Category Archives: tropical rainforest

Environmental Education Project in Puerto Maldonado, Peru

Below, former student Ashley Bassett blogs on the environmental education day that my UW course set up for 15 students from an elementary school on the outskirts of Puerto Maldonado, Peru. Puerto Maldonado is best known as a gold mining boom town in the southeastern lowlands of Peru. Until recently it was a small outpost surrounded by hundreds of miles of unbroken Amazon rainforest, only accessible by boat or dirt road. Now Puerto Maldonado is also a stop on the Interoceanica Highway (from Sao Paulo, Brazil to the Peru’s Pacific coast). Because of its newfound prominence, the town is growing exponentially every year, in the most ramshackle of ways. Poor peasants from the highlands flood into the area in search of work in the gold mines, while illegal logging operations have sprung up uncontrollably on either side of the highway. This growth (not to mention gold mining and logging, both of which are mostly done illegally) has been accompanied by massive  environmental and social issues in the area.

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Environmental Education Project in Puerto Maldonado, Peru

poco a poco

I’m back in Puerto after nearly two months and have quickly shed my tourist clothing, pace and mentality for my worn and grimy wardrobe and a new outlook on my surroundings that now seem completely familiar and peculiarly comforting. Never would I have predicted that Puerto Maldonado would feel like a temporary home, yet when I arrived three weeks ago to find how much had changed in such a brief time, my response was one of possession, one that I would have toward changes in Nebraska or Seattle…this lead to an “epiphany“ of sorts. My explanation for this pseudo attachment, or the only one that I could conjure up, is that the changes that I have noticed here remind me that small changes back home, passing slowly and maybe unnoticeably to friends and family, are going to be blatant and foreign to me when I get back. So, my request is…

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Environmental Education Days, Bocas del Toro, Panama.

In the spring of 2007, I took a few days off of my research routine to develop and implement an environmental education program for a local school near one of my field sites on Isla Bastimentos. The theme of the program was watersheds and water health. We surveyed a stream near the school for benthic macro inverts as indicators of water quality, and then followed the stream to its mouth, where we talked about the impacts of sedimentation on mangrove and coral ecosystems. Marlon Smith from the Smithsonian Institute helped me with the program, and we implemented the program twice–once with the younger students, and once with the older students, with each group getting 3 sessions–one in the classroom, one at the stream site, and one at the mangrove site.

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The older students taking a short cut to the stream survey field site with Mr. Kelly.

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Next, the younger students got their turn.

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This freshwater shrimp is likely unique to Isla Bastimentos and undescribed by science.

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At the end of the day, we finished with an interconnections activity, designed to teach about the food web as well as  interconnections between terrestrial and aquatic systems:

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Look at how students commute home in Bocas del Toro:

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Environmental Education Day, La Selva, Costa Rica.

It was a trip to La Selva Biological Station on the Caribbean slope of Costa Rica as a tourist in 2000 that got me hooked on tropical biology. I will never forget the sounds and smells of the rain forest the day I arrived at the station on a muggy sunny evening as an eager tourist. Parrots and parakeets were streaking across the fields outside the station, flying to the tops of giant ceiba trees in the evening light. I could hear howler monkeys in the forest as I approached, behind the din of the parrots. Walking across the bridge at La Selva was like entering another world. I was quickly subsumed by the deep earthy (greenhouse-like) smell of the forest. The whine of the cicadas then enveloped me, and was only punctuated by the occasional ethereal calls of tinamous as darkness closed in around me.

In March 2007, I took a break from my usual research routine and La Selva to put on a stream survey program for students from a local school. We had a great time getting into the water and learning about the macro-inverts present there. We also learned about bio-diversity and foodweb relationships. The students finished their day with some time for reflective journaling by the stream. The lesson plan I developed was used by the Organization for Tropical Studies for at least several years after I left.

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