Unexpected Adventures and Discoveries

By Cambria Cox

Each year, a select group of students from the Zoo Magnet School and the student volunteer program are chosen for the Duttenhaver Animal Conservation Field Study Team. The group assists field researchers engaged in conservation projects around the world that are part of the EarthWatch Institute. These opportunities to experience scientific fieldwork firsthand, made possible thanks to support from Linda Duttenhaver, inspire many of the student participants to pursue future studies and careers in science and conservation.

In recent years, scientists working in Coto Brus have noticed something unique. Local landowners have begun planting fruiting trees on their properties—although the specific reasons for this are not yet clear. Scientists hypothesize that these trees hold the secret to improving the resilience of forest ecosystems and restoring the continuity of Costa Rica’s tropical forests, which benefits both people and wildlife. As part of this study, this year’s Earthwatch team worked directly with researchers to study the ecological benefits of fruiting trees, and the motivations of the tree-planters themselves.

When I received the email saying that I had been accepted as one of the nine student fellows to go to Costa Rica, I was ecstatic. This is something that I had dreamed of doing ever since I was little—that is, being somewhere new and being able to study the environment in order to help protect it. But once I calmed down and realized what this actually meant, I started to worry.

I worried not about going to a new place where surroundings are unfamiliar, but rather, I worried about what would be coming with me: the eight other student fellows. I was worried about who they were going to be and whether or not everyone would get along once we met and were in Costa Rica. But I shouldn’t have been uncomfortable, because those eight people would turn out to be one of my favorite aspects about this journey. They are what made the fieldwork so enjoyable. The unplanned hikes during our siestas were out not just scenic walks but unexpected adventures.

My expectations at the beginning of the trip were that field days would be long and tiring with lots of waiting for nothing to happen and that the researchers would be nice but constantly working. Even though the research did involve a lot of waiting for species to appear in order to record data, it really didn’t feel like it because while we worked we all got to know each other and really experience the wildlife.

The researchers were always there as well, helping us to learn and enjoy the experience. And even though I learned that I truly enjoy doing field research, the best moments where during our free time when we went out and completed a night hike and watched Chris Rodriguez, one of our mentors, try to do a flip off of a soccer goal, or climbed inside a giant strangler fig tree and caught a giant frog, called a smoky jungle frog, that made sounds like a cat. Those moments were the times that taught me that I didn’t need to worry if the group would like me because I just had to be myself to enjoy everything. Even though I expected to learn more about the environment and fieldwork, what I really learned about was myself.