The Costa Rica/Pamana Project: Ecosystems and Conservation

Meeting Location              San Jose, Costa Rica
 Program Dates        Spring 2018: April 8 - May 22, 2018
   Spring 2019: April 8 - May 22, 2019
 Accommodations    Primarily camping, occasional youth hostel or rural lodge
 Language    English instruction
 Courses    ESCI 437A, ESCI 437B, ESCI 437C
 Credits    15 quarter credits or 10 semester credits
 Prerequisites    One college level course of ecology or similar           
   18 years of age


          Costa Rica/Panama  Program Costs, Spring 2018
 $  150      Application Fee
          $4150      Program Fee
          $2800      Estimated In-Country Group Fee
          $1000      Estimated Airfare/Visa
          $1000      Estimated Food Money/Personal Spending
          $9100      Total Estimated Cost

          Spring 2018: Program fees due by February 1, 2018             

          Costa Rica/Panama  Program Costs, Spring 2019
 $  150       Application Fee
          $5500       Program Fee
          $2900       Estimated In-Country Group Fee 
          $1000       Estimated Airfare/Visa
          $1000       Estimated Food Money/Personal Spending
          $10550      Total Estimated Cost

          Spring 2019: Program fees due by February 1, 2019             


Central America has one of the most diverse landscapes on Earth, from active volcanoes to lush rainforests and tropical reefs. In this project, we will examine Costa Rica and Panama’s renowned biodiversity and varied cultures. With 25% of its land in national parks and reserves, Costa Rica alone contains 5% of the earth’s biodiversity, including more than 6,000 plant species, 500 butterflies, and 800 birds. Neighboring Panama is a country with rich human and ecological histories. Along with a diversity of flora and fauna the country hosts a variety ethnic groups and human cultures, from indigenous communities to modern cities.

Natural and human communities have coexisted here for thousands of years with varying degrees of success, yet Central America enters the twenty-first century at a crossroads. An expanding population, free trade agreements, and export based economies threaten both traditional livelihoods and tropical biodiversity. The region’s political history and economic dependence upon the U.S. have also had significant environmental impacts. Numerous communities, however, are exploring new and innovative ways to restore damaged ecosystems and continue traditional lifestyles.


We begin our project in Costa Rica by exploring the country’s incredible biodiversity, basing ourselves out of biological research stations deep within the rainforest. As we visit several outstanding national parks we will evaluate land management issues, examine the complex environmental challenges faced by Costa Rica’s growing economy, and assess the nation’s strategies to keep these special areas wild. Working out of basecamps as well as backpacking, we will investigate the complexity of tropical ecosystems and wildlife populations, with a focus towards understanding how human activities are impacting this area.

Building on this foundation, we will research the impacts of human land use via on-site observation of regional food systems, both traditional and organic. We will also examine firsthand agroecology, permaculture, and ecotourism projects that promote sustainability. Investigating the question of how human activity can preserve biodiversity, we will assess the conservation prospects of these key projects.

In Panama we will continue to evaluate issues in conservation biology and land management conflicts through our field studies in La Amistad International Peace Park and The Smithsonian’s Tropical Research Institute. In addition, we will spend time in the Kuna Yala indigenous reserve on the Caribbean coast where our focus will shift toward the study of environmental equity and cultural sustainability.

Although mainly known for its canal connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, Panama also acts as a biological land bridge between North and South America and is home to a great diversity of flora and fauna hailing from both of its continental neighbors. Our field studies allow us to investigate firsthand the wonders and beauty of the biodiversity and ecosystems found in the country, as well as the tremendous challenges faced by various stakeholders to find the right balance between economic development and natural heritage conservation.

Team members will leave this special region with an in-depth understanding of the connection and challenges of economic growth, environmental conservation, and land management, as well as gain a unique glimpse into the lives of the indigenous peoples and their everyday struggle for equity and sustainability.


M.S in Forest Conservation, University of Toronto, 2005
Carlos is a Central American native with a personal and academic interest in conservation science, landscape ecology, socio-economic barriers to conservation, and natural history education in the Mesoamerican region. In addition to many years instructing field based courses, Carlos has held appointments with community based groups, environmental organizations, international development agencies and academic institutions. Carlos has worked professionally in Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Guatemala, México, Nicaragua and Panamá. He has taught our Costa Rica/Panamá Project since 2011.