UGA Costa Rica Blog

¡Pura vida!

Offsetting the Upsetting: Students Plant Trees to Lessen Carbon Footprint

En route to UGA Costa Rica, students, professors, researchers, and guests alike all have to take a (minimum of one) flight to arrive in country. Taxis, buses and shuttles then make the trip to campus – all modes of transportation which emit carbon dioxide, CO2. This greenhouse gas (GHG), along with methane, nitrous oxide, water vapor, and ozone, absorb and emit energy in the thermal infrared range. AKA, the gases trap incoming sunlight and emit it as heat, similar to the effects of a greenhouse. That’s all fine and dandy because naturally, they keep us earthlings warm.

But things have literally been heating up. The concentration of GHGs have been increasing at alarming rates due to anthropological activity dating back to 1760, the start of the Industrial Revolution. The rising GHGs are affecting the temperature of Earth’s atmosphere and oceans, and harming established ecosystems.

You can argue that it’s unrealistic to stop emitting GHGs altogether, but that doesn’t mean something isn’t being done to offset them!

What is offset, you ask?

It’s the process by which any individual, company, country, etc. pays to neutralize their own emissions of greenhouse gases either via conserving existing forests, reforesting, or investing into green energy.

And so, with the help of Lucas Ramirez, campus harvester of seeds and guardian of the woods, guests and students are able to participate in UGA Costa Rica’s carbon offset program. Lucas gathers seeds from the surrounding forest, germinates them, and leads workshops in which participants pack soil bags and plant seedlings.

The project has not only been nudging UGA Costa Rica closer to carbon neutrality, but has also been helping to reforest the Bellbird Biological Corridor, an area in Costa Rica designated for conservation and reforestation.

Here’s how it works. On average, one flight and ground travel equates to approximately 0.66 tons of CO2. The number was rounded up to one ton to allow for a margin of error. It was then calculated that four trees (accounting that one might not make it) will sequester one ton of carbon in just about eight-and-one-third years. Sequestration means the trees take CO2 out of the atmosphere and change it into an organic form that would otherwise contribute to warming the world.

BONUS: the trees will likely live longer than eight-and-one-third years, which means more carbon sequestration! Yay!

The planted seedlings camp out in the UGA Costa Rica nursery for about a year before being adopted by a farmer. The saplings are given to local farmers who have expressed interest in caring for and maintaining the trees for a three-year period and participating in the project. The young trees are only planted during the rainy season!

Take a look at this UGA Maymester crew working hard to prepare next years saplings!

Blog post contribution by Alex Fylypovych, UGA Costa Rica Photojournalism Intern

Humans of San Luis

“It tickles!”

Blog post contribution by Alex Fylypovych, UGA Costa Rica Photojournalism Intern


On Friday, students, professors, and interns valiantly took to the Citrus-O-Rama challenge. Six juicy plates of sliced limónes oozed piquant and tangy scents, taunting onlookers to take a bite. After dealing with the initial shock to the taste buds and undoing pinched and puckered faces, “contestants” flipped over cards that revealed which sour (and one sweet!) fruit they had ingested. The represented limónes included: limón mandarina, limón dulce, limón mecino, limón naranja, and limón criollo.

Watch this clip of participants tasting the limónes while attempting to show no reaction to the sour explosion happening in their mouths. What good sports! Felicitaciones!

Blog post and video contribution by Alex Fylypovych, UGA Costa Rica Photojournalism Intern

Humans of San Luis

People here work really freaking hard. Everybody works really, really hard. Six days a week, and they work multiple jobs, and you know they maintain these farms on top of the work they do to bring the most amount of money into their home. And it doesn’t seem like people hate their lives as much as we do, do you know what I mean? They don’t need to escape… It’s just interesting.
~ Beth

And how do you get everyone to stop and try to realize that? Seems like an impossible proposition or task. ~ Doug

[The San Luis community members] cultivate things and create space for the traditional plants. And they’ve planted things specifically for the animals to eat them, you know? They have dogs to protect [the crops] from the monkeys, they’re not trying to chemically alter something, they’re not trying to build up fences or keep things out, they’re making space for everything that belongs in the ecosystem, whatever the case may be. To allow for some sort of semblance of harmony. But even the model itself is not lucrative. There are some sacrifices they’re making financially to produce the way they’re producing, and as a result they need to be creative or innovative in the way they use their space and use their time, allowing tourists to offset or supplement their income. Using it as educational spaces where researches can come and observe birds. They’re taking the sustainability model from an agricultural perspective and they’re expanding it to the way that they live their lives. That’s pretty significant. And when you go back to normal life you have to take the mentality back with you… Figuring out how to harmonize different aspects of your life, in the context of your actual life, means not fighting things off sometimes, as it does welcoming them, and saying, “there’s space for whatever distorted component you are in my life.” ~ Beth

Blog post contribution by Alex Fylypovych, UGA Costa Rica Photojournalism Intern

A Bittersweet Goodbye to UGACR’s Associate Director, Matt Stevens

Hairy Dawg & Matt StevensOn Tuesday, May 12 (tomorrow), UGA Costa Rica will be saying goodbye to Associate Director Matt Stevens, after nearly six years. During Matt’s time with UGACR, he has worked with hundreds of students and faculty to successfully deliver a quality UGACR experience. Not only has he paved the way on the administrative side of the UGACR operation, he did it all while accomplishing several milestone life events including getting married, completing his second master’s degree, and beginning to build a home in Athens!

To send Matt off well, we have compiled a slideshow of some of his favorite UGACR images to remember the country he has come to love.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

If you are in Athens, you will likely continue to see Matt around the city he loves and in his new role as the Director of Stewardship for Athens Church. Although we are sad to see Matt go, we are excited for his new adventure as he follows one of his many passions. We are honored to be part of his personal and professional story and look forward to crossing paths again in the future.

Cheers, Matt.

And as always, Pura Vida!

Pop Quiz #6

Test your knowledge on the flora and fauna growing along UGACR campus trails and throughout the Monteverde Cloud Forest here in Costa Rica. You never know when a trivia night will call for tropical ecology facts…

This one’s for the coffee connoisseurs:

It is illegal to commercially grow which of the following species of coffee in Costa Rica?

A. Arabica

B. Robusta

C. Liberica


When plant-related diseases spread throughout Costa Rican coffee plantations in the early 1980s, the country could no longer compete with Brazil’s big-boy machinery and mass coffee production. Having lost hope and interest, the government turned to the beef industry and coffee plantations transitioned into grass-blanketed pastureland.

And then, someone had another idea. If competing by quantity were no longer an option, Costa Rica could re-enter the coffee business competing by quality. Which meant Costa Rica’s coffee production was about to get a makeover.

As a result, in 1982, the Costa Rican government passed a law making it illegal to produce Robusta coffee.


Although the lofty Robusta plants produce large amounts of fruit, they contain up to double the amount of caffeine found in other species, such as Arabica. The plant uses its overwhelming amount of caffeine as a natural defense mechanism against insects – yikes, makes you think humans should not consume pure Robusta beans, either.

In fact, the amount of concentrated caffeine causes health implications including stomach problems, headaches and shakiness. In an effort to dilute these caffeinated consequences of Robusta beans, it is almost always mixed with Arabica beans. Consequently, the quality is diminished.

So Costa Rica decided to nix the mix, and compete with better quality beans, having since developed a reputation for its high-caliber Arabica coffee. This species yields less overall fruit, is very delicate and sensitive to climate and soil, and produces quality coffee beans as a result. Maintaining this reputation is key; otherwise Costa Rica faces a decline not only in its coffee prices but also overall economic stability.

Who is in charge of making sure this reputation is maintained?

The Institute de Café, (ICafé) is a government organization founded in 1933 to delegate Costa Rican coffee taxation and exportation. Over time, all aspects of the coffee business, from managing workers’ wages to researching and experimenting with disease-free seeds to certifying beneficios, places where coffee is produced, fell under ICafé’s jurisdiction. As does quality-control: all coffee undergoes a checkpoint where a needle-like machine samples beans to ensure that only grade A beans are exported, and Costa Rica’s reputation prevails.

What are the consequences?

If a plantation owner is caught growing and selling Robusta coffee beans, their entire plantation will be cut down. Because it takes two to three years for a coffee plant to grow back and produce fruit, most farmers are not willing to undergo the economic impact of loosing those valuable few years of coffee bean production to a slightly higher yield using illegal plants.

Speaking of coffee, it’s time for me to refill my mug with this delicious locally produced coffee.

P.S. They ship!

Blog post contribution by Alex Fylypovych, UGA Costa Rica Photojournalism Intern.

Eye Spy…A Spider Monkey?!

Just the other week, a few UGA Costa Rica interns spotted monkeys while hiking the trails around campus. Seeing a white-faced capuchin monkey is reason enough to do a happy dance, but after getting a closer look, the naturalists realized they were in the presence of spider monkeys – an incredible rarity to spot on campus.

So much so, that no member of the UGA Costa Rica staff can recall ever having seen the orange-tinted primates on campus trails.

The Central American Spider Monkey is among the most active and agile of cebids, (family Cebidae) or New World monkeys. Part of the reason for their activeness is body morphology; their forelimbs and fingers are longer than other monkeys’, and they have a vestigial, or underdeveloped, thumb – it just gets in the way of swinging! Having a prehensile tail sure does help with agility, too. It’s like having a fifth arm. A spider monkey’s prehensile tail is not only defter than other monkey tails, but it also has exposed skin on the underside, like a no-slip grip with which it confidently grasps branches.

Spider monkey diets mainly consist of fruit. Because of the sugars in fruit, they are high-energy, moving quickly and frequently in the canopy in order to find more of their sporadic source of food. To make up for the lack of protein in the fruits, spider monkeys may eat young leaves and decaying bark.

So why all the rave about spotting spider monkeys at UGA Costa Rica?

A species’ reappearance (and disappearance) is often an indicator of environmental changes – both good and not so good. No one is entirely sure why the spider monkeys are here, and whether or not it’s an optimistic find, but there are a number of theories germinating around campus…

The more commonly seen white-faced capuchin monkeys, recognized for their aggressive and territorial behaviors, may have been quite defensive of their UGA Costa Rica territory in the past, thus keeping spider monkeys at bay. The first theory then, is that perhaps the dynamic between monkey groups has recently been changing and the two species are learning to overlap territories?

Another hypothesis is that the monkeys are following their food source. With changing climate, there’s a chance fruit dispersal patterns are deviating from the norm, and spider monkeys are adapting locations as a result.

Over lunch, I chatted about a third, and seemingly promising theory with Jheudy Carballo, a tour guide leading the Morganton Day School throughout Costa Rica. Having worked as a guide for the past 16 years, Carballo raised his eyebrows when I mentioned the spider-monkey sighting. First, he mentioned that he has seen spider, howler, and white-faced capuchins all in one tree, and therefore doesn’t think the sighting is a result of territorial cease-fire.

According to Carballo spider monkeys were supposedly wiped out of the Monteverde region by yellow fever in the 1970s. Their population has since been bouncing back, and it’s possible that they are now expanding their territory from the Monteverde Reserve area into the UGA Costa Rican cloud forest in order to maximize on food availability. He also mentioned that a growing population is indicative of a rejuvenating forest.

Bienvenidos to the spider monkeys!

Blog post contribution by Alex Fylypovych, UGA Costa Rica Photojournalism intern

Photo contribution: Will Booker, UGA Costa Rica Moth Researcher

Humans of San Luis: Part VI

I think for me, meeting all of you guys [interns], and talking with the group about your different interests and passions and histories, has been at least as interesting and valuable as coming here to see the place. I think that’s been tremendous. You don’t get to meet folks like that normally, people who have that kind of passion. ~ Paul Garner

Blog post contribution by Alex Fylypovych, UGA Costa Rica Photojournalism Intern

They soar, we’re sore

It’s difficult to tell whether the fog is coming from the mountain mist or from somewhere underneath my heavy eyelids. It’s approximately 6:00 am and I’m standing in dew-dabbled grass, gazing through misty binoculars, a toothy grin stamped upon my face.

The first bird of the day has just been spotted. UGA Costa Rica Monthly Bird Count day has arrived!

Each month, in addition to scheduled morning bird watching with guests, naturalists and bird watchers alike devote an entire day to exploring the campus canopy for birds… and exercising their neck muscles.

There are two main reasons for the nine-year-old tradition.

The first: spending a day with folks familiar with the birds of Costa Rica – colors, calls and all — is great training. The monthly birding tours are usually led by a Monteverde native or veteran tourists – all knowledgeable bird watching enthusiasts, nonetheless – and is, as a result, a learning experience for UGA Costa Rica resident naturalists, who are persistently practicing bird identification.

The second reason for the monthly bird count is to maintain a long-term data set of bird species flocking to and around the San Luis, Monteverde region. These monthly snapshots could be used to study trends, patterns, and anomalies regarding both cloud forest dwelling and migratory birds.

For instance, in 2006, when the count was inaugurated, the melodious blackbird, Dives dives, was occasionally spotted in the San Luis cemetery. Now, it’s among the top ten most commonly seen birds around campus.

Chirp-chirp, hooray!

How does it work? Birdwatchers wander and hike the trails surrounding UGA Costa Rica’s campus identifying every bird with which they cross paths. A designated note-taker jots down what others have spotted and proceeds to tally any additional finds of the same species.

Regan Fink takes her turn tallying birds

Regan Fink takes her turn tallying birds

And to maximize their efficiency, of course the crew brings the essentials: binoculars, spotting scopes, and bird books.

Resident naturalist Louise Beveridge relishes the bonding that comes with the group birding activity. Naturalists spend much of their days leading tours and scheduling with guests individually; therefore, spending time doing one activity together is rare.

Resident naturalist Louise Beveridge smiles after locating a perched bird.

Resident naturalist Louise Beveridge smiles after locating a perched bird.

Becoming a birding fanatic doesn’t necessarily happen overnight. Beveridge wasn’t the biggest fan of birding when she first came to intern at UGA Costa Rica. “I didn’t like birding when I got here, I found it overwhelming. There are over 800 species of birds in Costa Rica. Where do you start?” Beveridge says.

But after spending some time entering the tedious bird count data, she not only grew familiar with certain species, descriptions, and calls but also grew to love it. Eventually, enjoyment swept over her initial anxiety.

Nowadays she’s up before breakfast each morning, meandering throughout campus with eyes glued upwards.

Let’s take a peek at some of the birds that she, along with other naturalists, identified during the Thursday, April 23rd Bird Count.

The bird which racked up the highest amount of sightings was the national bird of Costa Rica: the clay-colored robin! Twenty-nine of this species, Turdus grayi, were counted around campus. The bird has typical robin behavior, hopping around the ground, and can be distinguished from other Costa Rican robins by its yellow-green bill. The clay-colored robin is common throughout the majority of the country, and is recognized by its persistent whistles from the months of March to June.

Arguably the rarest find of the day was the magenta-throated woodstar. Calliphlox bryantae. This male hummingbird has a longer tail than most, with white patches on both sides of his rear and a characteristic magenta-colored throat. Although magenta-throated woodstars typically feed on low-growing flowers, they often perch high in the canopy on leafless twigs, exactly where this little guy was spotted.

Another great find was the montezuma oropendola, Psarocolius montezuma. Although most commonly distinguished either by its call or bright-yellow tail, its defining characteristics are colorful facial markings and a two-toned bill. A fun fact about this species is that it is a colonial breeder. A dominant male mates with most of the females within a colony, which consists of an average of 30 teardrop-shaped dangling nests, built from vines and twigs – quite the sight to see!

And the Montezuma oropendola has a metallic-like call that appears to almost knock it off its feet! Take a listen:

Check our more photos from the April Bird Count on our Facebook page!

Blog post contribution by Alex Fylypovych, UGA Costa Rica Photojournalism Intern

Humans of San Luis: Part V

Sam & Sage

“We saw an iguana, crossing the road!”

“A coati, in the tree over there.”

“I saw three monkeys, down by the cabin!”

“They were running really fast.”

“And had big faces.”

“And we saw a quetzal!”

“And we saw a black cwano… wait how do you say? It’s a black turkey thing…”

Me: “A guan?”

“YEA a guan!”

“And we also saw a snake, it was really small, and what else did we see? Here we see tarantula and earwig and a lot of ants and tiny bugs and army ants and, what are those big ants called?”

“…Solider ants!”

“And ferns, and palm trees, and rocks!”

Like a number of flowers hidden along the curving trails of our campus, the Humans of San Luis project is starting to bloom! During my time here as the photojournalist, I am aiming to capture and share guest, intern, and local energy pertaining to UGA Costa Rica and this absolutely enchanting cloud forest. Check out the link for more enthusiastic interviews.

Blog post contribution by Alex Fylypovych, UGA Costa Rica Photojournalism Intern

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