Day 6: My Costa Rica Journal

The beach at Punta Mona.

The beach at Punta Mona.

Day 6:

Before my trip to Costa Rica, I followed the packing list I was provided with, carefully selecting what I thought needed to come with me, and what I should omit. The day finally came to drive to meet the Stony Brook University study abroad group at the airport for our departure. I was sure I had everything I could possibly need on the trip while still traveling lightly. I packed my iPhone and iPad knowing very well that I would not have any service besides the occasional “treat” of Wi-Fi. The technological luxuries that were my iPhone and iPad would only serve as slender cameras for the three weeks to follow.

The first thing we did after landing in Costa Rica was travel by bus for five hours through the cloud forest, all the way to the southern tip of Costa Rica on the edge of the Caribbean Sea.

Our group’s plan was to stay at the hotel there for one night, hike into the jungle on foot, and send our luggage to the Punta Mona Center for Regenerative Design and Botanical Studies—the real destination of our trip—by boat. We reached the hotel only to find out that the sea was too rough for a boat to pass. Our only option was to backpack to Punta Mona with what we needed for two or three days, selecting items from the luggage we had on us.

Yet again, I had to pick and choose what would make the cut and what I was willing to lug around during a three-hour trek through the rainforest. Item by item, I sifted through my belongings. I felt like I was being stripped of my necessities, but made the difficult choices I felt I needed to make. By the end of the hike in I was completely exhausted and felt the burden of the heavy load on my back, making me wish I actually brought less than what I had. I went to my room and unpacked my Jansport, which contained a few shirts, shorts, body wash that doubled as laundry soap, flip-flops, a notebook, and one towel. Not exactly the most luxurious stay I’ve ever had, but I planned to mix and match my articles of clothing to make it work during our stay.

A sloth sighting!

A sloth sighting!

Each day the adventure continued; I never knew what I was going to wake up to. Would it be howler monkeys with their deep, rumbling dinosaur-like groan? Or the pounding of raindrops pouring down? Or an array birds chirping high above in the treetops? There was so much for us to do and see— hundreds of edible plant species, so many exotic animals, new friends from all over the world, a tropical rainforest just outside our cabin, and a beautiful beach. I was able to connect with the land in a way I never thought possible. So many indigenous cultures have lived this way for hundreds of years and I realized why. We had so many things we needed right there. We didn’t rely on big businesses to ship us food or clean water. If we wanted a snack, we could walk out to the nearest fruit tree and pick whatever we wanted. We didn’t have to worry about pesticides or chemicals and everything was fresh off the tree. As we care for the gardens and the chickens, we were immediately rewarded. This for me is the ultimate harmony. Everything our group did was intentional and rewarding.

After meals, our leftover food scraps were set aside and fed to the chickens. The chickens returned the favor by providing us with eggs that were devoured the next morning. As the course went on, we learned about fertilizing the soil with chicken manure and were able to build our own vegetable gardens that also benefitted from the chickens. The energy from our food scraps was able to be recycled back into more food. It was such a simple concept, but to practice the most efficient methods rather than being wasteful was inspiring.

The Winter 2015 Costa Rica study abroad group (Amanda, front).

The Winter 2015 Costa Rica study abroad group (Amanda, front).

One night during our trip, we had a party where we all made chocolate by hand. Before this trip, I wouldn’t have been able to describe where chocolate even comes from. During the process, we ate the cacao fruit and collected the seeds, or cocoa beans inside. The next step was to bake the seeds so that the protective skin becomes crunchy and separated from the bean. This part was much harder than I had expected, and my fingers quickly grew tired from all the prying and peeling. As I peeled, I thought about all the times I’ve eaten a piece of chocolate. Whether it be shaped like a Santa Claus, or in a bag of M&M’s, or carefully molded into a Hershey’s bar, I had never in my entire life stopped to think about where chocolate actually comes from.

It may be the special bond I have with the caffeine-rich treat that helped me to appreciate the situation, but I really had an epiphany. While making cacao I realized how disconnected we are from our food. Everything I normally eat comes from hundreds or even thousands of miles away. Cocoa beans are harvested, shipped to the factory, mixed with milk that is probably filled with other chemicals, processed by heavy machinery, and eventually shipped to the store where it could sit on the shelf for months before I pick it up. When we got to the final steps of grinding the cacao by hand and mixing them with sugar then rolling them into small cookie shapes, a sense of joy and achievement overcame me. At that point, I instantly had a newfound appreciation for food as a source of fuel and energy. After all, food is a very powerful thing and can either be the best medicine or a slow poison.

Six long days after arriving, we are still without our luggage and doing just fine. We’ve overcome the challenges of washing clothes, bathing, and living with the bare necessities. We had wonderful food to eat, clean water to drink and shower with each day, sunshine, and so many awesome people to learn and grow with. It didn’t matter that we wore the same shirt from two days ago and then washed it that night in anticipation that we would need to wear it again in another two days. Nobody cared. Vanity was not a concern, and we were all very happy with fewer material things.

IMG_8646By Amanda Rooney
Stony Brook University ’15
Biology Major
Sustainability Studies Minor

Worms and Lemurs: The Mariah Donohue Story

After suffering through calculus and chemistry as an undeclared sophomore, I jumped at the opportunity to study abroad in Madagascar with Dr. Patricia Wright, the world’s foremost expert on the finest animals to vertically cling and leap across the rainforest canopy—lemurs. In Madagascar I experienced lots of firsts, like hiking, pooping on the ground, camping, and being hungry. I also started my very first research project with my good friend Hannah Manning (who is now a vet student at Ohio State University). Together, we investigated the correlation between Red Fronted Lemur vocalization frequency and group size. I loved every second of data collection and as the project progressed I knew I’d found what I was always meant to do. In many ways, however, Madagascar disappointed me. I watched deforested areas erupt into flames for slash-and-burn agriculture; I heard rumors of villains mining for gold within the park; I watched a critically endangered lemur cross a busy highway in the middle of the afternoon. I never wanted to forget the imminent dangers threatening the rainforest, so after study abroad ended, I continued to work with Dr. Patricia Wright. Even while she was in the middle of becoming a movie star (everybody should go watch IMAX’s Island of Lemurs ASAP), Dr. Wright always made time to answer my questions, critique/fix my work, and teach me about effective conservation.

Mariah in the worm lab.

Mariah in the worm lab.

Dr. Wright reminded me of the environment I left behind in Madagascar, while Dr. Sharon Pochron introduced me to the majestic qualities of (invasive) earthworms here on Long Island. In Dr. Pochron’s lab, we use earthworms to conduct research on the impacts of Cadmium and Roundup on mortality and soil microbial respiration. Dr. Pochron has united students from sustainabilities, biology, and chemistry to congregate in the (sometimes stinky) confines of the Life Sciences Greenhouse, where we work together to feed, water, count, and weigh earthworms exposed to varying concentrations of toxicants. I have enjoyed working with Dr. Pochron because she dares her students to write with active voices, to think like statisticians, and to try to keep Mo, her aspiring guide dog, from eating squirrels and poison.

As an undergraduate senior in the Anthropology major and Ecosystems and Human Impact minor, I’ve had the opportunity to learn from a unique synthesis of biology, primatology, writing, and conservation. My classes and research experiences have inspired me to become part of the solution our planet needs. So, next semester, I will be returning to Stony Brook University as a graduate student in the department of Ecology and Evolution. I look forward learning more about environmental issues, conservation policy, and quantitative system modeling. While pursuing my master’s degree, I will return to Madagascar to investigate the nutritional ecology of two sympatric lemur species in Ranomafana National Park. I also look forward to participating in future ecotoxicology studies in Stony Brook’s Greenhouse. After earning my masters, I will pursue my PhD in ecology, so that I can spend the rest of my life answering research questions that address climate change, ecosystem degradation, and species endangerment. Because of my education, I will be more than my carbon footprint.

LemurBy Mariah Donohue
Sustainability Studies Program ’15
Anthropology Major
Ecosystems and Human Impact Minor

On falling gas prices

The holidays have come and gone and a new year is upon us. Life is good here in Stony Brook: the future is bright, and a fresh semester is under way. As we enter into this new year though, I find myself confounded by a recent phenomenon: falling gas prices. From passing conversations to national news, cheap gas seems to be making headlines everywhere. And while falling prices might mean good news for the average consumer, the ensuing consequences of cheap oil weigh heavily upon my thoughts.

As a Sustainability Studies major at Stony Brook University, I am trained to see the world through a holistic lens. I study the interface between man and nature and learn of the global imbalances that we have created over time. From sea level rise, to poverty and resource scarcity, the challenges we face as a result of human behavior are abundant and compounding. So, in response to falling gas prices, I began asking questions. Primarily, why are oil prices dropping? Furthermore, how long can they continue to do so?

These are my findings:

The price determinants of oil range from economic, to environmental and political/social circumstances. Firstly, oil exploration and production is entirely dependent upon investments. Investments are put forth on the basis of expectation and with the purpose of generating profit. If prices are high and predictions are positive then investors invest. That wave of incoming capital typically results in improved infrastructure and increased production.

Too much investment though can result in overproduction and an eventual drop in prices. As it turns out, the S&P 500 Oil and Gas Industry Index shows a steady climb in investments throughout the last year, as well as a subsequent drop in prices right around the time gas prices began to fall (1). (In order to offset overshoot, investors will typically reduce their capital inputs into oil production). Based on these trends, we can at least partially attribute falling gas prices to economic overshoot.

In addition to economic influence, oil supply is also subject to political and social conditions. While more and more oil is being produced, fewer countries are producing that oil. Therefore, political controversy of any sort can have an enormous impact on oil supply. In November of 2014, the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) failed to reach an agreement on production curbs (2). As a result, production levels soared, sending oil prices down further.

Finally, just as the global market has begun to falter, the U.S. has become the world’s largest producer of oil. With the advent of new fracking techniques, oil is now cheap and abundant in the U.S. and global supply continues to grow. However, the U.S. does not export any of its crude oil, so that surplus of fuel remains local, in effect nullifying American gas imports (3). As a result, American gas prices are at their lowest point in years.

So from economic, to political and environmental reasons, the recent trend of falling gas prices basically boils down to the issue of oversupply. As consumption climbs though, and investors allow the scales to balance, the issue of oversupply will eventually subside. And so the oscillating pattern of supply and demand will forever continue, with prices high one semester and low the next, until we are one day forced to confront the realities of climate change, or we run out of oil altogether.

As our population grows and the effects of climate change manifest, we will eventually be forced to make a decision – do we carry on down this short road of oil dependency, or do we make the switch to more efficient alternatives? To me, the answer seems obvious. However, it is not so easily attained. In order to move on from oil use, a global effort is required. And as an environmentalist, it is my goal to promote that effort. So, in consideration of these realities we face, I implore my readers to use less, study often, and share more.

IMG_0528By Richard Robinett
Sustainability Studies Program ’15
Sustainability Studies Major


  1. “S&P 500, Treasury Yields, Oil – Trading Range Patterns.” Bespoke Investment Group. 6 Jan. 2015. 10 Feb. 2015.

  2. “Why the oil Price is Falling.” The Economist. 8 Dec. 2014. Web. 9 Feb. 2015.

  3. Helm, Dieter. “Peak oil and energy policy – a critique.” Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Volume 27, Number 1, 2011, pp. 68-91. Web. 11 Feb. 2015.