¡Pura vida a todos! “Pura vida” literally means “pure life”, but what a wonderful sign it is that it is also a very common greeting here, unique to Costa Rica! It is actually more than just “hello”: it can also mean “goodbye”, “OK”, “cool”, “all right”, “I’m fine, thank you”, and a whole slew of other things! It is also true that everyone here is super nice and loves de-stressing, but before all this ad-libbing about Costa Rican life, here is the most important baseline information about my summer:
Osa Conservation (Conservación Osa) is a non-profit organization that protects and promotes the immense biodiversity on the Osa Peninsula: home to >50% of all of Costa Rica’s living species and therefore 2.5% of the planet’s biodiversity (all of Costa Rica has 5%). The peninsula originated as a separate large island in the Pacific but merged with Central America about 2 million years ago, which explains Osa’s tremendous biodiversity. Living things are known to evolve faster on islands—a likelihood that resulted in a vast number of endemic species and very unique tropical ecosystems found nowhere else in our solar system. In short, Osa is truly and absolutely a stellar physical environment. Learn more about the organization HERE.
I live 24/7 at the Greg Gund Conservation Center: a research station situated in the middle of protected secondary rainforest, several of Osa Conservation’s reforestation plantations, and adjacent to Corcovado National Park. Despite living among jaguars, pumas, and ocelots, to my surprise everyone here sleeps very soundly with their doors and windows completely open. But actually to my surprise—I had no idea about this norm until after waking up from a nap my first afternoon upon arrival with my eyes wide open literally being able to see nothing—all I saw was black. Nothing at all like turning all of your house lights off—no. You open your eyes wide, wiggle them frantically all around, and can see NOTHING. I felt my way over to close all windows and doors and huddled in fetal position on my bed prepared to fight because my supervisor told me earlier that day that interns have come and left literally the next day because they could not stand the darkness or scary rainforest sounds at night. If I am going to learn to survive in the jungle, I need a flashlight ASAP. Thankfully, my supervisor stopped by a few minutes later, told me that there is no danger, and this jungle is now my home.
The research station is a tightly-knit community of local staff and researchers. I sleep 2 minutes away from where my supervisor does, which is great because we get to throw ideas back and forth often and get to know each other better. I believe this is somewhat how research life is; dreaming, eating, sleeping, and breathing what you love in pursuit of making the world a better place. I am super excited to be living it now.
I got this opportunity with the help of a former Brandeis student who was Osa Conservation’s General Manager until just recently. She came to speak to my ecology class last semester, we networked over coffee at Einstein’s, and we corresponded through e-mail to discuss project opportunities that lay at a crossroads between each of our interests before putting together our funding application.
I am working here on monitoring a 20-year-old reforestation plantation of Bombacopsis quinata regarding the amount of atmosphere-sequestered carbon that the area stores as a means of providing a model that can help further research about general trends in tropical-rainforest regeneration, the potential for tropical rainforests to serve as carbon sinks with which to mitigate climate change, and optimal parameters for future tropical-forest conservation projects (especially those in which Osa is involved). This survey will also include edge-effect and species-specific information so as to target more potential information about regenerating tropical rainforests. Here is a great guide for all carbon-measuring projects, and therefore the one I am using for this project: HERE. I have also served as translator for student groups led by local hiking guides.
During my first week here I met the majority of Osa’s staff and other researchers working with Osa, learned to navigate the “backyard” (AKA forest) where I will be working alone using a map and GPS, and worked on the experimental design aspect of the monitoring project, which involved days of staring at the computer learning how to work with completely new but immensely valuable GIS software, a key part of almost all environmental research. What takes years of learning curves I learned in about 2 days…my eyes hurt a little! My supervisor is very helpful conceptually but likes to be hand-off in the practical sense; a method which feels very conducive to learning and growth. Throughout this summer, I hope to learn much more about conducting reliable forestry research and ways through which to effectively communicate environmental-conservation news to audiences with weaker environmental consciences.
I will send love from Brandeis to all of the lizards, iguanas, snakes, toads, pelicans, monkeys, and scarlet-macaw couples I see!
Nick Medina ’14