“Couldn’t stay in bed so I went outside around 5am. No one was around so I had a chance to take a deep breath and enjoy the surroundings. I felt relaxed and appreciated the moment. The efforts made by Costa Ricans to conserve and protect these beautiful areas of nature must be a contributing factor to their culture of peace. Maintaining these areas not only protects biodiversity and the environment, but also serves as a symbol of the country’s national identity. Before this trip, whenever I told people that I was going to Costa Rica the inevitable response was “I’ve heard it’s beautiful there.”
It is. One of the reasons why it is so beautiful is that the people that live here make it a priority to keep it that way.”
Those excerpts from my journal encapsulate my feelings about Costa Rica. My trip was not for field study, nor was the main point of it to explore the amazing biodiversity and conservation ethic of the country. The trip was was part of a course entitled “Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution.” Part of the course was a 10-day trip to Costa Rica, which admittedly was the main reason I became interested in the first place. We explored aspects of Costa Rican society and listened to lectures from speakers from different disciplines and backgrounds (e.g., education, government, conservation, culture). We took field trips aimed at studying Costa Rica’s “culture of peace” and how it permeates virtually every aspect of their society, including the government. The trip to Monteverde, where I wrote the journal entry quoted above, was actually our time off: taking us out of San Jose for 2 nights and giving us a bit of a break from our long days in the classroom and buses. It was a wonderful respite from the bustle.
A few years prior, a friend of mine had taken a trip to Costa Rica for a field study in herpetology and all he could talk about was how amazingly GREEN everything was. I had not seen anything to fit that description. But all of that changed when we arrived in Monteverde – which literally means “green mountain.” I remember thinking: here is Costa Rica! Immediately I was struck by the diversity of plants, many of which were unlike anything I had ever seen before. Nearly 4% of the total number of species in the world are in Costa Rica!
But where were the animals? Where were these amazing technicolor frogs I had read so much about? The two things I looked forward to seeing most were spiders and frogs, and probably like most people, I had the mistaken impression that they would be everywhere; that you would practically have to avoid stepping on them. However, I was only able to catch a glimpse(I mean literally, a tiny peek) at a frog. A single solitary frog. And that wasn’t even on my morning hike on the trails around the lodge, but was on a night hike with a guide that had eagle eyes and knew the area like the back of his hand. However, I did get to see some really cool spiders and lots of other plants and animals. But I still secretly wondered: where were the frogs?
Not that my anecdotal “froglessness” should be interpreted as representative of frog populations sizes in Costa Rica, but it did get me thinking about extinction. Apparently even in Costa Rica, a place that is known for its efforts in conservation, reforestation, preservation, and any other environmentally conscious word ending in -“ation” that you can think of, they are losing species at an alarming rate. Deforestation has been primary cause of biodiversity in Costa Rica, but increasingly climate change is seen as a major biodiversity threat, particularly in mountainous areas. Among the most vulnerable organisms to climate change are the amphibians, as recent research has documented linkages between pathogen outbreaks and global warming. The golden toad. Gone. The Monteverde harlequin frog. Gone. And these extinctions are before the “escalator effect” even gets going. This NPR podcast is a nice summary of the situation.
“A few of us heard that there was a suspension bridge on one of the trails, so we went for a little hike before leaving Monteverde. I could have spent the whole day on that trail, just listening to the sounds of the birds and nothing else. We didn’t talk much, instead just thinking about how lucky we were to be there.”
And almost 2 years later, I still feel the same way. The remaining species of frogs probably do too.