North Texas Daily

Students travel to Chile to research conservation

Students travel to Chile to research conservation

March 27
22:41 2013

Alexandra Nay / Contributing Writer

Under the misty forest canopy next to clear streams in Chile, University of North Texas students collect insects that can indicate global warming, catch wild birds and learn about conservation as part of an exchange program with Chilean institutes.

The program is a partnership between UNT, the Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity in Chile and the University of Magallenes, which has the potential to change ideas about conservation and spread ground-breaking Chilean initiatives here in America. The program opens students’ eyes to the philosophy behind the research with daily lessons in the field by having students participate in an ecotourism project in a southern Chilean area called Omora Park.

“We want to pass on the torch to the later generations,” biology professor James Kennedy said. “We hope that when we lay down the torch, the younger generation will pick it up and start their own conservation projects.”

Ricardo Rizzo, a professor of biology and philosophy at The University of Magallenes and an associate professor at UNT, said the work being done in Omora Park began with creation of the exchange program back in 2000. Students from UNT travel to Chile for 19 days and earn up to six hours of credit in biology or philosophy.

“It was started as an opportunity to exchange ideas and build relationships in one of the richest areas of biodiversity in the world,” Kennedy said.

In 2011, UNT spent $150,000 to build a three-story field station in Omora Park, where participants of the program stay and analyze the research, Kennedy said.

Kennedy said Chileans are concerned about not making the same mistakes as other developing countries as their economy grows.

In 2006, Chile’s government threatened to injure the environment, specifically the streams valued in the study, when they tried to build dams that would disrupt the ecology. The people of Chile protested and stopped the government from building the dams because they care about conservation, Kennedy said.

The UNT collaboration is trying to build that awareness here, said environmental science graduate student Kelli Moses.

Americans are the least likely to suffer from “green guilt” about their environmental impact, despite being behind the rest of the world in sustainable behavior, according to a National Geographic Society’s survey.

“The program is beneficial to students because it changes their perception. The whole purpose is to get people to see things like the environment in a different perspective starting with this program,” said Judy DeLay, an assistant to the program.

Amanda Arnold, a biology junior at UNT participated in the program, said she cares more about having as little impact as possible on the environment now.

“The plants and the animals, it all belongs to nature,” Arnold said.

Students in the program, like Arnold, work on the ecotourism project going on in Omora Park. The attraction that combines economics and ethical ecology is called “Ecotourism with a Hand Lens,” and showcases what are called miniature forests, Moses said.

“It’s about creating metaphors,” said UNT biology senior Jackson Stewart, who participated in the program. “It’s like seeing the whole world in a grain of sand.”

The miniature forest contains 5 percent of the worlds’ diversity in mosses and lichens in just .01 percent of the landmass. With a looking glass, visitors can observe hundreds of plant species on the trunk of a tree. They then understand that to lose the tree would be to lose hundreds of species, Moses said.

This ecotourism is an avenue which America could pursue, DeLay said.

“America has a chance to send students to one of the most untouched areas of ecology in the world and learn from them as they develop,” DeLay said. “America has a chance to see what they’ve done wrong and to fix it.”

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