FES students hold silent auction to help re-grow Costa Rican rainforests

Students from York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) are using their talents to help re-grow tropical rainforests in Costa Rica. A series of the students’ stunning photographs are featured in a silent auction called TICA: A Costa Rican Photo Odyssey, presented by the ZigZag Gallery at the Health, Nursing & Environmental Studies (HNES) Building on York’s Keele campus. The auction which ends today, will see all proceeds going to support a community-based conservation group COCOFOREST (short for Comite de Conservacion Forestal, or, in English: Forestry Conservation Committee), located in the Las-Nubes Los Cusingos Biological Corridor in southern Costa Rica.

Right: Photograph of Las Nubes coffee beans by Amber Roga-Fox

“The idea for the photo exhibit grew out of our desire to help an active community group dedicated to reforestation in Costa Rica,” explained Amber Roga-Fox, an undergraduate student-photographer in FES. As participants in an FES field course based in southern Costa Rica, the students spent two weeks studying in York’s Las Nubes rainforest region, where photo opportunities abound. Open to both undergraduates and graduate students, the field course is an intensive introduction to Costa Rican ecology, rural sustainability and fieldwork. Masters of environmental studies (MES) student Marta Berbés described the field course experience as highly interactive. “Students are exposed to experts in ornithology, agriculture, eco-tourism, as well as photography. We also spent time with local farm families, which was a real treat.”

Left: A sloth photographed by Frederik van Oudenhoven

FES students have developed a close relationship with COCOFOREST since they worked together to build the first tree nursery in the biological corridor in 2003. The 2006 FES group was particularly inspired by COCOFOREST’s conservation activities, which work to grow and distribute native tree species for small farmers in the Las Nubes region, with an emphasis on increasing the amount of shade in coffee production. Through this work, the initiative helps protect biodiversity and enhances sustainable coffee production while also combating forest fragmentation. “The project has limited funding and we really wanted to help in any way possible,” says Berbés.

“COCOFOREST members have also opened their homes and hearts to our students and shared so much of their daily lives with them,” added FES Professor Howard Daugherty, director of the Las Nubes program. “The proceeds from the auction are symbolic of the debt of gratitude that we owe them.”

Right: “Mimicry” by Amber Roga-Fox

The organizers of the auction include Berbés and Roga-Fox as well as bachelor of environmental studies students Laura Fanthome, Danielle Tran, Fin MacDonald (who contributed time last year towards starting the FES COCOFOREST fundraising effort) and masters students Christina MacDonald and Frederik van Oudenhoven. While van Oudenhoven was not involved with the Las Nubes project, he spent the past summer on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast conducting research on sea turtles through a York International Internship Program (YIIP) with the Canadian Organization for Tropical Education and Rainforest Conservation (COTERC), and was pleased to contribute photos from his trip to the auction.

Overall, the auction uses reflections of the experiences the students had in Costa Rica to help support the work being done there. The photos are rich in cultural, wildlife and environmental themes – illustrating the wide range of learning experiences the students had through the field course. “You’re into it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You’re reading about animals and plants in a textbook one morning, and that afternoon you’re seeing them on a forest walk. There’s no better way to learn than that,” says Roga-Fox.

Left: “Fisherman at Punto Uva” by Frederik van Oudenhoven

The photographs have already raised enough funds to help support the planting of several thousand trees, but the students are eager to raise as much money as possible. Bids will be accepted until the end of the day today, so interested parties are invited to stop by HNES and take a look. For more information about the Las Nubes research and conservation program, and the Costa Rica field course, contact Professor Daugherty at jaguar@yorku.ca or visit www.yorku.ca/lasnubes.

This article was submitted to YFile by Arlene Williams, media & communications coordinator, Faculty of Environmental Studies, and MES student Diego Garcia.