Our Directed Research project took us to Carara National Park, where we conducted an ongoing study about visitation impacts in protected areas. With this data, we will be able to determine the visitation carrying capacity, in cooperation with the park administration. The project represents an exciting opportunity for students to engage with local stakeholders and share findings to the direct benefit the protected areas and communities – an integral part of the SFS mission!
Students took to the trails for data collection, measuring both biophysical and social indicators of visitation effects. Biophysical indicators included trail erosion, infrastructure damage, presence of illegal side trails, and mammal sightings. Students spent the week scouring the trail systems of Carara, measuring transects, documenting trail and infrastructure damage, and mapping trails with GPS, measuring tapes, clinometers and rangefinders.
Other biophysical data collection included our twice daily mammal observation walks, which aimed at comparing the presence of mammals in two zones of the park that differ in visitation intensity. Valuable lessons learned by our trail team: How to spot a venomous snake before you step on it, how to keep spider webs out of your face and that you always smell a peccary pig before you see it!
Our socioeconomic impact team had an equally important task: surveying tourists and visitors to determine their perception of trail and infrastructure quality, services offered, park crowding and road noise as well as overall satisfaction with their experience within the park. Valuable lessons learned: How to sweet talk tourists into taking surveys, and the complex social dynamics of parking lot iguanas, which for the most part are mediated by head-bobbing duels!
It was an unforgettable week, with highlights including: Beach sunsets, early morning mammal walks, and endless wildlife sightings from venomous snakes to monkeys, scarlet macaws, peccaries, crocodiles to the beloved Jesus Christ Lizards running on water.
Assessment of trail conditions. All photos courtesy of Andrea Bert
Can you spot the Fer-de-Lance snake?
Listening for the sound of spider monkeys