In July 2017, eight Guttman Community College students accompanied by Professor Derek Tesser traveled throughout Ecuador to explore the Itapoa Reserve as part of the Global Guttman initiative. On November 9th, students presented their multifaceted research on deforestation, endemic/new species and conservation, and shared memories of the unforgettable trip at a special evening event–Global Guttman Presents: A Night in the Chocó.
Professor Tesser and his students explained that the Itapoa Reserve and Project is located in one of the few remaining patches of primary forest in the Chocó, a biodiversity hotspot on the west side of the Andes Mountains. The Chocó is the most bio-diverse region on the planet by area and home to numerous endemic species, including many birds and amphibians. The area is also one of the most threatened by deforestation.
The Itapoa Reserve is a rain forest research and conservation project located within the Chocó in the northwest of Ecuador that aims to prevent and reverse deforestation by educating the public, planting new trees and buying neighboring land to promote sustainability.
During their seventeen-day trip, Guttman students visited various sites around Ecuador but their focus was hiking through the rain forest to explore the region and get a closer look at its amazing biodiversity. They spent five days in jungle conditions with no luxuries of modern life at hand – no hotels or cells phones – but plenty of new experiences. They brought back and presented findings on five topics: the monkeys of the Itapoa Reserve, glass frogs and serpents of the region, the African Palm plantations prevalent in the area, and the hope of Cacao plantations.
Students Giorby Suero and Tatiana Paulino told the audience about the endangered monkey species present in the Reserve: the Ecuadorian White Fronted Capuchins, Ecuadorian Mantled Howler monkeys, and the Brown-Headed Spider monkeys. Daniella Acosta and Gabrielle Blevins presented their research on the glass frogs of the Itapoa Reserve. The region is home to 10 glass frog species – more than any other location on the planet. While each species faces its own survival challenges, the students stressed that the common factor is the need for preservation of their environment.
Alex Granowsky and Jay Bravo explained how the changing climate of the Chocó region influences the distribution of its viper populations. Itapoa is home to five different species of vipers. During their trek through the rain forest, the Guttman group was lucky to encounter and document two unusual sightings: the Rainforest Hog-Nosed Pit Viper, a species previously not seen in the region, and the Eyelash Viper, which had not been seen in the area for over two decades.
Sasha Delaquis’ segment on the plantation of the African Palm shed light on the problem of deforestation for the mass production of cheap palm oil harvested from these plants. Yesenia Galindo concluded the student presentations by offering the audience a more hopeful outlook – the growing practice of planting and harvesting the sustainable Cacao plant that doesn’t harm the environment and provides multiple benefits to the farmers.
Global Guttman Presents: A Night in the Chocó concluded with a Q&A with the audience. The expedition to Ecuador had a tremendous effect on the students. They called it “transformational,” “impactful” and “unforgettable.” They came out of the jungle more open-minded and aware of the world outside their homes. The gallery of photos displayed around the room showed beautiful snapshots of their awe-inspiring experiences, and the video they presented drew a lot of applause.
This year’s trip was not Guttman’s first visit to the Itapoa Reserve. Professor Tesser has led the expedition twice before. Last year’s exploration of the Ecuadorian jungle were aided by a drone designed by Guttman students and developed in collaboration with a lab at City College of New York. The students and Professor Tesser thanked the Guttman Foundation for making this year’s trip possible. Students who participate in the Global Guttman program don’t incur out-of-pocket travel costs–the program is fully funded by the Foundation and has become a major part of the Guttman curriculum. Students who traveled to Ecuador received credit for the Introduction to Biology course and a chance at unsurpassed experiential learning.