Turtles, Trash, and Mangrove Trees
This past January, Professor Elizabeth Hasenmyer introduced BIO 170, Costal Biology, to the Biology department. The brand new class, which will occur every other January, gives non-Biology majors experience working in the conservation field.
After a week of lectures and training on campus, Hasenmyer led eight students to the west coast of Costa Rica for nine days.
“We went to several different habitats, took tours, talked about things, and, when we got to the coast, we were specifically with a group called ‘Latin America Sea Turtles,’ or LAST,” said Hasenmyer.
LAST serves the Costa Rican community in numerous ways. Though their primary purpose is protecting and researching sea turtles, they also provide volunteer opportunities for conservation and research, conduct trash cleanup on the beach, and reforest mangroves.
The students specifically participated in the turtle research and mangrove reforestation. Hasenmyer noted that everyone got to see, touch, and interact with 150-pound sea turtles. A major emphasis of the trip was the importance of conserving sea turtles.
“In South American countries, sea turtles are hunted for lots reasons,” said Hasenmyer. “Sea turtles are eaten … If you’ve ever seen tortoise shell glasses or jewelry, it’s actually from a turtle’s shell. Also, their eggs are eaten … So, there’s a lot of illegal poaching.”
Hasenmyer went on to explain how scientists are working hard to find a balance between conserving the sea turtles and preserving local culture. For example, in order to find that balance, conservationists allow some turtle eggs to be taken from specific spots at specific times, allowing locals to maintain their culture but also protecting many other turtles.
In addition to participating in the sea turtle research, the students learned of the importance of mangroves, including their necessity in keeping the beach from eroding, as well as how they protect the coast from flooding.
Hasenmyer recounted one reforestation project due to someone illegally building a house on a beach. “[The builder] wanted to have a clear view of the ocean, so he chopped down all the mangroves. Within two years, his house was flooded constantly, and the beach had eroded.”
Despite the tragedy of the situation, Hasenmyer saw this as a great example for her students to see the importance of mangroves.
She hopes to continue this class for the foreseeable future, as the student response was extremely positive, and it provided a very different experience from what a lot of students were used to. “Very few of our classes for non-majors do anything outside. That component energizes the students. It’s interesting. It’s more hands on. It’s a more immersive experience than being in the classroom.”