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Students Study Tropical Ecology and Nonprofits in Costa Rica

June 3, 2015


by Dr. Judith Hoffmann

This summer, as one of TLU’s faculty-led study abroad programs, students traveled to Costa Rica to study tropical ecology and nonprofits. During the 11-day trip to Costa Rica, students experienced the rainforests and learned about how nonprofits work to enhance the environment of Costa Rica. 

Dr. Mark Gustafson, professor of biology and director of the environmental studies program, and Dr. Judith Hoffmann, associate professor and social entrepreneurship director, led the trek through the tropical oasis. After months of classes, reading books, writing research papers and compiling packing lists the 20 students boarded their flight to Costa Rica to see first-hand all they read about in their texts.

The Costa Rican tropical ecosystem proved very photogenic and brought to life everything the students studied in class the months before. While exploring Carrerra National Park, Savegre and Hacianda Baru, students spotted crocodiles, monkeys, amazing birds such as the resplendent quetzal, the elusive blue morpho butterfly, the dreaded fer-de-lance, two and three toed sloths, lizards, tropical and highland plants, and so much more.

For the BIOL 379 Tropical Ecology course the students and faculty hiked almost 60 miles led by local guides through lowland tropical forests in and around Uvita, mountain trails in the Talamanca Mountain range and all the way up to the tropical highlands at 11,000 feet elevation at the Cerro de la Muerta park. 

They also kayaked through a mangrove swamp, and marveled at the life forms seen during their nocturnal hikes such as the fer-de-lance and glass frog.

As part of the Geography 379/Social Entrepreneurship 379 Nonprofits & NGOs the group heard from Amy Work from GEOPORTers about the role of GIS in Escuela Verde School’s environmental community projects and then volunteered their time trash mapping to help her group find the cause and solutions to excess trash effecting the environment in Bahia. 

They also heard from ASANA about turtle protection along the Pacific shore and then worked at their turtle sanctuary. In addition to hands-on learning experiences, they also made time for beach combing, bird watching and taking in some beautiful sunsets.

Highlights of the trip itinerary included:

  • Visit Escuela Verde and learn about the school's ongoing GIS projects in the community.
  • Explore Costa Rica’s renowned biodiversity and varied ecosystems at Corcovado National Park.
  • Kayak to explore mangroves and observe human effects on this important ecosystem at Uvita, home to rainforests, sandy beaches and a healthy dose of wildlife.
  • Observe unique wildlife and one of the most impressive panoramas in Costa Rica at Cerro de la Muerte.
  • Hike through the cloud forest at Savegre’s private reserve to compare tropical montane and lowland forest habitats.

Dr. Judith Hoffmann is an associate professor and the director of the social entrepreneurship program and adult education partnerships at Texas Lutheran University.