Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Let’s give Nature a fighting chance by Julia Erskine

Living and studying at OTS La Selva Research Station for only a few weeks has taught me that in order to take something, we must give in return. This point was revealed time and again as we explored the rainforest and toured plantations.
Early in the course we discussed how urbanization and agriculture has destroyed the rainforest through habitat fragmentation and disturbance. Even at La Selva, a station set up for research and a refuge for wildlife, we can see our footprints and their effects. The concrete paths winding their way through the jungle, the houses and shelters clustered at the entrance, and the observation towers set high above the canopies were all built on land that once was home to trees and insects and birds. Even just slivers of cement walkways can block the natural migration of species. This cost is managed at La Selva by all that is hoped to be gained by the research performed there. The reward in this instance hopefully overpowers the cost – we must acknowledge that our research takes away from the forest, and believe that eventually it will give back.  But as we walked along the muddy trails we caught glimpses of nature fighting back, taking over its land. The fallen observation towers now act as a monkey’s playground; the walkways serve as highways for Leafcutter ants; and the bridge is used by possums as well as humans. Nature can recover in its own way, slowly but surely, from this type of stress.
Of course, La Selva is of relatively low impact compared to most inhabited areas. The pineapple plantation we visited consisted of acres upon acres of clear-cut forest, now full of the nutrient-poor fruit slowly degrading the exposed soil. On the banana plantation we toured, the layers of pesticides sprayed accumulate, spread, and leave behind land not fit for healthy regrowth. Antibiotics used for plants and livestock leach into the ground and create antibiotic resistance microbes. We as farmers and consumers seem to be making it more and more difficult for Nature to fight back.

A good example of “plantation meets forest”. This photo is taken from an organic pineapple plantation – even without harmful pesticides, the environmental impact is clear.
So, how can humans learn to thrive but also step aside and lessen our impact on the environment? Intensive land use and chemical applications are only two issues in the mess we have made. Witnessing the struggles between Nature and human populations have inspired me to be a more conscious consumer, from the meat I buy to the souvenirs I collect. As undergraduate students, even if we were unable to do anything else, I think it is imperative that we become more aware citizens and that we share what we learn. Hopefully, this way we can give Nature a fighting chance.

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