During spring break, I was one of 12 students who went to Costa Rica for the Caltech Y Alternative Spring Break trip. The group consisted of both undergraduates and graduate students across all majors, but everyone shared a strong love of the outdoors and protecting our planet Earth. Our goal was to volunteer with research scientists at Osa Conservation’s research center in Costa Rica to learn about it’s conservation efforts.
From a fortuitous Internet search, I happened upon the Osa Conservation in September 2017. Working with my other trip leader, Nicholas Hutchins, and Greg and Camila from the Y, we began planning our nine-day Costa Rican adventure. We arrived in San José, Costa Rica’s capital, a city filled with colorful buildings and bustling markets.
Our group started learning more about one another as we prepared to drive down to the Osa Coast the next day. On our bus journey, our tour guide pointed out a variety of tourist destinations along the coast. As we made our way to the Osa Conservation Research Station, our bus drove through rivers into the rainforest.
The Osa Coast is a peninsula of Costa Rica and is covered with stunning rainforests, miles of sandy beaches, rivers, and swamps. With 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity in a very small region, the Osa Coast is known as one of the most biologically intense places on Earth. The area was deforested heavily to make way for pasture and cropland, but in the last 50 years, conservation efforts have added a thriving secondary forest to the area. For all these reasons, the Osa Coast really demonstrates how the impact of conservation can be seen within one’s lifetime.
At Osa, we had a brief orientation where we learned what we would be doing throughout the week. We stayed in cabinas, small huts with an open façade where howler monkeys woke us every morning at 5 a.m. We volunteered at Osa for five days. All the volunteer groups ate breakfast together before beginning our projects.
Our volunteer coordinator, Rachael, made sure we did a wide variety of projects throughout the week. We worked at the farm, weeding, planting, and even cleaning up after the goats! We learned how to make shrimp traps and set them in the river to study shrimp behavior. We hiked through the jungle to collect stingless bees for cultivating vanilla in the rainforest. We collected leaf litter from the primary rainforest to transport to reforestation plots. Perhaps everyone’s favorite project was helping preserve the sea turtles from predators. In the morning, we hiked along the beach looking for turtle eggs. Once we found them, we brought them back to the hatchery to keep them safe. One morning, our group got to release 120 baby sea turtles into the ocean.
Throughout all these projects, we worked with different research scientists from all around the world and heard about their passion for conservation. I was impressed by how creative field science could be, for instance, making bee traps out of used soda bottles. Our group grew closer as we worked together in the humid heat and cooled off in the river and lagoons. Everyone was so enthusiastic and stepped up to help for every little task. I was very impressed by their stamina! Our trip ended with a fun day at Matapalo, a local beach, where we celebrated all the work we had done. On our return trip, a stopover in San Jose gave us a brief opportunity to explore the city before it was time to fly back home.
After being involved with the Y for four years, this was my first Y international trip and a very memorable one. It was very gratifying to help the Osa Conservation research scientists on a multitude of projects and gain a deeper appreciation for the rainforest and our planet. We’re all incredibly grateful for the Frank and Elsie Stefanko fund that made this trip possible!
Read more of our Alternative Spring Break trips on Now@Caltech’s webpage: