A group of University of Lynchburg students has set off to Costa Rica to work on research to preserve safe drinking water.
Over the next two weeks, Dr. Tom Shahady and 11 students will wade through streams in the Central American country and collect samples of water, leaves, and sand. Jade Woll ’16 will stay an additional four weeks to analyze what the group collects. Her work will establish a baseline so future studies can track changes in pollution levels.
“The overall goal is to help these communities in Costa Rica to determine water quality more accurately,” Woll said. “The daily use of water makes it really important for the communities to be able to determine stream health accurately and begin taking action to restore the stream or prevent further impact.”
Environmental research was not on Woll’s radar until a chance encounter last fall. Her Spanish class required her to attend several cultural events, so she chose to attend a Science Gang talk about work Dr. Shahady had done in Costa Rica.
The presentation featured Veronica Sheehan, who had recruited Dr. Shahady’s help gathering data about the detrimental impacts a proposed agricultural project would have on her town’s drinking water.
“I became interested immediately,” Woll said. “It’s cool how going to a liberal arts college allows you to find opportunities like this in unexpected ways.”
Woll received a $2,000 MeadWestvaco Fellowship from the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges to support the research she is doing this summer. She and 10 other LC students left on Thursday to begin their work.
After collecting samples from three river systems, Woll will count and identify macroinvertebrates in the samples. Macroinvertebrates include insects, crustaceans, arachnids, and other small, spineless species whose populations reveal the condition of the water. The presence of pollution-sensitive species is a good sign. However, an ecosystem dominated only by organisms that withstand pollution signals trouble.
Woll looks forward to spending time in a rainforest environment with plenty of fodder for her photography hobby, which she would love to turn into a career with National Geographic someday. She hopes her research experience will help her prepare for graduate school. She also thinks she will enjoy getting to know a foreign country and its people while doing something to help them.
“I hope to learn more about Costa Ricans and how water quality really influences their daily lives,” Woll said. “Hearing about it and seeing it are two different things, so I am excited to get to fully understand how critical it is to have good water quality in Costa Rica.”