THE CENTRAL AMERICA PROJECT: TROPICAL ECOSYSTEMS & CULTURES
Central America has one of the most diverse landscapes on earth, from lava spewing volcanoes to lush rainforests to tropical reefs. In this project, we will explore Costa Rica and Panamá’s renown biodiversity and cultures. With 25% of its land in national parks and reserves, Costa Rica alone contains 5% of the earth’s biodiversity, including more than 6,000 plant species, 500 butterflies, and 800 birds. Panamá is a country with rich human and ecological histories. The country hosts a diversity of flora, fauna and human cultures, from modern cities to indigenous communities and ethnic groups throughout the length of its isthmus.
Natural and human communities have coexisted here for thousands of years with varying degrees of success. Yet Central America enters the twenty-first century at a crossroads. An expanding population, free trade agreements, and export-based economies threaten both traditional livelihoods and tropical biodiversity. The region’s political history and economic dependence upon the U.S. have also had significant environmental impacts. Numerous communities, however, are exploring new and innovative ways to restore damaged ecosystems and continue traditional lifestyles.
We begin our project in Costa Rica by exploring the country’s incredible biodiversity, basing ourselves out of biological research stations deep within the rainforest. We will also visit several outstanding national parks to consider land management issues, examine the complex environmental challenges faced by Costa Rica’s growing economy and assess the nation’s strategies to keep these special areas wild. Camping and backpacking along the way, we will investigate the complexity of tropical ecosystems and wildlife populations with a view toward understanding how these are impacted by human activities. By gaining an understanding of conservation biology we can better assess Costa Rica’s conservation program and examine the role and challenges of sustainability.
With this as a foundation, we will explore human land use impacts through our onsite study of regional food systems, both traditional and organic, in order to discover the differences. We will also examine firsthand agroecology, permaculture, and ecotourism projects that promote sustainability. Exploring the question of how human activity can preserve biodiversity, we will assess the conservation prospects of these key projects.
In Panamá we will continue to explore issues in conservation biology and land management conflicts through field studies and unique learning opportunities in Coiba National Park and the The Smithsonian’s Tropical Research Institute (STRI). In addition, we will also spend time in the Kuna Yala indigenous reserve on the Caribbean coast where our focus will shift toward the study of environmental equity and cultural sustainability.
Team members will leave this special region of Central America with a better understanding of the connection and challenges of economic growth, environmental conservation and land management, as well as a unique glimpse into the lives of the indigenous peoples and their everyday struggle for equity and sustainability.
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