Student - March 14, 2013

Banana poison in Costa Rica

Suzanne Overbeek

Who? Ellard van Eekelen
What? MSc student of Biology specializing in Marine Biology
Where? Instituto Regional de Estudios de Sustancia Tóxicas (IRET), Heredia, Costa Rica

For the first month in Costa Rica I ate rice and beans three times a day. I soon got fed up with that, as I did with the social isolation of my situation. I was very homesick for family and friends, and for all the conveniences of life in Holland. Heredia does not have an international club and there are hardly any expatriates. The culture shock was too much so I threw myself into my research.
For my research I checked the rivers and national parks for signs of pollution with the chemical pesticides used on the banana plantations. I carried out a biodiversity analysis, which means recording all the aquatic fauna in the river. I took samples and identified species. I came across beetle larvae, for instance, and even a freshwater bull shark. After analysing the river on several points I concluded that the national parks are polluted with pesticides. And that the effect goes all the way to the sea. It is quite impressive that this study is being used to change the legislation on permitted amounts of pesticide.
This experience abroad taught me that I enjoy my subject enough to keep happy in a situation like that. My studies gave me a lot of energy and I got on well with my colleagues.
Costa Rica is very varied, which is the big reason for biologists to go there. For a land not much bigger than the Netherlands, you get a whole bunch of ecosystems there: dry beaches, savannah, cloud forests, volcanoes, urban areas, fruit plantations, tropical forests with river systems and the humid Caribbean. Such a varied range of habitats gives a lot of diversity in animal life as well. When we were working in the jungle we were once yelled at by howler monkeys, and in the canal systems we came across a sloth, tortoises and iguanas. And I saw a tapir, four species of monkey, toucans, the quetzal and a whole load of colibris. I went snorkelling too, with stingrays, barracudas and reef sharks. It is cool to see all those wild animals. The zoo seems very fake after you've seen them in the wild.