Arturo Cruz has worked at the University of Georgia Costa Rica campus as head naturalist since 2011. As head naturalist, he is in charge of training resident naturalists to give tours and lead activities. He also is involved with many of the research projects on campus, including water quality, weather stations, and bird counts as well as the IT department.
A typical day, “goes from giving a hike or a night hike to doing research or identifying aquatic insects in the lab, to installing new computers or software,” he said. “My days go through all of them.”
As resident naturalists come and go through the years, the head naturalist is in charge of training and preserving a sense of continuity. “One of the main ideas for this position was to have one person who is from the area to know the natural history of this area so that we are all sharing the same information.”
Cruz began learning about nature from an early age. “I started learning about natural history, biology, ecology, and all that stuff from my family, from my father. He has worked some for some biologists in Monteverede on a lot of different projects and research.” During school vacations, Cruz would go out with his father has he studied bats or orchids. Growing up in such an environment, Cruz was a naturalist before he knew it.
In fact, Arturo and his father were working on a project for National Geographic when he first came to the UGA CR campus. For seven years they worked to map the trees on the Pacific side of Costa Rica, even discovering new species as they went. When the job of head naturalists came up, he knew it would be a good match for his interest in research as well as his desire to teach. “For me it’s exciting to learn about something new, but it is more exciting to have the opportunity to teach someone about what you just learned.”
A desire to keep learning keeps him sharp and always eager to take on a new subject or new project. “I always enjoy when I’m learning something new. That’s why I’ve been working with bats, orchids, dragonflies, plants. Those are really complex things to learn about, but once I’m really involved and comfortable, that’s when I like to try learning something else.”
For Cruz, one of the exciting things about working at UGA Costa Rica is that it is a learning environment where students can see their studies in a new way. “I think the students get a lot of information out of it. They get to see the rainforest and learn from it, not just from reading about it. They see everything and experience everything. If it’s insects, plants, birds, they get the chance to go out and see it and learn from the action of working with it.”
“I think it’s really important for a working environment like this when you need to do so many things. Sometimes you need more than a co-worker. You need a friend.”
As exciting as the surrounding tropical environment is, the one created on campus is just as important. “I like it because the people we have here are really nice. It’s like a family environment. The people from the kitchen or maintenance, the staff, the interns, the naturalists. As soon as they get here, they get this feeling. It works like a big family. Everyone is really close and I like that. I think it’s really important for a working environment like this when you need to do so many things. Sometimes you need more than a co-worker. You need a friend.”
Cruz loves spending time with his wife Kimberly and one-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Cassidy. He also plays bass in a rock cover band that performs monthly.