Costa Rica students help protect the mangroves during Earth Day Mapathon

As part of its first annual “Mapathon”, MapWorks Learning asked schools, universities, and environmental groups around the world to map mangrove populations this Earth Day 2014, using the “Mapping the Mangroves” app. Mangroves are essential to the survival of coastal ecosystems in tropical and subtropical areas all over the world. They protect and build coastlines, harbor biodiversity, and serve as nurseries for fish, crab, and seabirds. They are also an amazingly effective means of reducing carbon in the atmosphere. However, mangroves are under threat everywhere due to coastal development, erosion of shorelines, climate change and more. The impact of the “Mapathon” was to raise awareness of this valuable ecosystem and encourage concerned citizens to help protect them.

A group of fifth-grade students from the Costa Rica International School, along with their teacher and several high school students, answered the call. They mapped, photographed, and measured mangroves in the Avellana’s Estuary, which suffered damage from an earthquake two years ago. The beach area at the mouth of the estuary uplifted during an earthquake that closed off water flow for over seven months. The lack of water flow resulted in septic conditions in the soil, killing a large population of mangroves in the central part of the estuary. The Mapathon trip focused on the ecological aspects of the estuary: examination of crabs, seine netting of forage fish, and exploration of mangrove characteristics and their place as a key species in the estuary.

Since the fall of 2013, the school has been working to repopulate the mangroves in Avellana’s Estuary. Students have focused on rehabilitating the propagules, or small mangrove seedlings. During their trip to the estuary, they transplanted the propagules into the soil to help jumpstart the recovery of the mangrove population in that area.

The fifth-graders are as determined as ever to help in the recovery of the estuary. Julie Moyen, their teacher, said “I am very proud of my student’s responsibility and enthusiasm in caring for the mangroves”. This was echoed by Nolan Haley, a twelfth-grade student from the school who said, “[o]ver the past two years I have worked with primary groups presenting programs about the mangroves. It has given me a deeper understanding of ecology, and an ability to see the subtler aspects of an ecosystem. I feel I have made a big impression on young students, and I love their enthusiasm”.

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