Known for their montane cloud forests and tropical rainforests, the Neotropics is home to biodiversity that’s very different to what I’m familiar with back home in South East Asia, in the Paleotropics.
It was for this reason that I chose to spend my summer in parts of Central and South America – to experience a new landscape. I had already signed on with Operation Wallacea to spend six weeks in Honduras, and planned to spend the subsequent five weeks hopping around the National Parks in Costa Rica, Panama, and the Galapagos Islands.
Volunteering and living in Cusuco National Park, Honduras, offered me the opportunity to spend a month with researchers and volunteers, who were more than happy to share knowledge of Honduran biodiversity and the threats they face. Through working with them, I gained deeper insight into issues like Chytridiomycosis — a disease caused by a fungus that has dramatically reduced, or even wiped out populations of amphibians all around of the world. While scientists have yet to discover a way to prevent the spread of chytrid, researchers are putting in tremendous effort to prevent the extinction of species such as Plectrohyla dasypus and Duellmanohyla soralia through the Honduras Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Centre (HARCC), by collecting, treating and then reintroducing metamorphs. Learning of this was truly motivating, and it highlighted how hard some scientists work to protect what they love.
Travelling around Costa Rica, Panama and the Galapagos was particularly exciting as it brought many iconic species to life. After hearing and reading so much about species like poison dart frogs and blue-footed boobies, seeing them right before my eyes was just like meeting loads of celebrities, but celebrities in biology. Sitting on a bench surrounded by many of the famous common cactus finches, lying on the beach next to dozens of marine iguanas, or snorkelling next to the Galapagos penguins felt like the red carpet — only one where the celebrities have huge roles in theories like evolution. I was starstruck beyond nerdy belief.
Navigating through a completely different realm of the world was daunting at times, especially when much of what you hear about these countries tends to be along the lines of homicide and crime, rather than flora and fauna. Language barriers, along with long and bumpy bus rides were extremely frustrating at times. But if you were to ask me if they were worth seeing some of the most beautiful landscapes of the world, encountering incredible biodiversity, and meeting loads of amazing people along the way — then hell yes, it was.
-Becky Lee, 2nd year