My Earthwatch Experience

Tuesday, May 27, 2003
The bus picked us up at the entrance of the research park at a little after 1:00 pm. We were dropped off at the hotel in San Jose around 3:30pm. A few of us walked around town and did some souvenir shopping before we met at 6:00pm for our last supper together.

Personally, I think Michel best articulated the lessons I learned and practiced at La Selva. The lesson was that of learning to see what I didn't know. In many ways, our minds become acculturated to our environment and much of our daily lives is taken for granted and is essentially an intrinsic unquestioned element of our existence. Very often, one doesn't/can't see the reality of what is physically in front of them without another person pointing out what is actually there.

The practical lessons of this occurred for me the first several days of caterpillar hunting. An expedition staff member would point out a leaf and ask if there was a caterpillar on it. Without knowing, it was initially impossible for me to see the caterpillar that was there! Cryptic caterpillar species match their environment so well, they were often indistinguishable from their host plant. After several days of learning and beginning to know...I began to see...and was able to find cryptic caterpillars on my own.


I wish to take this moment and thank Alcoa for sponsoring and supporting the worthwhile cause of Earthwatch. It is my hope that the program will be continued and even expanded in coming years. I would also like to thank my supervisor, Lisa Kunkel for affording me the time away from the office to participate on this expedition!

Lastly, I'd like to thank all those who followed along with me and read this journal! I'll carry this experience for the rest of my life...and never forget that I've been given a last chance to see....

Please continue to visit this website. It will be updated with multimedia materials (photos, video, audio clips) from the expedition.

Be well and may the forests always be with you,


Monday, May 26, 2003
I have been able to share the last several meals at the cafeteria with Dr. Clark (she made the presentation about the forest several days ago). I enjoyed her and her husbands company and listening to them share the experiences/results of their work. During one of our conversations I shared a bit about myself and what I do for a living. She highly recommended that I purchase and read a copy of a book titled: You Can't Eat GNP: Economics As If Ecology Mattered by Eric A. Davidson.

Today, in the morning, Tom and I ran 4 additional nectary trials.

Creatures that we saw during our work included:

A Scarab Beetle (About the size of a cell phone!)
A Walking Stick (insect)
The Jesus Christ Lizard! (This is the lizard that can run across the surface of water -- though the one we saw was just running along the ground)

In the afternoon, Lee presented a brief summary of what we accomplished during the past two weeks. As a group, we found 82 different species which represented 19 of the 30 families of caterpillars. Two of the caterpillars that we found are new species that Lee has never seen before!!!!! One caterpillar was a species that wasn't known to exist in this forest!! To date, 900 species of caterpillars have been identified at LaSelva. 5000 caterpillar species are estimated to exist in Costa Rica!!

Tomorrow, we will all work in the zoo one last time and help prepare for the next Earthwatch Team which will be arriving on 28 May and staying thru 11 June! In the afternoon, a bus will drive us back to San Jose for our departure flights on the 28th.

Sunday, May 25, 2003
Today I was solo zookeeper for the plantation caterpillars. It was a full job to feed 677 very hungry caterpillars! The childrens story book The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle tells only half of the story.... Those 677 hungry caterpillars make a lot of frass! Too bad there wasn't a way to make some money selling is as premium tomato plant fetilizer (and be able to price it like caviar ;)....

Yet in the forest, the frass doesn't go to waste....

In the forest, waste equals food. Everything is food for something else! There is even a beetle whose biological niche is to eat caterpillar frass!

Lory, a physician and friend of mine, once shared her favorite quotation with me. I don't recall the exact quote at the moment, but, the essence of the statement was the goal of every species is to perpetuate itself.

For me, the most rewarding part of this expedition experience has been to witness first hand the fire of creation perpetuating itself within the framework laws of the community of life. The forest is a miraculous closed loop system in which the only external input is that of solar energy!!

All organisms produce more seeds or offspring than will survive to maturity.
Variation exists among progeny.
Traits are passed from generation to generation.
Survivors of each generation succeed because they possess a trait (advantage) over those that don't survive. Survivors will pass successful traits onto the next generation and therefore the incidence of particular traits will increase within a population over time.

Peace keeping law for all members of the community of life (which is an enabler of diversity):
Give as good as you get, but don't be too predictable.
Compete to the full extent of your abilities but do not wage war*.

*war - denying another member of the community of life the ability to make a living.

One last observation of the forest is that no creature I observed grew/procreated/multiplied without limits imposed by biology.

Saturday, May 24, 2003
So far, 677 caterpillars have been caught at the banana plantation and 313 have been found in the forest!!!

It is funny, if you are still and quiet in the caterpillar zoo, you can actually hear the caterpillars eating...munching on their leaves!

Today, Marshall and I ran four trials of the nectary experiment that I described yesterday...we made it without getting stung!

Last night, Dr. Deborah Clark of the University of Missouri - St Louis, presented a talk titled: Global Change and Tropical Forests: Lessons from La Selva. Deborah and her husband Dr. David Clark have lived at La Selva for the last 20 years. She studies the ecology of tropical trees, long-term processes affecting tree growth and survival in lowland forests, effects of climate change on forest productivity, and implications of this for global climate and the atmosphere. Her presentation summarizing the work she and other scientist have completed the last twenty years was mesmerizing.... I will see if I can obtain a copy of her presentation to share on this website.

The mosquitos and I finally found one another...I was wearing a short sleeve shirt and shorts the other day and ended up with a half dozen or so bites....

Though I haven't been back to the Banana Plantation since Thursday, my mind repeatedly drifts back to the images that my eyes took in....

Without the canopy of the forest, the intense humidity and temperature of the tropics hits you hard -- stifling. A thick bitter smell of agrochemicals hangs in the air. There were no smiles or laughter anywhere to be seen on the plantations. The workers bodies appeared gnarled, scarred and broken from the hard labor of plantation work....

Banana's I have learned are a incredibly "wimpy" tree. They are herbaceous, which means that though they are a tree, they are not "made" of wood. The cross section of a 10 inch diameter trunk looks like a a giant plant stem! Banana trees are a monoculture -- genetically speaking, they are identical to one another...essentially clones of one another.

Consequently, without any genetic variation, the artificial system of a banana plantation is very fragile and therefore treated heavily with: herbicides, insecticides, fertilizers, fungicides, etc. There are on the order of 23 different agrochemicals that can be applied to banana trees.... Exposure to agrochemicals has impacted plantation workers with epidemic levels of sterility and birth defects....

Globally, Tropical Rainforests are being cleared at a rate of 64 acres/ that rate, the 3900 acres of La Selva would theoretically vanish in just about an hour! And be replaced with pasture for livestock or land for crops of one variety or another. I find it chilling that so much unknown endemic biodiversity -- biomass -- is being transformed into humanmass.... I find it chilling that inherently diverse, stable and natural biological systems are being replaced with artificial, fragile, human made systems....

After seeing a banana plantation.... I can't imagine the amount of embodied energy that a medium sized 110 calorie banana contains. The energy of converting forest to plantation, solar/biological inputs of growing a tree from a seedling, the energy of applying chemical treatments, the intense manual energy of harvest, refrigeration, transportation, sale...I'm sure there are tons of energy inputs I haven't even considered....

Friday, May 23, 2003
Yesterday's "unofficial" caterpillar count for the three of us who went to the banana plantation was 166. We had several bags full of leps that were not counted, because they were given away to another researcher for a different experiment. I'm certain that we caught no less than 200!

Today, Angela, Chris, Luis and I conducted a practice run and prepared for the nectary experiment that will be run during the next several days. We spent the morning identifying trees that had nests and were home to the BIG bullet ants! Twelve trees along the trail were marked with flags. Little vials of nectar were then mounted to the tree trunk with paper clips and thumb tacks. We left the vials for an hour and then returned to collect them. Collecting the nectar vials from 15 feeding bullet ants is a bit of a tricky task. One person uses a four foot long bamboo stick to flip the ants off of the vials and the surrounding area. The next person rather quickly switches the vials and then runs away from the tree (just like in a Monty Python movie!). Quickly, both people examine their boots and legs to make sure that no ants crawled up on them. The bullet ants bite and give a severe sting that hurts for an entire day!!! Chris and I worked well together and didn't get stung!

Below is a brief overview of the nectary experiment:

Paraponera clavata (Giant tropical ants) are a natural enemy of caterpillars. Some caterpillars have developed the ability to sequester plant toxins as a defense against such natural enemies. The experiment is designed to screen for chemical defenses present in both plants and caterpillars. Two vials of nectar, one as a control and the other with either a plant or caterpillar extract are placed along the feeding path of the Paraponera. If they prefer the control over the extract this suggests some kind of chemical defense. Those nectar solutions which test positive for chemical defense are further analyzed with more sophisticated procedures.

Thursday, May 22, 2003
Back to lepping!!

I left with Beto and Angela at 8:30 am to go to a different Banana Plantation today. We collected for about two hours...won't know till tomorrow when we are done processing how many we caught...but I think we brought in more than the 230 we picked up the other day...stay tuned!

During the afternoon I worked at the caterpillar and and and feeding.... I was surprised to see that several caterpillars were no longer caterpillars but had pupated over night! Amazing!! The transformation is so radical and takes place so quickly....

Some more creatures I have seen over the last couple of days include:

Eyelash Palm Viper (Yellow variety and in a cage thank goodness!!!).
Spectacled Caiman (Is bigger than an Iguana but smaller than a crocodile)
American Crocodile
Boat Billed Heron
Great Kiskadee
Blue-gray Tanager

Wednesday, May 21, 2003
Today is our day off from caterpillar chasing!!

Several of us hired a car and driver for a day in order to see the countryside! We drove approximately two hours to a small town called Fortuna.

There we visited and toured a botanical garden.

We visited Catarata La Fortuna (which means the Waterfall of Fortuna)... A spectacular waterfall!! I can't wait to post some photos of the falls when I return to the States!

We continued our travels and saw an active Volcano called Arenal. One half of the mountain is green and completely covered with vegetation.... Drive around to the other side of the volcano and it is completely barren --- covered with volcanic rock and ash. Difficult for me to imagine the temperature and pressure required to make rock molten.... Because of the daylight, we were not able to see the lava flows. But listening, we could hear the earths indigestion. Long rolling percussive noises that sounded like: part thunder, part explosion, part gunfire, part falling rock...all rolled into one.

We stopped and had Pollo Empenadas as a snack prior to our drive back to La Selva.... They were tasty - made with corn meal and a salsa on the side, but I prefer the Argentinean variety ;)

Tuesday, May 20, 2003
Vincent, Rich, Beto and I travelled to a nearby Banana Plantation to collect caterpillars for Angela's research project.

The bright side of the trip is that in approximately 2 hours the four of us collected on the order of...sit down you are not going to believe this...230+ read that correctly TWO HUNDRED AND THIRTY PLUS Caterpillars!!!! What a great morale booster in terms of caterpillar catching!

By the way, I learned that among the scientist types, the "nickname" given to caterpillars is: leps. Leps is short for Lepidoptera which is the scientific name for the insect group consisting of caterpillars.

The banana plantation....

Let me back up a bit first and say that the trip (though it was 2 hours) from San Jose to the reserve was essentially up over a mountain ridge (not like the rocky mountains out west...but more formidable than the smokey mountains of the east coast) and in through the back side of the reserve. The mountain area is part of a government protected area. The reserve is a 5 square mile "peninsula" of primary and secondary rain forest that is surrounded by -- as far as the eye can see -- banana plantations, pinapple plantations and cattle pasture....

The trip to the plantation was my "first view" of Costa Rica outside of the Reserve.

The plantation visit, in a certain regard, was the most chilling and terrifying experience I have had in my life.

The Impacts of Banana Plantation Development in Central America

Monday, May 19, 2003
Jenny, Marshal, Tom, Michel and I hunted caterpillars together today. We only found 13 which was a surprise to us. We were only expected to find 4-6 caterpillars. I found 1!!!!...which meant that I was allowed to eat dinner tonight :). The reason for the low numbers is that we were sent to another area of the forest which is known to have a low density of caterpillars. One of the things the scientists are trying to understand is why certain areas of the forest have relatively few caterpillars and other areas of the forest have lots of caterpillars!

I purchased a small field guide today and thought I'd share the official common names of the creatures I have run across so far (and can positively identify).

Spider Monkey
White Nosed Coati (This is a creature related to raccoons)
Collard Peccary (I described this as a wild pig earlier. They have a strong distinct musky odor, you can tell when they've been around).
Sloth (Not sure if it was a two or three toed sloth)

Central American Whiptail (Lizard)
Unidentified Snake

Gaudy Leaf Frog (This frog had the spectacular lime green, blue and red coloration)
Cane Toad (This frog is as big as a softball)
Blue Jeans Dart Frog

Crested Guan
Swallow Tailed Kite
Toucan (85.679% sure that it was a Chestnut-mandibled Toucan)
Common Brush Tanager
Scarlet Rumped Tanager

Insects (I don't have an insect guide):
Bullet Ants (BIG ants that bite and sting)
Leaf Cutter Ants
Tons of Bizarre Insects
Quite a variety of caterpillars!!!

Tomorrow morning Vincent, Rich, Beto and I are heading to a nearby Banana Plantation to collect caterpillars for one of Angela's Research Projects.

Sunday, May 18, 2003
The one percent of caterpillars that survive and turn into adults (moths) have earned that right!!!

Caterpillar survival tactics include:

Some caterpillars are shelter builders.... They fold over the edge of a leaf and then silk the fold into position. A part of the leaf is turned into a little tunnel where they live. Other caterpillars build shelters out of debris and silk.

Some caterpillars -- if threatened drop from their leaf...if this happens it will never be found on the forest floor with my eyes.

Some caterpillars bite.

Some caterpillars thrash about in order to fend off a predator

Some caterpillars vomit.

Some caterpillars after they go to the bathroom throw their frass (they curl the back half of their body, grab the frass ball and flip it as far as they can (up to a meter away). Other caterpillars pile their frass.

There are three colorations that caterpillars use as a defense...the only one whose name I can remember at the moment is cryptic -- which means they look very much like their habitat and are therefore difficult to see.

Other features of caterpillars that we are collecting data on are: whether they are hairy, have spines (by the way if a caterpillar has spines be careful they will sting -- I am told it hurts very badly). Other caterpillars are smooth as glass.... They can even be a combination of the above.

Tips for finding caterpillars:

If it is sunny out, and there is vegetation above your head, you can see the shadows of caterpillars against the leaf body...but, you often get fooled by debris that is on top of the leaf.

Look for leaf damage (holes in the leaves where they have been eaten)...but a huge percent of leaves have damage from other herbivores.

Caterpillars hang out pretty much exclusively on the undersides of there is lots of leaf turning....

Look for leaves that are folded over (shelters) where a caterpillar might be hiding.

Look for piles of frass (poop)....and hope the caterpillar is nearby.

One thing to be aware of, that I found out on my own, during my hunting today -- is that some spiders build leaf shelters that (to me) look just like caterpillar shelters. Sooooo, imagine my surprise when I began unfolding a leaf shelter expecting to find a caterpillar and having a spider jump out!!!! It really is a good thing it had been raining all morning and my clothes were already soaked....It saved me the embarrassment of having every one see that I peed in my pants ;) Next time...I'll peek down the tunnel before I unfold the leaf!

One of our group --- Vince -- is a machine when it comes to finding caterpillars!! He found 9! Some sort of Zen and the Art of Caterpillar Hunting thing going on....)

Hmmm...tough going today...conditions were very difficult...lots of rain and no sun....

Over all, our group found 22 caterpillars during 3 hours of searching....

We walked to a different part of the reserve today in order to look for caterpillars.... I was paired up with Angela who is a graduate student working for Lee. She is studying an individual caterpillar family --- geometrids (they are like an inch worm). The particular caterpillar species is a specialist, which means that it only eats one kind of plant -- a Piper Cenocladum..... Sooooo, in order to find this kind of caterpillar, we must first find the plant...then the leaves are turned over one at a time in search of a little cryptic caterpillar that is around 1/2" long. To my amature eye, they are really tough creatures to find (some are only 1 cm long!)

Frank: I found one! I found one!
Angela: Uh not have found a piece of moss.
Frank: Oh.
Angela: But over here on the other end of the leaf is a caterpillar!
Frank: Sighhhhhh....

The only caterpillar I found today was one that an ant had also found (ants are one of the biggest predators of caterpillars). The battle started out even caterpillar vs. one ant...but the ant was quickly joined by two additional ants...the caterpillar thrashed violently to try and free itself from the predators...things didn`t look good for the caterpillar....

Buenos Dias!

I really wanted to share more yesterday.... unfortunately though, there are only two (very old and slow) public computers that have internet access...there were at least 3 other people waiting to use them to check I logged-out and called it a night.

I decided to wake up at 5:45 am today to try and find an available plan worked! Everyone else is still asleep!!!

A very few of the many things I learned (and didn't know) about caterpillars yesterday included:

1) All caterpillars turn into moths
2) Butterflies are a special kind of moth
3) Features that distinguish a butterfly are:

a) Butterflies have clubbed antennae
b) Butterflies are diurnal (this means they fly during the day)
c) Butterflies have fewer scales on their wings than other moths

4) It can take up to EIGHT (8) YEARS for a caterpillar to turn into a moth!!!
5) 99% of caterpillars do not survive and turn into moths because of predation or parisatoids. Predators survive by preying on other animals. A parasite lives off of another creature. A parisatoid lives off of another creature but in the end kills the host.

Lots of information and photographs about La Selva can be found on the web. Several things that I learned about the research outpost is that it was created around 1964 and is currently supported by 64 universities from around the world. I was thrilled and proud to learn that my Alma Mater: Southern Illinois University - Carbondale is one of those 64 universities!

The research station is situated on 1516 hectacres (3746 acres -- 5.8 sq miles -- 15 sq km) --- a relatively small parcel of land. The area has been well studied for close to 40 years and yet so much remains unknown. Species found at La Selva...and counting include: 400 species of ants; Plants 1,864; Birds 436; Amphibians 49; Butterflies 500; Trees 350; Fish 43; Mammals 120 (67 species of bats!); Snakes 56 (7 venemous); More than 100 species of trees can be found in a typical 2 hectacre (5 acre plot)! This small 5 square mile research park, boasts a diversity level that is staggering when contrasted to the diversity of ALL of North America.

Creatures we saw included: A spider monkey in the forest canopy. Lots of tiny (dime-sized) red and blue poison dart frogs...they are plentiful! Several fast moving lizards. Several Coati's...the Coati is the raccoon of the rainforest!!! To an extent they look like racoons! To me they appear to have slightly longer legs. Their faces are much longer...use your imagination and stretch a Raccoon nose in order to make it 2-3 times longer (ala Pinocchio). The Coati's body is longer. Lastly, is has a really long skinny tail that sticks up vertically in the air! We found a spectacular frog (a little smaller than a computer mouse) with vibrant lime green coloring. The underside of the frog was fire engine red and bright sky blue. Her eyes were solid red -- like fire. We saw our first snake! A small pit viper of some sort. We took digital pictures and several people were going to go to the station library and try to identify the snake species in a field guide. We also found ants that are nearly the size of a thumb!! Don't try to touch them though --- they bite AND sting!!!

Saturday, May 17, 2003

I want to start of my entry today by apologizing for the "quality" of this journal. I really hoped to have more "personal time" devoted to writing...but so far, our days have been extremely full with minimal time for reflection and journaling.

Two significant things occurred yesterday that I neglected to mention!!! Allow me to correct this oversight!

Prior to leaving for Costa Rica, I had requests made by acquaintances. These individuals wanted to experience the forest vicariously through me.

Diamond D. from Indiana requested that while I'm in the forest I eat a bug. I'm happy to say that I fulfilled the obligation!! During our orientation hike, our team leader pointed out a termite mound and commented that termites were edible. I (and a couple others) tried some!!! The termites are described to have a lemony taste. Some of the group that tasted them said they could detect a lemon flavor. Personally, I couldn't discern a lemon-taste, but I definitely noted a hint of citrus! We were told today that there is one caterpillar species that we might encounter which is edible (and an important food for many people in the world)...I'll advise if I get to have a little Caterpillar BBQ!!

Don R. from New York asked me to hug a tree for him...which I did, with great ardor and passion! I'll post a photo at a later date!

Breakfast was over by 8:00 am and we began our training as "Official Caterpillar Collectors!"

Three elements of our training included:

1) Basic fundamentals of how and where to look for caterpillars -- and how to handle them (some can sting).
2) Processing of caterpillars -- how to inventory and catalogue the caterpillars so that they can be properly tracked thru out their life cycle (and data collected from them).
3) Trained on how to be caterpillar zoo keepers! The caterpillars are kept fed (fresh leaves) and frass (poop) cleaned from the baggies in which they are kept in...until they pupate.

We split into two groups for this training. Seven of us set out to start our quest for caterpillars! We hiked over 6000m (3.7 miles) of trails (and off trail) in our quest today. During 2.5 hours we found about 30 of the creatures...I found two....wheee!!!

....I'm going to stop journaling for now, because there are several other people waiting in line to use the computer.... I'll write more tomorrow!!!

Friday, May 16, 2003
The sun rose in San Jose this morning at about 5:12 am. My body woke up at 5:30 am! Breakfast consisted of Beans and Rice, Sauteed Plantains (a fruit similar to bananas), other tropical fruit, scrambled eggs, mystery fruit juice, and sausages.

By 8:00 am we were checked out of the hotel and loading our bags onto the roof of the small charter bus that would take us to the research station.

At 8:30 am we began rumbling our way out of town. Two hours later, the bus arrived at La Selva.

La Selva -- The Jungle.

I am experiencing sensory overload.

Temperature 84 °F / 29 °C
HeatIndex 87 °F / 31 °C
Humidity 58%

Warm rains greeted us on our arrival and visited us another 5 times during the day.

By the time we checked-in and carried our bags (across a suspension foot bridge over a river) to our quarters -- it was time for lunch.

Tastey rice, beans, a cabbage like salad, plantains, fruit.....

After lunch, our Expedition Leader, Dr. Dyer, took us on an orientation walk through the research facility. This included a 2.5 hour orientation hike in order to get familiarized with the trail the trails are marked and how the area is gridded.

The entire forest is animate! Unbelieveable!!!!

Sensory overload......

Life drips from from every square inch of the forest as rain drips off the brim of my hat. Plants....Animals....Insects....Everything is alive.....everything moves....everything is prodigal and verdant....

Plants with leaves whose "diameter" is greater than 6 feet.... The density of the bush is beyond my ability to describe at the moment.....

Sensory overload.....

The ambient sound of the forest is exotic (to my midwest ears) --- birds, frogs, monkeys, insects....creatures I can't begin to imagine.....

Dr. Dyer presented a 1.5 hour overview of his research activities with time for questions and answers....

Tomorrow at 8:00 am begins the first day of our formal training in the forest.

Thursday, May 15, 2003
Frank "The Procrastinator," finally finished packing his back pack at 11:00 pm Wednesday night. It weighed in at 40 lbs (18 kg). I also have a small carry-on bag, with camera equipment (and the like) which added another ~ 15 lbs (7 kg).

Travel Day!!

I woke up at 3:30 am to get showered, dressed and make the hour drive to the Indianapolis airport for a 6:30 am departure. The only travel hitch was an initial 45 minute flight delay out of Indianapolis due to bad weather in Atlanta. I was still able to make my connection...and so did my pack!!! The plane landed at around 12:15 pm. What a great way to start the trip :)

After brief delays and ques at Immigration, Baggage Claim...Customs...I found myself in a very, very, very bright orange Toyota Corolla taxi. Twenty minutes and $12 USD later, I arrived at the hotel where I would meet the rest of the research team and spend the night. Interesting town -- San Jose -- but describing it is beyond the scope of this Journal...sharing my initial impressions wouldn't be fair based on the very few hours I was there....

I arrived at the hotel around 2:00 pm and promptly took a short nap ZZZZ zzzzzzz ZZZZZ zzzz.

The hotel is set-up dorm style, with 4 beds to a room...My room mates for the evening were Barry and Tom.

At 6:00 pm we gathered in the dining area to meet one another and walk to a local restaurant for an Italian dinner.

Dr. Lee Dyer from Tulane University is the principal investigator leading our team.

Team Members include:
Craig from Grand Junction, Colorado
Marshall from Badin, North Carolina
Nick from Spring Lake, Michigan
Eduarda from Yonkers, New York
Luis from Madrid, Spain
Chris from Seattle, Washington
Angela from New Orleans, Louisiana
Jen from Los Angles, California
Richard from Tunbridge Wiells Kent, United Kingdom
Barry from Washington D.C.
Vince from Qawra St Pauls Bay, Malta
Tom from Oxford, England
Michel from Vincennes, France

The members of the group include High School Students, College Students, Business People and Corporate Managers.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003
Expedition Send Off....

The creative souls I work with on a daily basis put together a small send-off celebration for me my last day in the office. The good news (from my perspective) is that the over-all sentiment seems to be that everyone wants me to return from the rainforest :)

I walked into the office lobby to the sight of a 3 ft by 10 ft (.9 m by 3 m) banner suspended from the 2nd floor staircase railing that read:

Go Get 'Em Worm
Good Luck in Costa Rica, Frank!!!!

Later that morning, Jodi, Corinna, Pam, Jennifer, Sandi, Terry, Mercedes, Lisa, Lana, Ron and a few others gathered around to present me with a "Survival Care Package" that would help to ensure my well being in the Jungle....

The entire contents of the care package are too numerous to mention. But some of the memorable items included:

* A butterfly/insect net
* A caterpillar lasso
* Fly Swatters
* Bug Spray
* A Can of Beenie Weenies
* Admonitions regarding Snakes in the Forest
* A Tikki Lamp
* Antacid
* A book of Easy Crossword Puzzles
* Toilet Paper
* Mouse Traps
* A flea/tick collar

...and my personal favorite: a compass with a can of bread crumbs (as a back-up) to make sure I find my way back out of the Jungle.....

Mmmmmm, so many well intentioned gifts that in their own way would contribute to my "survival value." It was difficult in the end to choose what to take and what to leave behind....

Thanks everyone for your thoughts!!!


My mother-in-law, Karen, sent me off in in style with an "everything caterpillar" care package. Included was an "Official Caterpillar Collector" lapel button (made by my brother-in-law), caterpillar stuffed toys, a bug box, a caterpillar sun catcher, a caterpillar wind up for the love mom :)

Saturday, March 29, 2003
Words for the Day: Be kind to your travel counselor!

Janeen, international travel counselor extraordinaire, at American Express Travel One has me ticketed to fly from Indianapolis, Indiana to San Jose, Costa Rica via a single connection thru Atlanta, Georgia. Total flight time is estimated at approximately 5 hours and 42 minutes for a total of 2059 miles (3313 km).

Travel documents required for the trip, aside from tickets, include a Passport and Visa. A passport is a government document issued to a citizen and allows that person to travel abroad and re-enter their home country. A visa is an endorsement placed/stamped into the passport that allows a person to travel into the foreign country. Some countries require a visa -- some do not. Costa Rica requires a visa, which will be issued upon my arrival.

Other countries, such as China, require that a Visa application be submitted, approved and purchased prior to arrival! Travel Counselors know tons of things like this! While they cannot guarantee that take-offs will always equal landings...they can provide you with a wealth of travel information regarding foreign destinations! Remember to be nice to your travel counselor, else with a wicked sense of humor and sinister laugh you might find that they clicked their heels together three times and sent your luggage to the far reaches of Patagonia ;)

Reminder: Be kind to your travel counselor!

Thursday, March 27, 2003
Today, I visited with my Physician, Dr. Douglas, regarding travel medicine for the trip down to Costa Rica. He shared with me the vaccination recommendations issued by the Centers for Disease Control for travel to the rural areas of Central America: Hepatitis A; Typhoid; Yellow Fever; Tetanus-Diphtheria.

The only vaccination I was not current with was Typhoid. One shot to the left arm and ~ $60 USD.

Dr. Douglas also prescribed a malaria prophylactic -- chloroquine.

I´m glad chloroquine is a prescription option in Central America. Strains of malaria found in South America are drug resistant to chloroquine. During a previous trip to South America the prescribed anti-malaria medication made me SO SICK that contracting malaria seemed like and attractive option (rather than continuing on with the prescription)!!

Friday, March 07, 2003
Earthwatch Candidate Selection Announcement 03/07/03

March 7, 2003: EARTHWATCH EXPERIENCE: The following Alcoa employees have been selected by Earthwath to participate in ongoing research projects on environmental sustainability. Congratulations to each employee selected. The selected individuals exhibited strong interest in the subject, a high level of creativity, superior communication skills and motivation to share the experiences both inside and outside Alcoa. All the research experiences will be completed in 2003. If the participants recommend continuation of the program, it will be repeated next year. Alcoa Employee Fellowships - 2003 Acceptances and Expedition

Frank Cicela -- Rainforest Caterpillars, Costa Rica
Veronique -- Saving the Leather Back Turtle, US Virgin Islands
Robert -- Mammoth Cave, USA
Marshal -- Rainforest Caterpillars, Costa Rica
Andrew -- Butterflies of Vietnam
Joe -- Saving the Leather Back Turtle, US Virgin Islands
Janice -- Hawksbill Turtles of Barbados
Mel -- Icelandic Glaciers

Thursday, March 06, 2003
And the winners are...March 06, 2003

On March 6, 2003 I was at one of our manufacturing facilities in Olive Branch, Mississippi. It was a service trip to address problems with a machine that was not running well. At around 5:00pm that evening I logged onto the network to check my e-mail. I scanned the listing of unread messages…only one caught my attention: Subject: Alcoa-sponsored Earthwatch Research Experience...Sighhhhh, I took a breath and opened the message.

I exhaled and a feeling of giddiness overcame me!

Congratulations…read the message.

I’ll be spending two-weeks in the Costa Rican rainforest assisting in ecological field research! I can’t say that I have ever felt so simultaneously surprised and relieved! This is a dream come true! I can’t believe it! I felt that this was the first time in my career that I was 100% completely and painfully honest with an employer and was rewarded for my candidness! Don’t misunderstand me – I am an honest person…. But when it has come to: career advancement, interviewing, completing applications and competing -- this “honesty trait” has often left me at a disadvantage. The “salesperson” aspect of my personality is not robustly developed (not enough practice ;)). During interviews and the like, I am candid…I display enthusiasm…but unfortunately I can’t bring myself to “sell” myself. I don’t enjoy trying to convince someone why I am personally “better than someone else.” I want my track record to speak for itself. I typically share myself – warts and all -- I don’t interview in a manner that “overextends/over represents/misrepresents” my abilities – even though I’ve seen others phenomenally rewarded for this behavior. I completed and submitted my Earthwatch application. I was uncompromisingly honest – I am getting to go to Costa Rica to participate in environmental/sustainability research! I will have the opportunity to report and share this experience with my colleagues and community!

Friday, January 24, 2003
Selected Earthwatch Application Responses provided by Frank Cicela 01/24/03

Alcoa actively endorses the concept of conservation of biodiversity by operating worldwide in a manner which minimizes impacts on natural habitats and biological resources. This program is yet another way for the company to realize this for both the environment and its people. If accepted you will join a team of citizens and scientists working together to protect high biodiversity, tropical ecosystems around the world.

1. Why would you like to become an Earthwatch Fellow? What do you expect to learn? (50 words max, 4 marks)

My first choice in research topics is that of Early Civilizations. I would like to become an Earthwatch Fellow for the sole experience of gaining firsthand/hands-on knowledge (rather than just reading books!). I would like to pick-up first hand insights regarding the mechanisms of social change that lead to the development of early civilizations as well as their demise.

2. Why have you chosen the research topics you selected on page one? (50 words max, 4 marks)

Reasons for Interest in Research Topics Chosen:

(Other) Indigenous Cultures – Our civilized culture has forgotten and has much to re-learn from indigenous tribal cultures with regard to how we as a species 1) engage one another and 2) engage the community of life around us.

Early Civilization -- I find myself drawn to the “point in time” which defines the cultural shift in our species’ social evolution from that of a tribal structure to that of being civilized (hierarchical structure).

Plants – The miracle of photosynthesis – the first step in turning solar energy into the fire of !!life!! is sacred.

Birds – Birds are a sort of bellwether for the health of an ecosystem as articulated by Rachael Carson in her book Silent Spring. My wife and I are active in “Bird Culture” – we are members of the Roger Tory Peterson Institute. We have bred and owned many birds in the past including: Canary winged parakeets, Grey-cheeked parakeets, Pea Fowl, Guineas and a variety of different poultry. We presently own a Moluccan Cockatoo and a Lutino Cockatiel.

Mammals – As a mammal myself, I am fascinated by the biology I have in common and share with other mammalian species ;-)

Insects -- There are millions of different insect groups! The world of insects is far more bizarre and compelling than any Science Fiction novel that can be bought in a bookstore.

3. State specifically why you believe this experience will help Alcoa advance its environmental goals, and how – upon return from your expedition – you will help the company advance it’s environmental and sustainability initiatives. (150 words max, 6 marks)

I believe that a person cannot know (or teach) what a person doesn’t know (that is why disagreement is so valuable -- it sparks learning!). Personally, I feel that within my Alcoa Business Unit there is little being done to address issues of sustainability (environmentally speaking, issues are addressed as a matter of compliance). Our business is not presently designing products for the environment. At this point in time the business model is purely linear: 1) raw materials are extracted 2) materials processed into product 3) product is consumed and 4) product after its useful life is subsequently discarded. I would like to use the opportunity to relay my Earthwatch experience as a forum for raising awareness of sustainability issues and environmental concerns.

4. On your return from the project, you will be expected to share what you have learned with others. How will you share your experience within your workplace? (150 words max, 6 marks) (Alcoa will ask you to provide a brief written report about your experience, how it impacted you and how the program could be improved for future Alcoa participants).

It would be my intention to use every vehicle provided me by Alcoa to share my experience and learnings. For example, as part of my regular job duties, I am a part time Web Site developer for the Alcoa CSI Machinery Division. I am responsible for the development and content management of our Division Web site. I would use my web development skills to create and post a website accessible to the entire Alcoa Intranet. Posted to the site would be multimedia materials including text, photo’s, sound (and perhaps movie footage) that would chronicle my experiences and learnings from the trip.The Alcoa Crawfordsville facility locations sponsor monthly Training and Communication days. It would be my intention to give multi-media presentations covering the experiences at these T & C days and share my learnings with the 350+ employees at the Crawfordsville locations. Additionally, there are 4 other Alcoa Operated Facilities within an hour drive of Crawfordsville where I could share/present my experience.

5. Describe one environmental issue that you feel is important in your local area or country and why. (50 words max, 4 marks)

Crawfordsville Indiana is a rural community. There is very significant agriculture and farming activity in the area. A majority of farmers for a variety of reasons have not yet adopted “No-Till” farming techniques. Continuing to till the soil further contributes to topsoil erosion and creates erosion problems of the area watersheds and waterways (Sugar Creek).

6. Describe any further action you might take for the environment within Alcoa or your community following your field placement (think global, act local). (50 words max, 4 marks)

Upon return from field placement, I would offer to speak of my experiences at the elementary school where my daughter attends. I would also offer to share my experience with other schools in the community as well as local environmental outreach groups such as Friends of Sugar Creek.

Friday, December 06, 2002
Alcoa Employee Earthwatch Fellowship Announcement made on 12/06/02

EARTHWATCH: Alcoa has provided support to a group called Earthwatch, who sponsors ecological research programs throughout the world. Since we are sponsor, Earthwatch will make it possible for up to five Alcoa employees per year to spend one to two weeks participating in ecological studies in locations in Central America, Southeast Asia, Northern Canada, Central Australia and other places. The participants would act as field "research assistants" (cheap labor) to collect samples, perform animal counts, perform stream measurements, etc. and learn a great deal about environmental research....