By: Nayeli Carvajal, OTS PhD Student at the University of California, Irvine
Although I am not a fan of cold weather, Cuericí ranks among my top favorite Biological Stations visited while on the OTS course. Cuericí is a privately-owned conservation area located in the oak forest of the Cordillera de Talamanca. The founders and site managers, Don Carlos and Albert, serve as an example of conservation, sustainability, and education. The reason I decided to write about my Cuercí experience is because – aside the astonishing beauty of this place – I learned valuable lessons from my stay there.
Lessons about Conservation
Don Carlos and Albert grew up in a time when deforestation and hunting were the norm. After a complete change in their mindsets, they decided to acquire the 750 acres of land that now constitute Cuericí to conserve their beloved mountains. This area acts as a refuge for threatened animals such as the Baird’s tapir and acts as a biological corridor for migrating species.
Their example confirms to me that no matter our cultural backgrounds or the family values we might have been raised with as children, we all have the capacity for change and the potential to have a positive impact in the environment.
Lessons for Education and Outreach
The station hosts scientists conducting research in this area as well as school groups seeking to learn about this ecosystem and sustainable practices. Don Carlos also leads nature walks through pristine and secondary oak forests where he teaches about the importance of preserving the primary forest.
Before visiting Cuericí, I felt discouraged about the general public’s attitudes towards conservation and science. After all, what can only one person do to convince others about the importance of conservation? This experience taught me that only a couple of individuals can have tremendous power to influence younger generations, scientists, and members of their local community.
Lessons for Sustainability
In addition to hosting scientists and students, Don Carlos also grows organic blackberries and raises trout on the property to supplement the station’s income. Blackberries are organically grown and trout are raised naturally. For example, instead of commercial food, trout eat nocturnal insects attracted by lamps placed above the water reservoirs. Environmental impacts such as water contamination is minimized by separating the organic sediment before discharging into the water stream.
In one of the conversations that I had with Don Carlos, he said, “The problems arise when we become greedy and try to profit more and more at the expense of the land; then, what are we passing down to future generations?” For me, the blackberry and trout farm served as a concrete example of how commercial practices can be carried out without harming the natural resources we all depend on.
One of the most inspiring and memorable moments that I had in Cuericí was when Carlos told the story of he and his son reforesting an abandoned pasture site on their property. While they were planting the trees, he told his son that he one day will use the wood from the planted saplings to build his own home. When his son grew up, he constructed his house (shown in the picture) using the trees he planted as a child.
This story was very inspiring because it showed me that we can see the results of our positive actions within our lifetimes, and that these actions can yield tangible benefits within a single generation.