Q&A: The Rainforest, Pollution, & Environmental Conservation

rainforest photo

with Biologist Rebecca Fox and questions from

Medea Creek Teen Club in Oak Park, CA

1.    What are the downsides of living in the rainforest? Why?

Humidity! It is very difficult to air dry clothing. Some electronics like cameras or laptops are affected by the extreme humidity.  There are so many living things here, that you can find scorpions in your shoes, plants growing in your washing machine and mold on anything made from leather if you do not use them for a few days.

2.    How does the greenhouse effects effect the rainforest’s ecosystem

The trees in the rainforest convert carbon dioxide to oxygen. With increased concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the current number of trees in the rainforest cannot convert it fast enough. When rainforest is cut down or burned, all the carbon dioxide collected by the trees during their lifetime returns to the atmosphere. Rising global temperatures can disrupt the life cycles of plants. They can start to produce flowers and fruit at different times of the year and this in turn affects the animals that rely on these plants as a food source. If the change in global temperature is slow, some plants and animals may have time to adapt to a new environment. Others may migrate towards the poles as their habitat becomes too hot. If the temperature increases quickly, they will not have a chance to adapt or migrate, and many species in the tropics will go extinct.

3.    How does the evolution of our world (i.e. cars, planes, etc.) effect the growth of our rainforests?

As globalization and technology advances, there is more demand for resources from rainforests. To manufacture smartphones, a mineral called Coltan is needed. The number one source of this mineral is located under the rainforests of the Democratic Republic of Congo. In the process of extracting the mineral from the earth the rainforest is cut down and rivers are polluted. This rainforest is home to the critically endangered mountain gorilla, whose small population is now even more threatened due to the mining for smartphone minerals.

4.    How does pollution effect the evolution of species?

If pollution significantly alters the environment of a species, it can push that species to either adapt to the new conditions or to die. During the industrial revolution in England it was noticed that a new variety of peppered moth developed. Before the revolution a white bodied moth was commonly seen. Once large scale coal burning began and entire towns were polluted by soot, a black bodied moth began replacing the white peppered moth. This newly emerged species was named Biston betularia f. carbonaria, after the polluting substance that prompted its evolution. Any change in the environment can have an effect on the evolution of species, the difference with pollution is that we can control it.

5.    What would happen is army ants go extinct? Would the animals that depend on army ants (i.e. birds) adapt to their new life or would they die?

Different species of birds source their food from army ant raids. There are ‘obligate antbirds’ that rely completely on the activity of army ants for all of their food. Without army ants they do go extinct. Some other birds feed opportunistically on insects disrupted by army ants. In Monteverde, Costa Rica many species of passing migratory birds do follow army ants for food. This means that if army ants went extinct here in Costa Rica you might notice the disappearance of migratory thrushes or warblers in California.

6.    How much of the rainforest is still undiscovered or mysterious?

It is difficult to give an accurate measurement. Scientists estimate that there are still 30,000 plant species that we have not identified, and most of them will be found in rainforests. In 2005 some scientists looking at Mozambique on Google Earth came across a huge patch of rainforest surrounded by savannah. There was no information about this rainforest known to science. They went to explore this mysterious rainforest and on their first expedition discovered 10 new species including butterflies, snakes and chameleons.

7.    Judging by how much rain we have, how will the rainforest survive and how long will it still be a good habitat for animals?

The rainforest used to cover 14% of the earth’s land surface, today it just covers 6%. The rainforest is disappearing so quickly due to logging for wood and paper or agriculture. The future survival of the rainforest does not depend so much on the changing amounts of rainfall, it depends on the rate at which humans continue to destroy it. If we continue to destroy the rainforest at similar rates, 80-90% of the rainforest will disappear in the next 40 years. Over half of all animal and plant species on earth live in the rainforest. When their habitat disappears, so will they.

8.    With the animals going extinct because of pollution and the cutting of trees, how will it affect us?

Animals and plants of the rainforest may hold the secrets to curing many human diseases. 25% of modern medicines come from substances found in the rainforest. Right now scientists are studying the algae found on sloths as it may have the potential to kill cancer cells. Animals and plants in the rainforest are interdependent. Animals that act as pollinators, soil regenerators or seed dispersers are vital in the survival of many different types of plants that humans like to eat. If the bats, monkeys, birds and ants of the rainforest disappear, some foods like cashews, figs, avocados, vanilla and chocolate may disappear too or become very rare and expensive.

9.    The trees with rubber sap inside- when do you think that those types of trees will go extinct because of cutting them down too much?

When a natural resource is highly valued by people, such as the rubber from rubber trees, it is usually cultivated instead of being taken from the wild trees in the forest. This means that it is unlikely that the rubber tree will go extinct because people will keep planting them to harvest the rubber. Large rubber tree plantations can have a bad effect on the rainforests of Southeast Asia. There, the rainforest is cut down to make room for rubber plantations and this is pushing species such as the clouded leopard, macaques and gibbons towards extinction.

10.    How does the survival of the fittest apply to the rainforest?

Animals and plants that are best adapted to the rainforest environment will live long enough to reproduce and their species will be more likely to survive. This means they need to be well adapted to the high temperatures, high humidity and frequent rainfall. As the rainforest is cut down and the habitat becomes a mixture of rainforest patches with pastures for cattle and agricultural plantations, those animals that can survive in this new environment will survive longer. For example, here in Costa Rica the squirrel monkeys can live in fragmented rainforest and travel through agricultural lands, however the spider monkeys need large areas of untouched primary rainforest to survive.

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KSTR Sustainability Project By Volunteer Rachel Melvin

Kids Saving the Rainforest is focused on preserving and protecting the local wildlife. This mission includes housing a wildlife sanctuary on the grounds of the Blue Banyan Inn on the property that is called “the finca”. The sanctuary currently houses 29 monkeys plus a crab eating raccoon. Feeding them, as well as the volunteers that care for them, and BBI’s numerous guests can take an extraordinary amount of food.

KSTR strives to implement a more sustainable operation on the Finca and our next venture in this arena is supplying a sustainable egg supply to feed monkeys, volunteers, and guests.

This journey began with the construction of a chicken coop, quickly named Casa de Pollo by the volunteers. Mono Azul employees and their three volunteer helpers built the coop. The roomy coop was sided with wire mesh and fencing to protect against predators but still allow a breeze to pass through and roofed to protect against the sun. These are important factors in a tropical climate as over-heated hens do not produce well. The floor was left open except for an elevated platform housing the individual nest boxes for the hens to roost at night and hopefully for the volunteers to gather eggs from in the morning. The floor will soon be lined with concrete to facilitate easy cleaning and protect from burrowing predators (after eggs or hens). Even though the Mono Azul boys probably feared for their lives at times because of leaving the tools in the hands of us Gringa girls, the construction was completed with no mishaps and few injuries (mostly just bruised thumbs from hammering).

The next step was to secure a laying population, which was started with three baby chicks soon dubbed Suzie, Rachel, and Jenny (after the volunteers present on their arrival). As the sex of the chicks is incredibly hard to determine at such young age, this was more of a fun pet project for the volunteers, of which I was an avid campaigner, having never seen or held a baby chick before. The three chicks will soon be grown to 23 with the addition of 20 confirmed laying hens.

On their arrival the chicks were placed in their new home for the next six weeks, a large cardboard box. The box was lined with newspaper and shredded paper to act as bedding and a large continuous feeder and water were placed in the box. At night a ceramic heat lamp was added to make sure the chicks stayed a balmy 100 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the night so all their energy was focused on growing and not staying warm. Each day the chicks were taken out into the yard to explore and try different foods, including small rocks also known as grit, which is essential for their diet to facilitate digestion in their gizzard (the muscular gizzard and the grit essential grind the feed aiding the gastric juices to digest the food). The chicks were well cared for and happy. They loved each other’s company and became distressed when separated for daily cleaning. Research says they will continue to prefer each others company over other chickens as they grow up together and I, for one, am very excited to test this theory when they are placed in the coop with the other hens.

For weeks we watched them grow and change, Suzie was the largest chick at the beginning named after our 6-foot tall volunteer! As the weeks passed her companions soon surpassed her, with Jenny current holding the title of Gordito. Recently our little balls of fluff have entered a new stage of development. The very awkward stage we have deemed the teenage years due to their awkward and gawky appearances, have grown their adult white feathers and lost their yellow fuzz around their bodies. They are on their way to adulthood but still retain their small and yellow head, looking like 2 halves of different chickens. They are about 4 weeks old at the moment and still growing quickly. Having gotten too big to pick up and hold easily, reality is setting in that I will soon have to transfer my baby chicks to their new coop and only see them during a daily egg collection. But I’m proud that they will help KSTR on its mission to become more sustainable and feed the Finca.

Self Sufficient Living by Volunteer Vernita Gundy


HMMMMMM…What is that?

I am a US citizen who lives in the City of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania and although I’ve heard of self sufficient living, I have never learned what it actually meant until now. Self sufficient living means self reliance in learning to grow your own, make your own, sell your own and bake your own, for homesteading, urban homesteading or mini farms.

I’ve been in Costa Rica volunteering for Kids Saving the Rainforest the last 3 months and I have slowly started to understand what it is all about and how important it is to change our way of living so we can all be on this earth for years to come.

My first exposure to being self sufficient was at Finca Braman.There priority is to grow their own fruits and vegetables for the animals living at the Kids Saving the Rainforest Santuary and for their guest staying at Mono Azul and the Blue Banyan Inn. They currently have growing on their property mango trees, nance trees,lime trees,orange trees,guava trees,sugar cane,corn,pineapples and many more things to come like a tilapia farm.They have also started a compost pile and that is where they store any leftover food waste.

Did you know that much of our household waste can be food for the garden and very valuable if we compost it, sustaining a cycle of production with little waste, incorporating ideas of permaculture and organics which also benefit the soil, and the plants you grow?

Now I’m not going to preach to you on how to live your life because I myself may not go back to the states living a self sufficient life and I don’t know what is available here in Costa Rica for you to make any changes but now I will be more aware of what I buy, throw out, and what I can do to protect our environment. Self sufficient living reduces our Carbon Footprint by making small changes in every area of our everyday life.

Here are some ideas to get you started on self sufficient living:

1) Buy appliances with the energetic seals like FIDE or the Energy Star, this will tell you how much energy is consumed while in use.

2)Buy furniture made from certified wood that comes from forest plantations managed under international sustainability standards.

3)Use compact fluorescent light bulbs, they provide the same amount of light as incadescent but they consume less energy.

4)In order to improve air quality have plants inside and outside of your house. Within the house, plants are capable of absorbing up to 87% of hazardous toxins present in the air.

5)Use natural cleaning products without chemicals that may damage the environment.

6)Paint your house with light colors both on the inside and outside.On the roof this color reflects the light andon the inside these colors off light.

7)Make your own compost.

8)Start a worm farm to enrich your soil and have rich vermicompost freely and cheaply by feeding the worms your kitchen scraps.

9)Grow your own vegetables. This is the first step to self sufficiency and self reliant living.

10)Raise some backyard chickens. You can raise bantams if you have a very small space, or you can have full sized chickens. You don’t need too many for a steady egg supply. If you get a good chicken breed for eggs a good laying hen will lay about 5 eggs a week.Self reliant living at its best with fresh organic eggs every day.
So, if we all do at least one thing from this list we will all be on the right track of making our world a better place to live in.

References:
Kids Saving the Rainforest
http://www.self-sufficiency-guide.com/index.html
http://www.countryfarm-lifestyles.com/self-reliant-living.html
Compania Nacional De Fuerza Y Luz, S.A.