Costa Rica/Belize '12 

Although it is not a biology department offering, Drs. David Brown and Dave McShaffrey (along with Dr. Rob McManus of the McDonough Leadership Program) led a 3 week trip to Costa Rica and Belize in May, 2012.  The focus of the trip was leadership in ecology and conservation in Central America.  

The 2012 trip ran from May 15 to June 4th.  The text below will be updated "live" during the trip.  Eventually these images and others from the trip will find their way into the Biomes of the Worldweb site.

Scroll Down for pictures and text of past stories.




June 2, 2012 - Saturday, Day 19

Again, a bit slow to update, though we have been putting images up on facebook.  Today is a free day, with the students exploring the island of Caye Caulker and perhaps taking a boat over to Ambergris Caye and the larger town of San Pedro.

It's been a busy 3 days.  Since the last post, we explored the caves at Barton Creek via canoe.  The cave system is one of the largest 4 cave systems in the world.  We were able to go back about 700 meters into the cave.  Some of the rooms we passed through rival their counterparts in Mammoth Caves or Carlsbad Caverns.  The following day was a long day of travel  First we went to Belmopan, the Belizian capital, to meet with Dwight Neal, a marine biologist and learn about marine conservation issues in Belize.  Then we drove on to Belize City to catch a water taxi to Caye Caulker.  The day ended with dinner at restaurant on the shore looking out to the barrier reef.  Friday, June 1rst we went to EZ Boy snorkeling tours to get gear and then did a practice session from shore.  We then visited the headquarters of the Caye Caulker Marine Preserve ti hear about the leadership challenges of marine conservation here.  In the afternoon, we went out to the reef in the Cay Caulker preserve, where we saw a good diversity of fish, coral and other invertebrates.  At one stop there were plenty of rays and even nurse sharks (all fingers and toes are safely accounted for).  Dr. Brown and the students then cooked spaghetti, squash and garlic bread for dinner.

Tomorrow will be a full day of snorkeling at the Hol Chan Reserve, then packing for our flights back on Monday.  Here are some pictures up through snorkeling on Friday:

Getting ready to enter Barton Creek Cave.

Entrance to the cave.

Entering the cave.

Passing in the cave.

At the deepest point we reached in the cave, about 700 meters in.

Heading out.

The entrance becomes the exit.


Exiting the cave.

Listening to guide Ian give snorkeling instructions.

Snorkeling at Caye Caulker Marine Reserve

Lionfish are an invasive species in the Carribean. Our guide, Ian, speared this one after it had been spotted.  We saw one other lionfish while snorkeling.  The lionfish are changing the ecology of the reefs.  The long spines are venomous, and can give a person - or another fish - a nasty sting, so there are few natural predators.  On the other hand, they are apparently tasty, and have been showing up on the menus of a few restaurants.

At one site, the rays (and sharks) are very tame and they are present in large numbers.

Ian holds a ray - "Lucy" for the students to pet.  This particular ray has lost its stinger and is thus even safer to handle than the regular rays.  Lucy would seek out Ian and swim right up to - and over - him.

The students were able to get very close views of the rays.


In 2009, on the previous incarnation of this class, the service project on Caye Caulker was to help local schoolchildren paint murals on the water tank at their school, the following two pictures are from the 2009 trip:

Lauren, the project leader, helps a local child paint a turtle.

The street side of the tank.

These pictures are of the murals in 2012:

May 30th, 2012 - Wednesday, Day 16 

Thanks to our friends at Mayawalk Tiurs ( for the internet connection in San Ignacio!

This is our 3rd full day in San Ignacio, Belize.  We spent the last two days exploring Mayan ruins at Xunantunich and Caracol.  This morning the students are doing surveys on attitudes towards conservation here in town, this afternoon we will go canoeing through caves at Barton Creek.

The ruins have been fascinating.  They are not as extensive as the ones we saw 3 years ago at Tikal in Guatemala, but they are impressive.  First up was Xunantunich (the X-ruins), which lie right on the border with Guatemala.

The main temple - the Castillo - at Xunantunich.

The temple showing Maggie at the top for scale.


Closer view of the top of the Castillo.

Climbing the Castillo.  Alina for scale, Rob McManus for gauge of physical difficulty.

Another view of the first part of the climb - it really is a long way up!

A view of the side of the Castillo, about 1/2 way up.


On top of the Castillo.  You can see 3 countries from up here - Belize, Guatemala, and, on a clear day, Mexico.  The temple is almost right on the border with Guatemala.

Marci enjoys the view from the top of the Castillo.

Looking down at the temple complex from the top of the Castillo; Alina's foot for scale.

Looking out.

Looking down again.  A conversation taking place at normal volume could be heard clearly by the students assembled on the platform below.  The professors decided that future lecture halls at Marietta should be designed this way.

On Tuesday, we went to different ruins; these were at Caracol, about 40 miles away from San Ignacio where we were staying.

Pyramid by the Mayans, pyramid by the McDunoughs.

Climbing down from the main temple at Caracol.

Looking up at the main temple at Caracol; this one is designed so that you cannot see the top from this point.  Only when you get up to there the people are standing up above can you see the top.  There were few tourists at either site; this is the slow season for tourism.

This temple; used for astronomical observations, had very narrow slits.

The whole group at Caracol.  Zane Lazer had returned to the states at the end of the Costa Rica leg of the trip.

We were able to crawl down into two Mayan tombs in Caracol.  No tomb juice in this one.

On the way back we stopped at the Rio_on Pools, a series of pools and waterfalls.

Another view of the Rio-On Pools.

It was a good place to relax after a hard day climbing Mayan temples.






May 28th, 2012 - Monday, Day 14

It's been a while since the last update.  The trip is flying by and there just hasn't been the time or opportunity to get things updated.  We went from Monteverde down to the town of La Fortuna for a night.  La Fortuna is at the base of the Arenal Volcano.  The students were able to spend some time in volcanic hot springs and collect more survey data.  The next day we went to El Zota, a remote field station in the northeast of the country.  On the way we stopped at a restaurant where they feed the iguanas and were able to photograph dozens of them.  At the field station we hiked through the lowland rainforest and spent 2 mornings doing our service project - we planted trees to reforest the last part of the field station that had been part of a tree plantation.

From El Zota we returned to San Jose.  We were able to go to church at a church downtown, then take a bus to the airport for the trip to Belize via El Salvador.  We drove across Belize to San Ignacio, where we are now.  On the agenda for the next few days are trips to Mayan Ruins, a canoeing trip through limestone caves, and some general sightseeing.  Then out to the island Caye Caulker for snorkeling, then home on June 4th.

Planting the trees in El Zota.

One more tree for the forest.  If one of these trees grown to full size, it will absorb all of the carbon we generated using planes, cars and boats on this trip.



The El Zota workers had cleared small areas in the grass for us to plant the trees in (and doing that clearing is hotter and harder than actually planting the trees!).

Dr. McManus doing physical labor.  Yes, we were amazed too.


We spent two hot morning planting trees.  One afternoon we went to a pineapple plantation and the other we went for a hike in the rainforest.  

The El Zota field station is run by the Ramirez family.  They make pallets for commercial use, and the property was originally bought as a source of wood.  Hiner Ramirez's daughters convinced him that he should not be cutting the rainforest, so they reverted to growing Melina trees on the cleared land.  These trees grow quickly and were then harvested for lumber.  Two American biologists - and Hiner's daughters - convinced him to go even further and convert the property, which adjoins a national park, into a field station.  The property has about 500 hectares (over 1000 acres), half of which is primary forest which has never been logged. The plots we worked on were the last of the Melina plantation to be reforested.  The station invites local schoolchildren to come out.  They bring in government biologists to teach them, then send them into the forest to find seeds.  The high school students plant the seeds at a nursery they run; the station then buys the seedlings and those were the trees we were planting. We finished ahead of schedule - they actually had to go out and get more trees for the second day.


May 20th. 2012 - Sunday, Day 6

It's been a busy day in Monteverde.  We met with local farmer and international conservation consultant Joe Stuckey in the morning.  Joe is related to the Quakers who originally settled Monteverde, and has lived here over 30 years.  He spoke to the class about the leadership challenges facing the first Quaker settlers, and the conservation issues of today.  We then headed off to the ziplines nearby.  Ziplines were invented in Costa Rica and  have provided a source of income from tourists, the ziplines are mostly on private property which is then protected from farming or other development.

Listening to Joe Stuckey at the Hotel Quetzel.

Joe Stuckey (far right) and the class.  Joe was a source of much valuable information and insight about conservation issues in Costa Rica, particularly Monteverde.

Ready to go!


Even more fun than it looks.

Between runs.

Ready for the Tarzan Swing.

Tarzan swing.  You need to see the video to understand this; but it's way fun.

Mission Complete.

May 19th, 2012 - Saturday, Day 5

Sorry for the long delay in posting.  We were at Santa Rosa National Park in Guanacaste, staying at the biological station.  They do have internet, but not at the dorms where we were, and I was too busy to get to the internet and make any posts.  As off noon on May 19th we are in Monteverde and have internet at the hotel; so hopefully I'll get caught up.  Everyone is doing fine and having a good time.

On Wednesday the 16th we drove from San Jose to Santa Rosa - no big deal, but it is about 4 hours on the road, and we met with Marco Quesada of Conservation International in San Jose in the morning.  Marco gave us a great presentation on marine protected areas and CI's philosophy of working with local groups on environmental issues.  Then we had a long lunchtime of getting money at the bank, renting a van and a car (a very slow process) and driving to Santa Rosa.  We ate at a little restaurant outside the park, then headed in.  No scorpions the first night, and we got to sleep. 

We were up early on the 17th to hike around some of the historical sites at Santa Rosa, then down the road to Las Cruces, which is near the Nicaraguan border.  We got lunch supplies and made lunch in the park on the town square.  The students worked in teams to give questionnaires  to the locals; the questionnaires ask for opinions about environmental issues and will be repeated by students on later trips to Cambodia, Vietnam and other countries, as well as in the United States. Then we went down to a secluded beach on the Pacific Ocean to look at a mangrove swamp, tidepools and a great sunset.  Dinner was in La Cruz at a truck stop with really good food.  We did find some scorpions back at the dorms in Santa Rosa.

Filed Station at Santa Rosa.  These are the dorms where we stayed.

Discussion time - talking about the leadership issues involved in creating the park we are in.

A good point!


Lunch in La Cruz.

Dr. Brown shows students a crab.

Julie has caught a crab; the land in the far background is Nicaraugua.

Another early morning on Friday the 18th as we drove up to Rincon de la Vieja, and active volcano.  In fact, the volcano is so active that the trail to the crater is closed; we had been able to hike to near the top last year.  Instead, we went on a long (8+ miles round trip) hike to a waterfall, where we did some swimming, then headed back to the park headquarters and another set of trails where we could see fumaroles, mud pots and other signs of volcanic activity.  Back down the mountain and into the town of Liberia, where we had a great dinner at Rancho Dulce and the students worked on surveys in the town square.  The night ended with a trip to the heledaria for ice cream.

An assassin bug eating a beetle.

Hike to the waterfall,

Hike to the waterfall. 

Waterfall at Rincon de la Vieja.

Looking up at the waterfall from underneath.

Swimming below the waterfall.

Sunset from Rincon de la Vieja.

Presentation by marine biologist Marco Quesada at the Costa Rica office of Conservation International.


Dinner at Rancho Dulce in Liberia.

This morning we got up at the usual 7AM time for breakfast at Santa Rosa, then it was time to load up and drive to Monteverde (we are actually staying in Santa Elena, which is right next to Monteverde).  We've had lunch, and the students are out shopping, doing more surveys, and relaxing a bit after several hectic days.  We will be in Monteverde for 3 nights.

May 15th, 2012

We're all safe and sound here in Costa Rica. Two hour fog delay in Columbus,, about 1 hour late into Atlanta, but Delta held the flight. Everyone has been fed, and most of the group is at the bank changing money before we head out to dinner, then the first discussions. On to Guanacaste tomorrow; probably no internet there for a few days.

Above - fogbound in Columbus.  We were an hour late getting into Atlanta, but they held the plant to San Jose for us.

In the van from the airport downtown.

First meal in Costa Rica.


Planning Meeting; April, 2011

Emergency Contact - Marietta College Police - (740) 376-4611


Other Trips

2011 Costa Rica Field Trip

2009 Guatamala/Belize Leadership Trip

2009 Costa Rica Field Trip

2007 Costa Rica Field Trip

A web site with pictures from both the 2007 trip and the previous, 2005 trip is under construction at:

Stop by regularly as the site is being updated as we work our way through about 15,000 pictures we took there.


Field Trips

Updated 06/02/12 by DMC