Ellen Yeatman '12 Johnson Opportunity Grant Winner Studies Environmental Impact of Ecotourism in Costa Rica

Ellen Yeatman is a chemistry major with a minor in environmental studies from Little Rock, Ark. She applied for a Johnson Opportunity Grant to work at the Center for Sustainable Development Studies in Athenas, Costa Rica, researching better ways to manage the operation of the parks within conservation areas. Through classroom and lab experiences, as well as field research in the tropical forests of Costa Rica, she is learning about resource management and the socioeconomic challenges affecting Costa Rica and its rainforests. Yeatman is a member of the women's tennis team and a volunteer with the Nabors Service League and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), as well as a peer tutor.

This summer I spent 4 weeks in Costa Rica with the School for Field Studies, learning about the booming ecotourism industry alongside 22 other students. When we weren't in the classroom in Atenas, a small town in the Central Valley with the best climate in the world (according to National Geographic), we were traveling to various national parks. We explored the level of visitor impact on the various ecosystems we visited. At the end of the four weeks, we proposed ways to hinder the negative impacts of visitors and develop a system of sustainable tourism. It was all about finding a balance between conserving Costa Rica's biodiversity and allowing Costa Rica to continue to develop economically.

My favorite day was our trip to Manuel Antonio National Park. This is the smallest park in Costa Rica, but it is one of the most visited because--as we would find out--it is beautiful! It is on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, and there are monkeys everywhere. Around the halfway point of our car ride to Manuel Antonio, we stopped at Jaco beach, a very touristy spot. On the beach, with a view of all the Miami-style hotels and ongoing construction projects, we received a lecture from our economics teacher. We discussed some of the negative impacts of foreign investment in Costa Rica's tourism industry, the observable and non-observable. Then we continued on our way to Manuel Antonio.

We arrived that Monday morning around 10:30 a.m. The park is officially closed on Mondays, but we received special privileges to access to the park and even camp out on the beach that night. I felt so fortunate to be able to see the park without anyone else there--especially when we saw it filled up with tourists the next day. As soon as we arrived, we posted up camp and then sat down on the beach to eat lunch. Soon after, monkeys surrounded us! They were on almost every tree branch in the trees around us. One monkey grabbed a biscuit wrapped in tinfoil right beside me. He quickly ran up the tree with it, unwrapped the tinfoil, took the biscuit, threw down the tinfoil, and ate the biscuit blatantly in front of us to let us know that he had won! (That is what I call a biophysical indicator of too much human-animal interaction.)

After lunch, we went on a two-mile hike. Our biology teacher spent time teaching us about the unique aspects of the forest, and he pointed out the cool rare species found in the forests. We saw lots of monkeys, iguanas, huge trees and even a hummingbird with a red mohawk hairstyle. After our hike we had a briefing on the survey we were conducting the next day when the park filled up with tourists. Then we walked 20 feet from our tents to jump in the crystal blue ocean that had been calling our names all day.

After dinner, we went on a night hike. My professor is a pro at catching frogs. He caught the famous Costa Rican red-eyed tree frog that is in pictures everywhere. It was even prettier in person. Of course, my professor let the frog resume his celebrity lifestyle after the paparazzi got their pictures in. After our fun hike, I climbed into my tent and feel asleep smiling, listening to the waves crash beside me. I guess I'd say it was a pretty stupendous day--just one of the amazing ones I spent traveling all over Costa Rica this summer.