Working with endangered species and seeing how humans impact other species can be an eye-opening experience.
Cody High School science teacher Amy Gerber and a group of her science students traveled to Costa Rica on July 18-27 to take part in a sea turtle study and mangrove restoration.
Gerber has been taking students on trips like this for more than 20 years. Four years ago, she teamed up with Ecology Project International and began working on projects in Belize and Costa Rica. This year, she took 13 students and three other adults.
Taylor VanDeer, a recent graduate of CHS, said she enjoyed her adventure to Costa Rica and took a lot away from it.
“My favorite part was working with the sea turtles and mangroves because they’re endangered so it felt good to help them out a bit,” VanDeer said. “The biggest thing I learned is how much humans can impact other species in a negative way, even with the smallest things we do.”
During their time in Costa Rica, the students focused on studying and tagging endangered black and hawksbill sea turtles. The students also planted red and tea mangroves along the coast in a sanctuary area and conducted their own research projects.
Gerber said these students were an incredible group because of their excitement.
“I take students on trips like this because I believe whole-heartedly in the value of learning science by doing science,” Gerber said. “The field work I did when I was young shaped my life in ways that have truly made a difference. There is no better way to inspire young people. I’ve taught for 28 years and have taken 22 groups of students on these field excursions. It is my single greatest satisfaction as a teacher.”
Traveling outside of the U.S. allowed VanDeer and the other students to experience the difference in cultures, while learning the value of endangered species in the ecosystem.
Gerber said she hopes students gained an extra level of appreciation for the natural world after venturing to Costa Rica.
“We are immersed in wildlife, ecosystem and conservation issues right here in Cody, but it is important for them to see that the struggles are everywhere,” Gerber said. “I want them to get a taste for what field research looks like. It is hard, demanding work in hot, buggy, dirty environments. On this particular trip, many of
the researchers were women and they were outstanding role models for the 11 young women that participated.”
Gerber and the students visited the Osa Peninsula and the Osa Conservation Piro Field Station, where they were also able to see other wildlife such as the scarlet macaw and sloths. They learned more about the importance of conservation and how it affects other species around the world.
VanDeer said the trip allowed her to step out of her comfort zone and take an active role in conservation.
“I decided to go on this trip because I want to pursue a career in the medical/science field and any kind of hands on, outside experience will help me along the way,” VanDeer said. “What stuck out to me is how fortunate we are here in the United States and that changes a ton once you leave the country. I think we all take advantage of how much we are blessed with sometimes.”
Gerber said watching her students engage in every aspect of the experience was exciting and rewarding.
“I hope my students understand that learning is a lifelong endeavor,” she said. “It isn’t always something you do with a book and a pencil. The best learning comes from immersing yourself in the experience.”