Once in a lifetime trip to Costa Rica

As part of their degree, our MSc Conservation Biology students go on an incredible fieldtrip to Costa Rica where they explore the ecosystems of this wonderful country. The trip is their opportunity to carry out their own research project in the rainforest.

Trip of a lifetime

“A trip of a lifetime”. That’s what one MSc Conservation Biology student, Millie Holland, described a recent trip to Costa Rica. The 10-day trip consisted of exploring Costa Rica’s habitats and biodiversity, with a focus on the impact of conservation. 

Their excursion included a guided tour of Los Quetzales National Park, a visit to Frog Heaven where the group got to see a range of species including tree frogs, strawberry poison-dart frogs, a sloth and a group of Honduran white bats, a guided walk around the cloud forest at Mirador de Quetzales and an extended stay at Bijagual Ecological Reserve. When asked what the group have done on the fieldtrip, Ella Padley said “what haven’t we done! We’ve explored the rainforest and seen more wildlife than we could have imagined like different monkeys, sloths and lizards. We’ve made our own projects based in the rainforest and put our skills into practice in a completely different environment to what we have at home.”

In 2019 Costa Rica won the UN’s Champions of the Earth award. This is the highest environmental honour, and the country received it for its role in the protection of nature and its commitment to future focused policies to combat climate change. It has also managed to restore its forests so that over 50% of the country now has this habitat. It’s the perfect place for our students to learn.

A group of Honduran white bats gathered under a palm leaf
Honduran white bats - Photo taken by Kirk Mason - www.kirkmason.co.uk

Research projects at the reserve

The main part of the fieldtrip was a visit to Bijagual Ecological Reserve. Founded twenty years ago, the reserve’s aim is to protect the rainforest, facilitate environmental education and to understand and investigate the rainforest.

After a few days of becoming familiar with the surroundings and the animals within (think toucans, spiders, howler and capuchin monkeys!), the students decided on their chosen area of research. The projects ranged from the feeding behaviour of antlions, to identifying geckos. The students managed to apply some of the skills they had learnt whilst studying the course so far, as well as using some of the software systems like R (an integrated suite of software for data manipulation, calculation and graphical display) to help analyse their data.

Victoria Walters focused her research on bird activity throughout the day. She tested their activity in terms of bird song and visibility at 5:30am, midday and 4:30pm to see when birds were most active. “The fieldtrip provided a great opportunity to carry out a research project in a completely different environment”, said Victoria. “It also gave us a taster of what it could be like to be a research scientist in the tropics. We can undertake our own small research project of our own choosing and design the study to collect data in a real-world setting.”

Other research projects included examining a green algae disease present in a particular plant family that had not yet been identified in the country, and identifying whether the different vines had been planted, left to regrow or were original forest growth. The fieldtrip also provided opportunity for our academics and researchers too. Course Director, Anne Danby, focused on identifying fungi, whilst Joana Carvalho, Lecturer in Spatial Ecology and Bioscience, used audio devices to detect animals and birds in the forest. A BSc (Hons) Zoology graduate, Kirk Mason, also joined to take photographs and share his knowledge on invertebrates.

Aside from their hard work, the students did get some downtime swimming in a natural pool by a waterfall. And on one of the evenings they had a guided night walk in the forest.


A student carrying out research into bird activity
Victoria carrying out her research on bird activity. Photo taken by Kirk Mason - www.kirkmason.co.uk

Saving species from extinction

One of the students on the trip, Ella Padley, explained why she decided to carry on her studies at the University of Derby, after studying our BSc (Hons) Zoology course, as “I'm really interested in how we can work together to save the species that are close to extinction and those that are at risk, and how we can limit and combat human actions to help them.” She was so excited to go the fieldtrip as “the aim of the trip was to see an environment and ecosystems that are so different to the UK and so rich with life and biodiversity.”


A group swimming in a natural pool by a waterfall
Group swimming in the waterfall pool.

Words of advice

One of the students on the trip, Millie, has some words of advice to anyone considering studying our MSc Conservation Biology course: “Do it! You can truly understand how people are affecting the planet and understanding this yourself is the first step before going out to educate others.”

Fieldtrips like this one, support our valuable research to build a stronger, safer and more sustainable future for us all by focusing on the issues that matter today. They also help us to form meaningful partnerships that aid our understanding of the future of the planet, and educate and empower the next generation of game-changers.