El Sur (“The South”) is a small village of less than 100 people, located right on the edge of several thousand hectares of protected tropical rain and mountain forests in the Central Pacific Region of Costa Rica. The village is surrounded by a mosaic of pastureland, timber plantations, secondary forests and pristine forest areas. The SFS Center for Sustainable Development Studies has a long-standing relationship with a local, community-based organization called Ecosur, which has the main goal to develop the area in a sustainable way by small-scale agro-ecotourism, education, and sound land management practices. This is the place that we chose for the development of the students’ independent research projects for the past summer session. Students had the opportunity to develop their own field project, based on a broad variety of topics, ranging from wild food harvesting, stream condition assessment, carbon sequestration, ecological effects of habitat fragmentation, the community’s perception of climate change issues and many more.
In my opinion this is a great approach to learn about doing research, because students get to explore real-world problems according to their own interest and develop a strong ownership of their project, which is an important motivation to give their best out in the field. It is indeed impressive how much can be done in such a short time. Within a couple of weeks students developed ideas, came up with sampling designs, completed their field work, wrote a report and delivered a set of excellent presentations to students, faculty, and outside visitors, back at the Center.
What was perhaps most inspiring for all of us, besides the individual achievements of each student, was living for a week within a welcoming rural community. In El Sur, many community members perceive the surrounding protected areas as a source for education and development and have a genuine commitment to conservation. Our visit was a great opportunity to learn from each other about sustainable development challenges and strategies by sharing perspectives from different part of the world.