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Fulbright Scholar Elizabeth Guinessey

Fulbright Year: 2016-2017
Country: Costa Rica
Proposal Type: Research Grant
Field of Study: Ecology
Proposal Title: "Evaluating Community Conservation in Mangrove Ecosystems of Costa Rica"
UGA Degree Program: PhD in Conservation and Ecology
Hometown: Delray Beach, Florida

Elizabeth Guinessey, a UGA Ph.D. student in conservation and ecology, will spend her Fulbright year in Costa Rica, conducting research on a community-based reforestation program centered on a community that relies on its mangrove habitat for sustenance.

“The livelihood of coastal communities is closely intertwined with the mangrove ecosystem,” says Elizabeth, who will collaborate with the Costa Rican conservation organization Fundacion Neotropica on her research. “Loss of mangrove habitat directly affects the quality of life for coastal communities by reducing fishing activity and eliminating tourism opportunities.

“Unfortunately, Costa Rican mangroves are threatened by real estate development, agricultural expansion, upstream pollution, and climate change.”

Elizabeth, who earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from the University of Florida, will work with Fundacion Neotropica in two areas—the Osa peninsula on Costa Rica’s southern Pacific coast and the Nicoya Peninsula on the northern Pacific coast.

“My work will analyze the ecological and social outcomes of the program and compare these outcomes in similar geographic areas with different development trajectories,” Elizabeth says. “Ultimately, I will create a comprehensive program evaluation tool that Fundacion Neotropica can use for this and future community-based conservation projects.”

In addition to the reports she’ll share with the organization, “I am looking forward to creating videos for Fundacion Neotropica, as I will be filming various activities related to the mangrove conservation program,” she says. “Ultimately I plan to make an 8- to 10-minute film on the program to be used on Fundacion Neotropica’s website. In this way, other NGOs can learn about Fundacion’s conservation model. Making videos is a personal hobby, and I am excited to be able to provide a useful product back to the NGO.”

Having made two previous visits to Costa Rica, Elizabeth adds she’s looking forward to embracing the natural resources the rain-forested country has to offer.

“The nature of my work will require me to travel between my two main areas of study, and I hope to explore everything from the coastal mangrove forest to the tropical rainforest, and all the way up to the cloud forest in the mountains,” she says. “I am excited to engage with the local communities, embrace the Costa Rican culture, and eat delicious tropical fruits every day.”

At the end of her Fulbright year, Elizabeth hopes to seek work in environmental conservation in Latin America.

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