Cielo Vista

Research Organization Celebrates New Home

June 4, 2004

FORTY years, $1.2 million and 29,500square feet – this is what it took to make adream of the Organization for TropicalStudies (OTS) come true. The non-governmentalorganization inaugurated a newhome for its education and research programsin tropical biology last month.The new building, located on theresearch campus of the University de CostaRica (UCR), near the university’s maincampus east of San José, includes classrooms,a public libraryand facilities for scientistsfrom around the world toprepare before and afterfield research.OTS is made up of aconsortium of 63 universitiesfrom the United States,Latin America andAustralia. Besides facilitatingresearch of CostaRica’s wet and dry forests,one of the main goals ofthe organization is to increase public awarenessabout conservation of the tropics.TO accomplish this goal, OTS offersclasses to the public, as well as short coursesdirected toward legislators, businessexecutives and decision makers on the sustainableuse of natural resources.“We specify the problems and let themknow what they can do to change things andmake a difference,” said Don Wilson, chairof the OTS board of directors and a seniorscientist with the Smithsonian Institution inWashington, D.C.The new facilities give OTS more spacefor classes and forums to discuss solutions,particularly because it is on the UCR campus,Wilson said.When OTS was founded 41 years ago, itwas based out of an office in the UCRmicrobiology department. Its growth forcedit off campus, into small rental housesthroughout the city, director Jorge Jiménezsaid.THE newly inaugurated buildingincludes a large, open lobby adorned withhanging and standingplants, rustic wood doorsand two-story-high windowslooking out onto thecampus.“One of my goals wasthis – that theOrganization for TropicalStudies would return tothe university. But neverin my dreams did I thinkthe return would be tosuch a magnificent place,”said Gabriel Macaya,UCR rector at the time of the May 14 inaugurationof the building (his term ended inlate May).The new library includes the largestdatabase of scientific research documentationin Costa Rica, including more than25,000 published articles about Costa Ricanbiology, according to Jiménez.“ONE of the ideas is for the public touse the library. Hundreds of people came toour old office to do research – students fromelementary and high schools, farmers whowant to know the latest research…” he said.Scientists from around the world useOTS’s three field stations at Palo VerdeNational Park in Guanacaste, La Selva in thenorthern region and Las Cruces, near theborder with Panama.OTS administrates and facilitates hundredsof research projects on Costa Rica’splant and animal species. Beyond inventoryof butterflies, birds, monkeys and orchids,studies range from the impact of habitatdestruction to attitudes in natural resourcemanagement.One OTS research project, for example,has resulted in new environmentally friendlytechniques to use mushrooms to combatpests in rice production. This prevents theuse of insecticides, which can pollute watersources, Wilson said.“SCIENTISTS are willing to make anintellectual investment in Costa Rica. We send students here for research and they have a scientific, international and multiculturalexperience,” said Jay Taft, a lab director from Harvard University and amember of the OTS board of directors.Harvard was one of the founding universities of OTS in 1963. Five other U.S.universities and Costa Rica’s public universities started the organization with thegoal of strengthening education and research in tropical biology, according to JohnDeAbate, one of two founders still alive.“I had a dream of bringing researchers from the United States to Costa Rica, toshow them what we had here,” said the 76-year-old Costa Rican scientist. “I’d bringthem here and we used to drive around looking for snakes and birds and bats, whateverit was they were interested in.”DeAbate and others began speaking with the heads of U.S. universities to generateinterest in the organization’s formation.“I was like a kid, drawing pictures of buildings with classrooms and biolabs ona big piece paper. And now look what we have,” DeAbate said, gesturing toward thenew building. “(The other founders) would faint if they saw this. This is really whatwe were dreaming about.”The building was made possible by more than $500,000 in donations from individualsand private businesses in Costa Rica and the United States, and $350,000from the Richard Simons Trust, a fund established as part of the estate of a Floridaphilanthropist who wanted most of the money to be used for the protection and studyof rain forests.For info about using the new OTS library, call 240-6696 or see the Web sitewww.ots.ac.cr

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