SUNY Cobleskill Receives Grant for Biodiversity Program in Panama

SUNY Cobleskill announces a new opportunity for students to study the environmental, economic and social dynamics of biodiversity conservation alongside scientists on the ground in Panama, one of the most biologically diverse places on earth. The two-week program, “Conserving Biodiversity in the Tropics: An Ecological Trek Through the Biomes of Panama,” recently received a Chancellor’s Grant for Innovative Study Abroad Programs (ISAP) from SUNY. It will be offered for the first time this winter.

The program will further SUNY Cobleskill’s mission of applied learning in the context of global sustainability, giving students a firsthand look at the people and places most affected by conservation efforts and development. It was one of four proposals from across the SUNY system to receive the competitive ISAP grant, which funds unique study abroad programs to increase student mobility overseas. The $4,000 grant will help make the program more affordable for students.

Working with La MICA Biological Station in El Cope, Panama, students in the program will travel to the various biomes, interact with people involved in conservation, and witness the development that is encroaching upon these natural systems. The trip will include visits to the Cloud Forest of El Valle de Anton, home to rare amphibians, arthropods and orchids, the thermal springs of Cerro Gaital, and the undeveloped Azuero peninsula. Students will snorkel coral reefs and hike to the top of Volcan Baru, home to the rare and endangered Quetzal, a tropical bird nearly hunted to extinction for its plumage, among many other activities.

Dr. Carmen Greenwood, program director and Assistant Professor in the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Environmental Studies at SUNY Cobleskill, has worked closely with Dr. Julie Ray, director of La MICA Biological Station, to develop the program to provide students a life-changing appreciation for the delicate balance of social, economic, and environmental factors at play in the preservation of diverse tropical biomes. Students will have the opportunity to participate in conservation surveys with biologists and meet conservationists who are attempting to promote eco-tourism as a sustainable way to earn a living.

“Panama is home to some of the greatest biodiversity on the planet. It is also experiencing rapid human development and habitat loss,” said Greenwood. “Most students have some level of awareness of the biodiversity crisis and the issues contributing to the loss of biodiversity. Immersion in a culture that is attempting to mitigate that loss should broaden students’ awareness and understanding of the issues.”