Blogpost by Rachael Eplee, Rios Saludables Program Coordinator
My name is Rachael Eplee, and I am the coordinator for Osa Conservation’s Rios Saludables (Healthy Rivers) Program. I graduated in 2016 from Virginia Tech with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Policy and Planning and a Bachelor of Arts in International Development. In my first step into the professional world, I started working with Osa Conservation in July 2016 and have had the great pleasure of living in this rich and diverse environment ever since!
My area of interest lies in human and natural system interaction and how that can be applied to development practices. Thus, the Rios Saludables Program, a community-based watershed monitoring program, is a natural fit! We seek to engage international students, local actors, and local communities in education, research, and evidence-based decision making in order to contribute to the greater conservation efforts in the Osa region. In Costa Rica, the greatest risk to water systems is not quantity, but quality. The Osa Peninsula has 46 individual watersheds, which means there are 46 major river mouths entering the Gulfo Dulce and Pacific Ocean. Each of these watersheds offer a picture into the composition of the land around it and can allow us to see the impact of land use, human interaction, and conserved lands around the river. We use chemical, macro-invertebrate, and bacterial testing to measure the quality of rivers that impact Osa’s communities. Through engaging citizen scientists in the Osa, we collect quality data while simultaneously using nature as a classroom to educate students of all ages and academic levels.
The goal of the program is to create quality long term data in this region which is home to many farms and is in constant threat of rapid development. Long term data allows communities and conservationists in the area to advocate to municipalities and people making land-use decisions. The robust ecosystem has capacity to protect its natural systems internally, but only with the help of dedicated reforestation and wildlife conservation efforts. Rios Saludables has engaged over 60 individuals in 10 regions throughout the peninsula in education and data collection. We are excited to expand our impact by creating strategic plans with our local partners, including nearby eco-lodges and biological stations.
From a personal standpoint, I see the success of this program lying in the hands of the incredible people of this region. Anyone who has had the opportunity to spend time in this place knows the importance of all conservation efforts in the region and knows that the best way to understand its true beauty is to take the time to see it through the eyes of the people who call it home. In the Osa, there is a deep understanding of the power and importance of nature – the opportunity to work in this place has given me a perspective that only the Osa can! Rios Saludables is a young program and is the culmination of the hard work of many people. As it gains strength and grows, this program will undoubtedly be impacted by many incredible scientists and nature lovers from all over the world. For me, spending the past year with this program has been a great pleasure and I will take the lessons it has taught me everywhere I go.
As far as first professional jobs go, I think I hit the jackpot! 😊