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Costa Rica offers multiple ecosystems, first-hand views of climate change

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Over interterm, I was lucky enough to be a part of the Bethel College class Tropical Biology that travelled to Costa Rica.

During our time there, we visited four different research stations in different parts of the country. I was astonished that a country so small (one-fourth the size of Kansas) could have such diversity of ecosystems.

We began at Las Cruces, a premontane rain forest. Next was Palo Verde, a dry deciduous forest. Third, we travelled to Cabo Blanco, which is a coastal forest, and we ended the trip at La Selva, a tropical wet forest.

Each of these places had their own unique experiences to enjoy. Las Cruces boasts the most famous botanical gardens in Central America, so we were able to explore and learn about many different types of tropical plants.

We waded through the wetlands at Palo Verde and took a boat ride that let us get up close and personal with some crocodiles.

Cabo Blanco, the group favorite, is located at the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, right on the ocean. We spent a great deal of time there exploring the tide pools at low tide, finding puffer fish, sea urchins, conchs and literally thousands of hermit crabs.

The tropical wet forest at La Selva has incredible biodiversity, allowing us to observe sloths, macaws, toucans, bullet and leafcutter ants, and howler monkeys (just to name a few).

The average day was full of hiking, studying, working on group and individual research projects, and eating lots of gallo pinto (rice and beans) at our meals.

We also made sure to make time each day to enjoy the nature around us. Costa Rica is an incredibly beautiful country, and everywhere we went, I found myself trying to soak in the moment, knowing that I will probably never be able to return to these places again.

Something that really struck me was Costa Ricans’ concern about climate change. Anyone we asked would explain that they had seen drastic changes in the climate in the past 15 to 20 years.

I heard about this especially at La Selva. Our guide, Kenneth, explained how the animals’ habits and patterns had changed, and how the wet forest that formerly received rain consistently throughout the year is now developing a dry season.

Much of the exotic flora and fauna of the tropics need consistent conditions, and the changing climate can drastically affect many species, which can ultimately wreak havoc on these ecosystems.

Costa Rica works to protect these forests, but they cannot stop climate change alone. Countries around the world must work to prevent climate change, or we risk losing many of the diverse tropical species that are found nowhere else in the world.

I returned from Costa Rica with a much greater understanding of tropical ecosystems and the country of Costa Rica, an appreciation for simple food, and a nice tan. I am thankful for the opportunity to have studied in such a unique and beautiful place.

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Sarah Balzer is a sophomore from Inman. Other students in the 2017 Bethel interterm class Tropical Biology Field Trip, led by Jon Piper, professor of biology, were Connor Born, North Newton, Westen Gesell, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Heath Goertzen, Goessel, Maya Kathrineberg, Salina, Kimberly McLaughlin, Fremont, California, Morgan Murphy, Newton, Katrina Regehr, Whitewater, Tyler Shima, Topeka, Neil Smucker, North Newton, and Ben Wiens, Goessel.

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