Tess Linden Heals the Rainforest
We caught up with former RSS student, Tess Linden, who is studying Evolutionary Biology and is working on a reforestation project Costa Rica.
RSS: Our 5th graders participated in our science fair recently and their projects were all about coming up with creative ways for seeds to spread and fertilize.You're studying Evolutionary Biology too and working on a reforestation project in Costa Rica. What is wrong with the environment there and what are some steps you're taking to restore it?
Tess: That's awesome! I distinctly remember studying seeds in 5th grade science class -- that was one of my favorite units! The tropical forest in Costa Rica is home to an incredible amount of biodiversity, with many endemic species (species that live here and nowhere else), so it is important to protect the forest to make sure this biodiversity can be with us for many years. However, much of the forest has already been cut down to make room for cattle pastures and oil palm plantations, among other things. Costa Rica is the only developing country that has been able to reverse the trend of deforestation towards reforestation in recent years. This is thanks both to large, government-funded reforestation projects and also to many smaller, privately funded projects -- people trying to do their part. There's still much work to be done, however, if we want to keep this trend going. This past year, when I'm not working on my experiments, I have been helping out on a small reforestation project that aims to convert a former cattle pasture called the Finca Amable into new forest by planting native tree species. The volunteer work consists of caring for saplings in a nursery and planting them at the Finca when they are ready. The trees grow surprisingly fast, and it has been very cool to visit the sections of the Finca that were planted 4 or 5 years before I got there -- they already look like true forest!
RSS: Is environmental protection and restoration something you've always been interested in? Is it something you plan on pursuing?
Tess: I have always cared deeply about the environment, and have donated money to the cause before. But this is the first time I've helped out on the ground. It's rewarding to feel that even though my contribution is small, I am a part of a cause that is larger than myself. I have to return to the US at the end of this year to begin graduate school, but I do hope that I can continue helping somehow in the future, be it through donations or volunteer work. How did your time at RSS influence the decisions that led to your current project? The devastating 2004 South Asian tsunami happened while I was at RSS, and I was struck by how quickly the Rodeph community rallied around the cause to raise money for relief efforts. My teachers used that opportunity to teach us about Tikkun Olam, our duty to heal the world. The idea of Tikkun Olam made a big impression on me, and I have thought a lot about while I've been in Costa Rica. Because so many people here are willing to contribute their time and effort to this duty, we have been able to start healing the rainforest. It is an uphill battle but that only makes the cause more important.
RSS: Any tips for our aspiring biologists and environmentalists?
Tess: Do what you love and don't let anyone stop you! Also, take advantage of your teachers and don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it!