Alexie McNerthney in Costa Rica and Nicaragua

Uploaded by PCCvideos on 27.04.2012

My name’s Alexie McNerthney.
I’m a faculty member for the biology department
here at Portland Community College at the Sylvania Campus.
And last June I had the opportunity to travel
to Costa Rica and Nicaragua for the CIEE faculty tours.
And the focus of that trip last year was sustainability.
In Costa Rica there are regions that are set aside
as what are called zone reserves.
They’re similar to wildlife refuges in the United States.
And they are protected to maintain the bio-diversity of that region.
So Costa RIca is considered a biological hot spot.
And includes a lot of important species that are recognized
as important around the world.
So there’s a disproportionate number of endemic species there.
Species that occur nowhere else in the world.
One of the things that I took away from this trip
was that people often when they talk about sustainability
they talk about people, planet, and profit.
The triple bottom line.
And I realize that that’s not just a theory or just a saying.
It’s really true that the infra-structure needs to be set up
so that the people can continue to live on the land.
They need to be able to make a profit.
Adjacent to some of those zone reserves
there are regions that are used for farming.
And the way that those farms are managed really determines
the success of those adjoining zone reserves.
If you look at this slide here
you can see there’s a coffee plantation in rows on this hillside,
but there’s also a corridor just above that coffee plantation
where the trees are left in place.
So that animals can travel through these safe corridors.
And the coffee is planted in a way that prevents erosion.
So they’re planted horizontally along the landscape here.
You know, the other focus of our trip there was
to learn how Costa Rica is economically trying to sustain themselves
by relying on their natural resources to provide of eco-tourism.
One region of Costa Rica is the Monte Verde Cloud Forest
which is a very unique eco-system.
There’s a lot of productivity with regard of the growth of plants.
And so when you go through the cloud forest,
you see plants growing on plants.
You see orchids and mosses and ferns.
Every bit of space is living organisms. It’s very lush and green.
It’s very wonderful to be there and experience that.
They also have lots of research that’s going on - biological research.
Right now they’re doing many long-term studies
on the effects of climate change on that region.
So that was interesting to hear about as well.
And I really enjoyed seeing some of the birds
and small mammals and insects and exotic orchids
and things like that I’ve been able to talk to my students about.
Or maybe show them slides from textbook sources,
but now I have my own slides to share.
And so that’s really wonderful for me
to have that first hand perspective that I can share with my students.
We travelled to Nicaragua by boat.
And so we got to see this wonderful riparian habitat,
the habitat that’s adjacent to the river.
So on the banks of the river we were able to see a lot of species
that you wouldn’t normally see if you were hiking through the jungle,
because of the interface with the water there.
And so yes we saw some lizards.
The Jesus Christ lizard, the one that walks on water
was a lot of fun for us to see.
We saw howler monkeys.
And we say many species of birds.
The jungle was just alive with noise.
It was really wonderful to experience that.
[Jungle sounds]
After our visit to Nicaragua, we went back to Costa Rica
and we took a dug-out canoe trip to a small village
where the Bri-Bri tribe lives.
They harvest cacao and they produce chocolate from that cacao.
We were taken on a walk through the forest.
And so the cacao trees are not in plantations
or in rows like you would traditionally think.
They’re just scattered throughout the forest.
And so we picked a fruit, opened it up, saw what this looked like.
Then we went to the center of their village.
And they provided us this fabulous lunch
that of course included chocolate. [Laughs]
So that was very wonderful.
But we talked with the village people
and found out that there’s a fungus that is spreading
through this region and it is attacking the cacao trees.
And it’s not certain what the future will be for this village
as this fungus spread through this region.
And it really highlighted for me, as a biologist,
this is an example of how an organism,
a fungus can really determine historical fate of a group of people.
It’s sobering. I would like to learn that they will find a solution
for this fungal disease at some point.
That would be some thing that would make me very happy.
But we recognize it for what it is and it’s definitely a problem.
I really noticed how tied the people of Costa Rica
are with their natural resources.
How much they rely on them directly.
Of course, we all rely on natural resources around the world.
The connectedness is very direct there.
I would imagine you could ask anyone in Costa Rica
where does your food come from.
And they would be able to tell you.
And they also recognize the importance of preserving
their resources and their abundant bio-diversity as a survival.
Since eco-tourism is such a big part of it,
it’s very important to them.
It was interesting to see.
I was moved by how friendly everybody was.
My Spanish is very very limited. [Laughs]
But everybody that I met took the time
to try to communicate with me.
Everybody was just very warm and friendly and wonderful.
I had a wonderful time.