Children’s Eternal Rainforest, Monteverde, Costa Rica

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cer_logoHere in Costa Rica, we learned about a project started by one classroom of kids that made a huge difference.

We visited the Children’s Eternal Rainforest (El Bosque Eterno de los Niños), which is the largest private rainforest reserve in Costa Rica — 54,000 acres, which is about the size of Seattle, Washington.  It combines with several neighboring rainforest reserves to protect a total area of about 170,000 acres — that’s bigger than Chicago.

And much of the rainforest here was saved by children… in fact, it started with just one classroom of kids half a world away, in Sweden.

We met Bob Law and Wendy Brenes, with the Monteverde Conservation League (MCL), the organization that works to protect the Children’s Eternal Rainforest, and they told us this story:

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Figure 1 – Jamie & Jason at entrance

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Figure 2 – With Wendy Brenes.  Green area on map is the Children’s Eternal Rainforest.  Other colors are other protected areas.

A biologist named Sharon Kinsman, who worked with MCL, visited Sweden in 1987, and spoke to a classroom of children there.  She explained to them how many Costa Rican people had settled in rainforest areas – they could use the land they wanted, cut down trees and clear land to make farms and build houses.

There was a huge problem with this:  the Costa Rican rainforest was disappearing.

Why does this matter?

The rainforest here in Costa Rica is crucial (extremely important) for several reasons.

You might think that it’s important because it provides a habitat for animals – a place for them to live.  That’s absolutely right.  Many creatures call this rainforest home:  monkeys, coatis, butterflies, toucans, hummingbirds, ocelots, and many, many other types of mammals, reptiles, birds and insects.

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Figure 3 – Coati, Praying Mantis, and Hummingbird

However, some animals live here only part-time — but it’s an important home for them, too.  They migrate here from colder climates, where they can’t survive in the winter.  For example, the Baltimore Oriole migrates 3000 miles from the United States to stay in this forest for the winter.

orial Figure 4 – Baltimore Oriole – image from Wikipedia

The Costa Rican rainforest also helps animals in another important way – it creates a corridor for animals that don’t make their home here at all, but use this area like a rest stop as they migrate from one area to another.  Many birds, bats, butterflies and other insects travel through Costa Rica on their way to other places.  The rainforest here gives them a place to rest and eat.

It also provides an important habitat for plants.  The Children’s Eternal Rainforest is home to more than 500 species of orchids – more than any other place in the world.

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Figure 5 – Not many orchids are blooming at this time of year, but we found this Dancing Lady Orchid

The rainforest also helps people, too, in several important ways:

– It provides clean air for us to breathe.  A single tree in the rainforest can provide enough oxygen for one person to breathe for 20 years.  In fact, the world’s rainforests produce 40 percent of the oxygen we breathe.

– Rainforests also provide plants for medicinal use.  Around a quarter of Western medicines are derived from rainforest plants, yet only a tiny percentage of rainforest plants — less than 2% — have been tested by scientists.  Can you imagine how many undiscovered uses for rainforest plants there must be?

– Rainforests help regulate our climate – they take in carbon dioxide and act as “carbon sinks,” or places where carbon is stored (or “sequestered”).  Too much carbon dioxide in our atmosphere contributes to global warming and climate change.

– Rainforests help provide and protect clean water.  Rainforest trees add water to the water cycle through transpiration (releasing water into the atmosphere).  Moisture generated by rainforests travels around the world — in fact, part of the moisture that falls as rain in the U.S. is affected by rainforests as far away as the Amazon and the Congo.  Here, in Costa Rica, the rainforests are also a source of water used to create hydroelectric power, which is the main source of power in the country.

– And finally, the rainforest creates jobs.  Ecotourism here helps support the local economy; funds also go back into the rainforest for conservation efforts.

What did the kids do?

This small classroom of children in Sweden was inspired.  They wanted to protect the Costa Rican rainforest, for all these reasons.

So they started raising money to save it.  Then other classes and other schools heard about their project, and they started raising money.  They held bake sales, garage sales and recycling drives.  They involved their families and friends.  And eventually, the children of Sweden raised one hundred thousand dollars to help the Costa Rican rainforest.  The government of Sweden was so impressed, they decided to match the money the children had raised.

And the word spread.  Kids from more than 44 countries helped raise money to protect this rainforest.

With this money, a conservation group in Costa Rica (The Monteverde Conservation League) was able to purchase farmland that used to be rainforest, and replant it with native rainforest plants.  With the money from the children, they bought thousands of acres of farmland, and converted it back to rainforest.

So they named the rainforest after the children who helped save it:  Bosque Eterno de los Niños means “Children’s Eternal Rainforest.”

We walked through areas that were replanted about 20 years ago.  We were surrounded by tall trees, a huge variety of plants, and countless butterflies and insects.  And in the rainforest areas we’ve visited, we’ve seen monkeys, coatis (in the same family as raccoons) and a peccary, a type of wild pig, and a porcupine (the porcupines here climb trees!)

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Figure 6 – 20 years ago this was a cow pasture!

It takes a long time to regrow a rainforest to its original size – more than 200 years. But in just 20 years, the area we saw has grown so much, you wouldn’t know it used to be a cow pasture.

We thought this was a spectacular example of something important kids have done to make a big difference in the world.  And it all started with one classroom.

Now, the kids who started this project have grown up, and the Monteverde Conservation League’s funding has slowed – so it’s difficult for them to protect and maintain the forest, as well as set aside money to expand it.  If more kids got involved again in saving the rainforest, it would make a big difference.

One thing that MCL wants to do is expand the available forested area to create a corridor to the Pacific Ocean.  Why is this important?  To create a seasonal migratory path for animals to travel from the drier, lowland areas to higher, cooler areas, such as the Children’s Eternal Rainforest.  In fact, just this year, jaguars have been sighted in the area, after being absent in this area for many, many years.

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Figure 7 – Jaguar photo from remote camera, Feb 2013

When we get back to Minneapolis, Jamie and Jason plan to make a presentation to their classmates, and see if they can start a project to help contribute.

Are you interested in helping protect the rainforest?  Here are some things you can check out:

The Children’s Eternal Rainforest site

Great video about the challenges the CER is facing now

Founder Bob Law on the history of the CER

U.S.-based Friends of the Children’s Eternal Rainforest – see what kids in the U.S. have done to help:

Mongabay is a fantastic site for rainforest information

You can also do things at home that help not only rainforests, but also the environment in general, like:

– conserving paper and using recycled paper

– saving energy (walk or bike places instead of using cars; turn off lights or appliances in your home when you’re not using them).  Many rainforests are now being considered as potential sources for oil drilling, so using less fossil fuels will help protect the rainforest

– eating less beef – cattle farms contribute to deforestation

– buying and using just what you really need – many of us can make do with fewer things.

Study Guide:

1.  Can you think of any reasons the rainforest is important for animals?

2.  Can you think of any animals that make their home in the rainforest?

3.  How many ways can you think of that the rainforest helps people, too?

4.  Are there things kids can do to help protect the rainforest?

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