze a new trail in mammal research.

Even having 20 camera traps can only inform us to that specific, localized area. One of Ernest’s main struggles is finding methods for statistical analysis to calculate commonly used ecological indices from what he captures on his cameras. These indices are needed to extrapolate the generated knowledge to the vast areas that these mammal communities inhabit.

The academic soundness of his research is the most puzzling part of his process.“So as good research should do, it always raises more questions.”

“You have information, so that is the data set, but creating knowledge from that information – that is the academic challenge, how to go from information to knowledge.”

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This margay video wiggles into a special place in our hearts. It’s one that we could hear Ernest yelling about from across campus. Ernest usually positions the trap for a horizontal stretch of the tree, which in this frame is to the top-right edge off screen. Lucky camera number 13 was repositioned by a curious capuchin monkey just days before this video, making it possible to see this margay grooming itself.

Before the generation of camera traps, mammal researchers had a different experience gathering data through short-term direct observations. These methods require long sampling transects and frequently result in a low number of encounters, because they are highly dependent on visibility. The real die-hards will travel with a troop of monkeys for a week to a month perhaps, pitching a hammock and hoping they can catch the monkeys to hang with them the next day.

Camera trapping is a proven method to overcome these limitations. They can detect previously undocumented presence of elusive and rare species, previously undocumented behavior for a variety of animals, and even discover new species.

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Now we start to ask more specific questions:

“We take this strategy from the forest floor, but it could very well be different… If we take out that [emergent canopy] layer, what does the animal actually do?… If I can show that in the rainy season we have a lot of Mexican Hairy Porcupines, then someone else can say, but why?”

“Do we only find these patterns in the secondary forest, or do the animals act the same in the primary forest?”

A great example is the spider monkey, known for relying heavily on primary forest. It was reported last year in 2016 during the same part of the season as Ernest trapped it this year – something we wouldn’t have known if not for his cameras.

The spider monkey is now the 21st target species of mammal Ernest has found on campus. Outputs like these are fairly hard to come by for someone who doesn’t use any bait for their traps. All of the sightings have happened in a non-biased fashion.

Ernest’s ability to wander with the general public is what makes him so approachable. That’s why he’s decided to share his project with staff and friends.

 

“I like to tell people that I never really started climbing – I just never stopped; it’s only changed forms.”

It’s unlikely that Ernest will ever stop climbing. There are always new opportunities on his plate, whether it be academics, or his experience in the formal education spectrum, or being able to mentor others to facilitate their research. He teases the idea of organizing data into a PhD project to continue in academia.

One of his current pleasures is taking our local workers and community up for tree-climing tours. It’s growing into a favored bonding activity of the staff, interns, and locals in San Luis.

Because his project is completely self-funded, he is now reaching out to the community in order to maintain his equipment and his project. You can support his GoFundMe page here.

 

This story features a collaboration of Molly Bond’s photos from the community climbing workshop, a profile of Ernest setting the trap by previous intern Rachel Eubanks, and photos taken by current Photojournalism Intern Charles Austin Boll.

Fabricio Camacho: The Cognitive Composter

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Why do humans produce double the amount food that the entire world needs, but one billion people are still left hungry every day? How can we reduce the global impact of an agricultural industry that takes up 38 percent of Earth’s land mass?

On his childhood farm, a young Fabricio was wondering the same: why are they clearing the trees from the coffee plantations? Why do the coffee plants need chemicals? Why are the chemicals held in a room that I am not allowed in? These are questions Fabricio Camacho asked on his grandparent’s coffee farm in the 1980’s in the southern region of San Isidro, Costa Rica.

Now as the director of UGA Costa Rica, Fabricio is asking similar questions for his PhD research. This time, it’s through a more scientifically polished and globally pertinent lens.

He has a vision to fuse traditional methods of farming with the latest science. The goal is to produce coffee plants just as efficiently with a fraction of the emissions, cutting out synthetic fertilizers that deteriorate soil quality and emit greenhouse gases. Fabricio believes that we can sequester carbon and safeguard our water supply inside a rich soil that is facilitated by waste products that are already abundant.

Fabricio thinks that by using microorganisms and compost that is accessible to farmers, we can make a steep turn towards improving global health – and he’s got 1,600 plants outside the campus nursery to prove it.

Young Fabricio saw many of the fields on his home farm become degraded because of chemical use. This translated to special consideration for the long-term health of coffee plantations.

The first goal is substitution of synthetic fertilizers by purely organic matter. Because coffee production is the second largest crop in Costa Rica, the outcome could become a nationally adequate solution for carbon gas emissions.

“The idea could be adopted by just coffee farmers in Costa Rica, or the model could be introduced around the whole world” – Fabricio Camacho

He has eight different soil mixes randomly placed within each of the 64 blocks. The blocks are placed together to organize soil treatment throughout the experiment. Two of the eight are standard controls that farmers already use: basic soil and synthetically produced treatments. Two of these formulas are renditions of what Fabricio calls “optimized compost.”

The two optimized compost treatments have food waste products like banana leaves, wood chips, biodigestor sludge, and microorganisms that are available in the area, making his solution accessible to everyone.

Fabricio’s project delves into microbiology to understand how the MM (Mountain Microorganisms) and biodigestor sludge can facilitate nutrient absorption by the coffee plants and how much more carbon can be sequestered.

All of the plants are located in the same area to standardize lurking variables such as sun cover, rainfall, insect herbivory, and the microclimates of each block. His study will be able to be reproduced with 95 percent accuracy. This is lively science to be seen in an outdoor classroom where we can share the process with guests, students, and other researchers.

Fabricio takes every opportunity to share and crowd-source his ideas. The first planting day involved our UGACR maintenance team, most of whom have their own farms, to help weigh and mix the composts for the soil testing. A group of local farmers came to see and study the experiment due to their desire for new solutions.

Fabricio gladly shares the recipe, like teaching students from Fit4Earth how to bake a compost cake. These are young ticos who can apply the knowledge in their country, where 8% of the citizens work on coffee farms.

Fabricio’s hypothesis is that the optimized compost with purely organic material will facilitate coffee plant growth equally or better than the synthetic alternatives. The main objective is promoting sustainability by utilizing the natural resources that we have available. It can be more cost efficient because this method is easily obtainable within our environment.

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San Luis is a great example of a sustainable and organic model. If we prove this hypothesis correct, our community can serve as an inspiration to others. Through research and technological innovation we can bring the Costa Rican ecosystems back up to health by transitioning back to agro-forestry across the country.

The sustainable farms present in the community could use more strength for their plants. We could prove these soils to create more strength to grow, absorb nutrients, and contain water to hold throughout the dry season.

The common goal of Fabricio and participating interns is to bridge the gap between the practical farming community and the latest scientific breakthroughs. This experiment using unique ingredients is still one-of-a-kind on Earth. Fabricio is branching out by traveling to Germany for a month this summer to learn more about carbon sequestration.

It is already known that agro-forestry is more sustainable than monocultures. The questions Fabricio will resolve may prove that we don’t need any synthetic chemicals to maximize production. We can return to traditional methods with a newfound knowledge to gradually improve global health.

Blog post and photos by Photojournalism Intern Charles Austin Boll

The Man Behind the Mariposas

Eyes peer over the cabinets as José decides which butterfly case to show. Each is organized by family, pinned nicely in order to see the wings with an individual label for each subject.

José Joaquín Montero Ramírez is creating a library of information that many generations will be able to pass down. As well as being the Research, Instruction, and Internship Coordinator for UGA Costa Rica, José also leads workshops and lectures on his expertise – butterflies and moths.


UGA conservation inventories can be found in our lab, where the specimens are kept in sealed cases and organized by families. These collections are expected to last for 300-500 years and will be studied by future generations to tell our history.

“Having those specimens in a drawer with a label that specifies time, location, altitude, and GPS coordinates is extremely important because it’s the only way for you, in the future, to reveal a story.” – José Joaquín Montero Ramírez

Through his hands-on education and his growing collection of self-written books, that is exactly what José is doing – telling a brilliant story. We use the collection as one of our main tools to show students how thorough research is conducted.

José published two books on the Butterflies and Moths of Costa Rica in 2007. Now he is using the UGACR collection of over 1000 specimens collected on campus, beginning in 1998, to write his third book describing the 250 species that are found in San Luis de Monteverde.

CAB_2017_1395_Fit4Earth.jpgJosé’s main goal through teaching is to promote Bioliteracy.  This means that people study a particular biology well enough to become fluent in understanding the causes and effects, pushes and pulls, between environmental stimuli and species. Our field observations tie together butterflies with the plants that they use to eat and pupate, for example.

UGA Costa Rica is a place where we can constantly make observations, proving step-by-step that butterfly and moth behavior is a key indicator of environmental health.

Looking to publish his third book will bring him closer to San Luis, focusing on species that surround us here on campus. Costa Rica has .03 percent of the world’s land mass, but yet 8 percent of its butterflies and 11 percent of the world’s moths. Our campus is a magnifying glass to hold to the butterfly world.

José Joaquín Montero Ramírez has worked for a non-profit science organization as well as contributing to the National Museum of Costa Rica’s butterfly and moth collection.

As the curator in charge of collection at Costa Rica’s National Biodiversity Institute (INBio), José would organize parataxonomists, organize samples from families to species level, and teach new collectors how to preserve the specimens. Every curator would focus on one or more families

A research center in Ontario, Canada at the University of Guelph has a DNA reader that creates a library of barcodes of life for each species.

Butterfly researchers send a leg of the specimen to be tested by the machine and receive a detailed description of the genes in return (barcode). This information is crucial to the ability to delineate species boundaries, specifying which insect is a sibling or cryptic species, family member, distant cousin species, or a newly found species all together.

During his work with INBio, José was at the forefront of differentiating species using this form of identification. The family of moths that Jose was in charge of, Lasiocampidae, grew from 130 to 203 species through his leadership.

“When you have a collection, it implies that you have knowledge, and in this era of technology, if you have knowledge, you have a lot of power. Collections, for me, represent power in terms of having the opportunity, data, and the information to teach young people and show them that you have to collect butterflies and moths because it’s the only way to conserve.” – José Joaquín Montero Ramírez

Students are able to take a sample of a species, unravel their net to hold their butterfly gently, understanding that the interaction between human and insect can be purely positive without harming the butterfly. Then they sit down with the page of the butterfly family in the book and make their guess to exactly what species they have found.

They will learn the scientific and common name. José will often share amazing details about a unique characteristic or personality trait of that particular species.

The kids realize the animal and form a tangible connection between themselves and a certain species of insect. This can feel something quite new to students of all age, who are normally timid to hold insects, and show them that there’s no way to gain knowledge of a species if we don’t interact with it.

UGACR bridges the gap between the forest and the laboratory where we study. At this field station, a wealth of information is just right outside the doors of the lab. One of the main goals of this activity is to teach people how citizen science is applicable.

There are species fluttering around us that we still don’t know about; we are exploring new species month to month. Living in this unique forest that shares such a vast border with reserved land creates an atmosphere of discovery through some unexplored frontiers of biodiversity, sometimes flying right past your eyes.

Words and photos contributed by Photojournalism Intern Charles Austin Boll

Fit4Earth: From Grey Water to Garden

Fit4Earth continued their impactful service in our community by creating the third biogarden (biojardinera) in San Luis de Monteverde. An extra-muddy pat on the back was greatly deserved for their diligent work through unpredictable weather conditions.

This year’s group included 69 students from Colegio Humboldt, a German international school located in Pavas, San Jose. Excited to facilitate more fellowship with education in Costa Rica, this project filled a special spot. The service work was organized at the community center playground, where the group cleared an area and flattened out all of the land, preparing it to be a grass area for kids to play around the swings.

The second installment of the recent project was to build a biogarden in the front yard of the Puesto de Salud (Health Post). The biogarden (biojardinera) is an environmental tool that has become implemented particularly in Central America with growing popularity in Costa Rica.

So, what exactly is a biogarden?

A biogarden is a way for localized groups, as big as a school or as small as a single household, to treat their grey water. Grey water is any waste water from a household that is not from the toilet. The residual water from the showers, sinks and laundry is funneled to a garden instead of being disposed straight into the side yard or a close stream.

There may be up to a few preliminary tanks that are planted in the ground in front of the garden. The tanks have two PVC pipes running through them that allow grease and soap residue to become trapped, being retained and collecting inside the tank. This is a way to filter the water before it runs through the garden.

Large rocks are placed on the bottom of the biogarden on top of a plastic floor, then the rectangular pit is filled the rest of the way with gravel. The plants need to be placed at least fifteen centimeters underneath the surface to be able to collect the water. The plants that are used for a biogarden are species that are usually found in riverbanks and have long roots, like Coix lacryma-jobi, or Tears of San Pedro as they’re called in Costa Rica. There is no soil in the garden – just different sizes of rocks.

Much of the residual toxins and bacteria are trapped between the rocks before the water travels through the plant system. The water is slowed as it runs through the rocks and is then absorbed by the plants, as they demand more water and nutrients to continue growing. The remaining waste will be absorbed and processed by the plant tissues. Check out this video for an articulate account of how Costa Ricans put it together.

Our biogardens are located at the Escuela Alto San Luis, Finca El Nino (campus farm) and now the Puesto de Salud San Luis, pictured in order here. All three projects were contributed by the Fit4Earth program. The end product, seen top-right at our campus farm, is incredibly inconspicuous. The Tears of San Pedro will grow tall to cover most of the rocks and plastic, blending in with surrounding grass.

The new garden was proudly planted in the front yard of the community health center. Bringing this technology into fruition stimulates questions as to why sustainable practices are important on a family level. Imagine if every family used a biogarden to treat water before entering the watershed, the community’s water source could be left unpolluted.

Teaching this traditional and simple method to children from the city gives them a practical solution. Biogardens use simple and available resources, and only require minimal yard space. Becoming accountable for personal waste water will grow into a part of the ecological culture of Costa Rica, and the growing popularity will open discourse on minimizing anthropogenic harm in the watershed.

Large-scale projects have been introduced to the region, such as this project conducted in Sardinal. As the biojardinera gains steam and recognition, it will offer a practical solution to offset personal footprint caused by drainage water. This uplifting group of kids has already opened community discussion about the rare structure in the front yard of the health post. Keep your eyes out for the expansion of this idea and Fit4Earth workshops to come!

Photos and words contributed by Photojournalism Intern Charles Austin Boll with graphics by Nelly López

Fresh Paint!

Augusta University had a full week of activities like zip-lining, coffee tours, home stays, and night hikes. In all the adventure they still made plenty of time to connect with the local community during their immersive experience here at UGACR.

They started on a Monday morning to paint the interior of the Alto San Luis primary school. With 29 students, the task was feasible within a few hours.

The team started out by mixing the paint and put a full layer down, dividing the students, school faculty and volunteers up between the rollers and the brushes. The group was surprised by fresh plates of various fruits being served by the teachers, keeping everyone glowing with healthy energy. It was feeling like “mucho brete,” or tough work, but with a light-hearted ethic that maintained patience, playfulness, and the spirit of giving.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Students at the Escuela Altos de San Luis took advantage of the time their teachers were occupied. Primary and university students enjoyed an extended recess by playing soccer and riding bikes. The opportunity sparked interest in several of the kids to pitch in, freshening up their desks in the front lawn.

The inside of the classrooms and the desks were finished with orange after the first day. The design followed along the previous pattern of blue, with the bottom one-third several shades darker, leaving the top sections lighter. Teachers noticed that the orange allowed much more natural light to flow through the previously darker classroom.

Community pillar Geovanny Leitón continued his frequent volunteer service by organizing the supply of the paint and to allocate jobs to the students. Geovanny wins the superlative of class clown. He is the one to meticulously organize the event, but also the first to take a detouring moment, pretending to dump paint on a professor and poke at a smile.

Augusta University students had an amazing time crossing language barriers and laughing as some of the students practiced their basic Spanish skills, coming to familiarize themselves with how much more they still have to learn.

When the team returned to the school the following Wednesday to finish their service, they were pleasantly surprised with a performance the students were preparing for Dia de Juan Santamaría. A robust and talented band rang the room with percussion instruments, performing with a skill level that is usually is not achieved by this age group. It was one more way that the alto students demonstrated that they are an outstandingly connected group, always ready to give back.