Written by: Anna Hergt
As we hopped on the bus off to part two of a four part series of ecological field trips lead by the Conchal Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre, I thought about the last time we went. The purpose of these field trips is to measure the differences in the ecosystem throughout the year, but besides the new volunteers on the bus, I expected everything to be mostly the same. We had the same kids, the same guide, and since there are only two seasons in Costa Rica (wet and dry), I assumed the rich forest we descended into only 2 months ago would be pretty much the same as well. Learning from past experience, this time I was manned with long pants, sneakers, and a backpack filled with snacks and bug spray.
We pulled up outside the gates of the reserve, and our guide came to the window to ask us to follow her truck further down the road instead. Besides the girls singing obliviously in the back, we all began to wonder where we were headed, until the bumpity bump bump of the tires on the rocky dirt road began to sssssssssssssss across the sand. We were among huge trees that were popping out of the sand, with a beautiful estuary on one end and pristine ocean in the distance on the other. As a baby wild horse galloped by neighing and searching for his mother, we were told that half of the 4 field trips would be observing the differences in estuaries in the different seasons.
Our students were so excited to grab their magnifying glasses and clipboards again to play scientist and record their observations about the estuaries. First on the list was here, Playa Puerto Viejo, a beach protected by Conchal Refugio. This estuary was fed by a river and booming with life; many plants popping through the sand and the water, tadpoles, little fish, wild horses, and myriad bird species. No pants, sneakers, or bug spray needed. The water was murky but healthy and the air was fresh even as the rain began sprinkling down on us. In perfect timing, or perhaps because it’s so predictable here, we hopped on the bus as the rain began pouring down.
Next we went to check out another estuary in Playa Brasilito. We parked past the tourist shops and restaurants, and then walked along the beach among tin roof huts lined with soda cans and chip bags. Across the estuary an electric line and water hose hung down a bit too close for comfort. Here I was glad I wore pants, sneakers, and bug spray. The water was stagnant and dirty, most of the plants were dead, and there was little animal life in or around it. It was immediately apparent how devastating the emergence of people was on this type of ecosystem. The kids took their seats on a log and began writing their observations furiously. By the time we needed to leave, they had flipped their papers over, still moving their pencils across the paper and refusing to get up. Though I was starving for my snacks on the bus, and it was getting dark, I was beaming with pride and fought myself to let them keep writing.
Looking back, I’m so glad that this was part of our series of field trips. I know the purpose is actually to see the differences in the estuaries over the course of a year, but comparing the pristine estuary to one invaded by people was such an added benefit. I often see many of the kids, and adults, throwing trash on the ground the second they’re finished with it. Growing up with the sense that not putting trash in the trash can was the worst thing I could possibly do, I’m always shocked. I hope they were able to see the effect that people can have on the environment, and grow up with the awareness that they are part of the earth. Another added benefit for me? Lots of new, scientific Spanish words in my vocabulary!
Stay tuned as we tackle our homework from Conchal – to take the kids to the Potrero estuary and take notes in English this time!