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Costa Rica

Semester Abroad

Costa Rica Study Abroad

Prosperity and Biodiversity in the Tropics: Challenges of Sustainability in Costa Rica

Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources
The University of Vermont

Video introduction:

A new UVM-run program open to all UVM students, the Costa Rica Semester Abroad program integrates academic content across the biological and social sciences with the real world challenges and opportunities faced by a newly-developed Latin American country with unparalleled biodiversity.

The program begins with three weeks of travel around Costa Rica as you learn the foundations of sustainable development:

  • an ecotourism project in the Monteverde highland region;
  • a sea turtle conservation project at Playa Junquillal;
  • a watershed restoration project in the Guanacaste region;
  • a reforestation project in the northwestern tropical dry forest region;
  • a cooperative community on the Pacific coast near Quepos that features a 2,000 hectare palm oil plantation; and
  • a forest restoration project at a former banana plantation on the Caribbean coast near Limon.

The remainder of the program (12 weeks) will be based on the Osa Peninsula on Costa Rica’s southwest Pacific coast. Named one of the “most biologically intense places on earth” by National Geographic magazine, the tiny Osa Peninsula – just a little larger than Chittenden County, Vermont  – is home to a startling 2.5% of the earth’s biodiversity. More than half of the peninsula is protected by Corcovado National Park and the Golfo Dulce Forest Reserve.

People began settling on the Osa Peninsula only 60 years ago, and for decades it was described as a “wild west” of subsistence farmers, fishermen, gold miners, and loggers.  Over the past 15 years, outside pressures of economic and social change have begun to threaten the biological integrity of the Peninsula. The road onto the Peninsula was fully paved only 5 years ago. Development proposals include a large scale marina and resort, a nearby international airport, and new African palm and rice plantations. Small scale, locally owned businesses are at risk of being overwhelmed by a sudden influx of outside capital investment and well-meaning government and NGO development projects. In sum, the Osa Peninsula is a region poised at a crossroads, where hard decisions must be made about how to balance growth and conservation with local control.

Course topics for the final 12 weeks include rural development in a global context, ecosystem management and sustainability, and tropical ecology. Field-based labs and community-identified service learning projects are integral to this portion of the program.