We are really thankful that individuals decide to come and volunteer their talents, time, and labor at Las Casas de la Selva. The project is a perfect place to immerse yourself into a new biome: the rainforest of Puerto Rico!
Special thanks to Tim Dehm, who stayed for three months and looked after Las Casas de la Selva for the month of October, in 2015, whilst 3t and Andres attended the annual Synergist Conference, in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Back row L-R: Inset, Israel Guzman, Herb Wexler, Janet Richards, Kamal Daghistani, Ziyou Yang, Diane Bentz, Julio Rodriguez. Front: Magha Garcia, Marigail Bentz, Chari Kauffman, Danny Nip, Patricia Salomon, Riona Kobayashi, 3t Vakil, Andres Rua.
Israel Guzman, President of SOPI, led the team into the forest for the first Winter Bird Surveys at Las Casas de la Selva. Marta Edgar previously carried out two years of surveys in the summer months with Earthwatch volunteers.
Globalworks brought the whole of the 8th Grade from San Francisco Day School to Las Casas de la Selva, May 2015.
We hosted three teams consecutively, for three days each. This wonderful bunch of teens planted critically endangered endemic Cornutia obovata trees in the forest.
Thanks to SFDS teacher Chris Corrigan for his tremendous leadership skills, and the enthusiasm he has brought to Las Casas over the last several years on Globalworks expeditions. Thanks to all the wonderful staff and students for the hard-work planting these Cornutia obovata out in the forest, and for the wonderful evenings back at the homestead. We salute you all! Thank you also to Globalworks staff, and to Las Casas volunteers Alfredo Lopez and Helen Galli, for all their help. All pix by 3t Vakil unless otherwise credited.
Daniel DioGuardi and Karen Babis volunteered in 2015, getting down and dirty on homestead clean-ups and helping on logistics with an Earthwatch teen team
Tim Dehm has volunteered at Las Casas de la Selva since late September 2015. He is taking a break and hopes to return in 2016. Tim managed the homestead whilst 3t and Andrés were at the Annual Institute of Ecotechnics Conference in Santa Fe, NM. Tim is working on fine-woodworking along with a host of other project responsibilities.
L-R: Luis Martínez Rodríguez, Ruth (Tata) Santiago, Wanda I. Rodríguez Rivera,Yaminnette Rodríguez, Ricardo Valle Pérez & Tim Dehm
William Davidowski, is retired, and since August 2015 volunteers his time helping in the wood-shop, making products to sell, passing on his fine woodworking knowledge to ready, able, and willing apprentices.
Natalie Harrison dropped in for a couple of weeks in December 2015 to help with all and everything.
CEO of The Institute for Regional Conservation, Craig van der Heiden, and his wife Sheryl, stopped in for a day to see the project and understand a bit more about what we do here.
Kamal Dagistani volunteered for ten days and helped with all logistics for an Earthwatch team 28th Dec 2015- 6th Jan 2016.
Wanda Rodriguez, from Guayama volunteered on gardens.
Big Thanks to all our volunteers in 2015. Whether here for long or short stays, every little bit of help -helps!!
Earthwatch Team 4, July 2015. This team of teenage Earthwatchers spent time in the forest with 3t collecting seedlings, planting and monitoring endangered endemic tree species, and time with Norman in Hormiga Valley on herpetological surveys. Karen Babis,an Earthwatch volunteer in the past and her partner, Daniel Dioguardi spent time at the project and helped out in the field. Big thanks to Earthwatch Program Manager, Kyle Hutton, (third from left in image below), and Lena Cosentino for great teen team leadership. Myriam Bourassa made this wonderful video (https://youtu.be/n1me_5p_CLc) of her time here.
Images by 3t Vakil, Karen Babis, Andres Rua, Lena Cosentino, and Daniel DioGuardi 2015
Thank you Earthwatchers for your help in herpetological surveys, planting of endangered endemic trees, Cornutia obovata and Styrax portoricensis, and for help in the nursery re-potting seedlings collected from the previous year.
Principal Investigators: Dr. Mark Nelson, 3t Vakil, Norman Greenhawk.
2015 Images by 3t Vakil, Lisa Bennet, and Susannah Garrett.
In April 2015, we were fortunate enough to receive two teams from the Northshore YMCA in Salem, MA. These teams all got involved with various tasks that ranged from creating a new trail, making a dam, to setting up new tables in our nursery and moving all the saplings from last year’s collections into the nursery. A good clean up of the wood drying shed was also really appreciated. Special thanks to staff, Matt Buchanen, John Brinkmanship, Kat Moser, and AnnMarie Green for the first group, and the second group, Graeme Marcoux, Cat Marcoux and Katie Coleman.
As always a huge thank you to all these volunteers who shared their lives with us in April 2015.
This all-ladies team helped out with a whole host of tasks, including the on-going plastering of the new terrace wall, and workshop cleaning, clearing, and management. Along with a salsa dance class, they enjoyed the rivers in the forest of Las Casas de la Selva, and also took a paddle-boarding class at Inches Beach in Patillas, with Omar Garcia. Thank you ladies for all your enthusiastic teamwork, we enjoyed your company immensely.
Fountain Valley High School from Colorado Springs, in their second annual collaboration with Las Casas de la Selva. This team of enthusiastic teenagers worked on the ethnobotanical trail, helped grade the main drive, helped in the wood workshop, learnt how to use a lathe with Andres Rua, and turn wood, had a Puertorrican cooking class with Magha Garcia Medina, enjoyed a salsa dance class with Yara, and after an afternoon at the beach, Villa Pesqueras in Patillas, and a wonderful dinner at Habitarte, Route PR 15, with Wanda and Riccardo. It was a pleasure to get to know you all.
Pepperdine University students spent seven days at Las Casas de la Selva, helping with various tasks led by Andrés Rúa, ranging from plastering the new retaining wall and walls on the main house, as well as work on the ethnobotanical trail, step-building, pruning, and prepping surfaces for more work. This team were lucky to have a cooking class with renowned gourmet chef Magha Garcia Medina, and a rocking Salsa Dance Class with Yara Soler Garcia.
We had a superb time with this team, and we thank you all for all the joy and enthusiasm that you brought to the project. Please revisit in the future! Thanks also to William Robinson who has been volunteering here for one month.
On the second day of the group’s visit, Simarouba, our beautiful white cat gave birth to 5 kittens. Magha Garcia Medina takes the students on an exploration of the foods of Puerto Rico, and we end up with a Sancocho for dinner. If you have never had Sancocho, here’s the place to come and try it!
University Of Colorado, Colorado Springs, students spent 6 days at Las Casas de la Selva, and helped build a retaining wall, as well as prune and maintain the wastewater garden. We all had a great time and we really appreciate all the hard work in rainy weather. U of C, we salute you all!
The steep and remote areas of Icaco and Hormiga Valleys of Las Casas de la Selva have never been surveyed for amphibians. Herpetologist Norman Greenhawk led a team of volunteers into the forest to search for target species of frogs in this vast area, to identify and gather information about amphibians to better assist with the future management of this area. The expedition started on 16th July, and continued to 8th August 2014. The team set up camp in the forest, prepared their own food, and faced some days of extremely challenging windy and rainy weather, including an interruption of the study by Tropical Storm Bertha! The team included college students from the continental US, Puerto Rico, an Earthwatch Teen Team, and Dr. Gabriela Agostini from Argentina. They and came back with a lot of data.
The target species that were confirmed to exist in the valleys were: IUCN Endangered Eleutherodactylus wightmanae (the Coqui Melodioso), IUCN Vulnerable Eleutherodactylus cooki (Coqui Guajon), and IUCN Critically endangered Eleutherodactylus richmondi (Coqui Caoba).
During the surveys, the team sampled for Chytridiomycosis, an infectious disease of amphibians, caused by the chytrid Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, a non-hyphal zoosporic fungus, that is currently killing off amphibians around the world. GPS co-ordinates of appropriate information were taken to allow for mapping of the range of target species within the valley, and high quality photos of the frogs were taken to help show the myriad variation of colors and patterns within a single species.
The initial survey is over and the data is being compiled. Norman has met with personnel of the US Fish and Wildlife Service to help determine future monitoring and research. Once the results of the Chytrid sampling are delivered from the San Diego Zoo, a report will be written up and submitted to a peer-reviewed journal for publication. This survey will continue with a smaller team, as the mountain ridge that separates the two valleys needs to be accessed and sampled.
Norman expresses deep gratitude to team members Sarah Bryan, Jessica Rosado, Marla Gonzalez, Sara Gabel, Sara Zlotnik, Alessandra Belmonte, Sam Boas, Kaitlin Panzer, Lauren Billy, and co-team leader Gabi Agostini. Huge thanks also to Earthwatch Team members: Alana Salas-Yoshii, Josie Icaza, Samantha Riesberg, and their facilitator, Sushmita Sridhar.
Big, big thanks to the Mohammad bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, CREOi, Roland Pesch and Kathy Rosskoph, without whom this survey would not have been able to be carried through.
Lastly, a special thanks to Thrity Vakil & Andrés Rúa for help with logistics, Leah Chevrier-Rappaport for extra volunteer help, and to Jan Zegarra of the US Fish & Wildlife Service for his encouragement, help with analyzing the results, and for consultation concerning future research possibilities.
Meet the team: L-R Back: Sam Boas, Norman Greenhawk, Marla M. Barrios González, Lauren Billy, Alessandra Belmonte, Sara Gabel. L-R Front: Leah Chevrier-Rappaport, Sarah Bryan, Jessica Rosado, Gabriela Agostini, Sara Zlotnik
EARTHWATCH PARTICIPATION: For several days of the survey, the team also comprised of three teenage Earthwatchers, Alana Salas-Yoshii, Josie Icaza, Samantha Riesberg, and their facilitator, Sushmita Sridhar.
Photo credits: Norman Greenhawk, 3t Vakil, Andrés Rúa, and Dr. Gabi Agostini (frog pix below).
Thank you Globalworks, we appreciate all your hard work on the forest road, pruning, and working on drainage ditches. The help in the gardens was also great, clearing vines and digging the soil to loosen it all up.
For 23 years, Global Works has been providing exceptional Community Service, Cultural Exchange, Adventure Travel, and Language Immersion programs for teens, which foster personal growth and promote social and cultural awareness for the participant and the communities involved.
A team of Fountain Valley High School students from Colorado Springs, CO, spent five days with us. Led by Andrés and 3t, the students completely emptied out the entire woodworking and machine shop, cleaned and organized all the tools, cleaned machines, took out all the wood stockand re-organized it, and left the workshop clean, organized and far more user-friendly! Students also worked in the nurseries and trails with Norman. Thank you to Deb Prantl and Vydia Garcia for tremendous team leadership, and a super big thanks to all the students who carried out such an incredible task. We really appreciated your help, and also the constant smiles and endless enthusiasm.
Genny and Tim, spent 10 days with us during the Appalachian State University group’s visit, and helped with all aspects of the project. We really appreciated their wonderful company, super hard work, and enthusiasm! They are off to spend more time at our sister project Synergia Ranch, Center for Innovation and Retreats, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. https://synergiaranch.com/about-us/
Appalachian State University students worked really hard on a diversity of projects at Las Casas de la Selva; plastering the bunkhouse, making a ramp for access to the dining room, pruning, gardening, nursery work, moving soil, making a new compost, emptying the humanure compost ready for use, and many other tasks. Wow! We thank you all for being such wonderful company this last week. We’ll see you again!
Vanderbilt University students have just spent several days with us at Las Casas de la Selva, and we have had a super time, working hard! Students learnt the art of plastering on the bunkhouse, led by Andres, and also helped with heavy labor and soil renewal on the Papaya Terraces with 3t. In their time here, they also got to do a leaf litter study with Norman and hiked into the forest. Thank you for your remarkable teamwork, and thanks Zach and Julia, team leaders who did a great job. We salute you all! Come back and see us again soon.
Vella Lovell, a student at The Julliard School of Dance, Drama and Music, NY, volunteered at Las Casas de la Selva for the days that Vanderbilt University students were here. Thanks for all your hard work and enthusiasm lovely lady!