“Allow yourself to be surprised and you will find beauty in the simplicity – be grateful and share” – Advice from the clouds

“I love the water, a little bit of wind and clouds, so, it’s a good place for me to stay”, says Greilin Fallas Rodriguez, a proud Costa Rican biologist working in the mysterious Cloudbridge Reserve.

She excitedly shares that she has found her slice of paradise, having grown up in the beautiful countryside of San Vito, but having been the first in her family to move and study in the city that she describes as being gray, polluted and having bad bread. Greilin also offers her advice for people looking to find their own slice of paradise in the conservation world.

“On national TV, they would present documentaries that I loved to watch. I thought we were lucky at home because frogs came into my house. I would listen to them all night and was the only one in charge of taking them out, apparently my responsibility as an aspiring biologist according to my sister.”

Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse and protected countries in the world. Not only that, the Costa Rican people are extremely proud of their natural treasures and many work in the environmental sector as rangers, guides or for conservation programs.

The staff at Cloudbridge, Greilin bottom right. Credit: Cloudbridge team.

The appreciation of Costa Rican nature is also an impressively large part of the country’s education system. Greilin explained that “Environmental education is very important. Because I remember I learned that I didn’t have to pollute the environment because my teachers in school told me that, so I didn’t, I never understand why it happens.” Despite rightly celebrated conservation success stories in Costa Rica, there are still major threats to the many different ecosystems, often unique to Costa Rica.

After receiving a scholarship to study Biology in San Jose, Greilin took a rather unusual route to her first role in conservation…

“When I finished my studies, I stayed for one more year. I took a course on invitro culture and I did an assistantship for four months. It was interesting, but I had to be inside a building all day. When we went on school trips, I really liked that, I would like to be outside and do fieldwork, I knew that.”

Greilin continued “So, I went to work with my dad in his battery shop in San Isidro. I tried to keep in touch with biologists in certain ways so I got involved in a group of students, we would go to give environmental education talks to kids mainly. I found I liked that a lot. We went to many schools, and they would call us for environmental meetings with different environmental groups of the city. So, we would go to them to do some volunteering. I also got involved in a group of birders and in a group of volunteer fire fighters as well as some voluntary environmental inspection work.”

The enchanting Cloudbridge reserve. Credit: Cloudbridge team.

Greilin followed her heart and left academia and the city to go back to the countryside where she was happy. From there, she was able to volunteer with several groups, discovering what kind of work she liked doing. It was through these volunteer opportunities that Greilin made a connection with Cloudbridge Reserve, where she currently works as Scientific coordinator.

Greilin explains “Cloudbridge is a private nature reserve. The land was purchased between 2002 and 2008 by a couple from South Africa. Our neighborus are the Talamanca reserve and Chirripo National Park”, extremely biodiverse areas of natural wonder. “So, at the beginning, the main goals were to grow forest and connect those two areas. That’s why we call our place Cloudbridge, an ecological bridge of beautiful cloud forest between the two reserves.”

Since the start of the reforestation program in 2002, the team at Cloudbridge has been able to reforest their lands with a mixture of native trees. Oak trees planted are now bearing acorns and spreading into new areas, 300 species of bird have been recorded on the site as well as sightings of jaguars and tapirs – a huge success!

Before and after shots of the incredible reforestation efforts at Cloudbridge. Credit: Cloudbridge team.

As a result, Greilin explained that “Now we have achieved our reforestation goals within the land we have, we are focusing more on education and research. We want to use research as an educational tool and be a place where people can come and develop their skills. It’s for them to be better researchers and for us to know more about our reserve and our natural resources. And that’s what I work with. I am the scientific coordinator here. I’ve been working for about a year now I think, yes, last February.”

Greilin quickly had a common realization for people starting their first job in the field.

“It was also useful for me, to realise that I had to be able to work with humans more than I had been taught at my university. This includes people from communities and other organisations or areas of knowledge, which is challenging but also enriching.”

She added “So, you have to be willing to listen, validate other´s ideas, and keep in mind that sometimes it is a bad action, not a bad person. We have something to teach, and much to learn about others.”

Greilin was able to follow her heart and do what makes her happy, leading to her having a better job than she could have ever expected, living and working in the clouds. Greilin has advice she is keen to share with other early career conservationists:

  • “Sometimes you must take steps in your career that you wouldn’t really expect. Be patient and don’t give up because one day it will happen, but you do have to work. You can create your own opportunities by putting yourself out there and speaking to the right people in the community, maybe you can create your own group with its own mission to do something.
  • “ If you’re working in something you do not enjoy, it’s not good for you, it’s better to take a chance and find something you enjoy, even if that means volunteering for some time. And it’s really important to share what you love, don’t keep it to yourself! We are all a community in nature, so we must keep the connections and share.”
  • “It isn’t good to compare yourself to others. We tend to be unfair with ourselves when we do that; everyone has their own pace and challenges. Also, sometimes we accept the idea that to succeed as a biologist you must work for a specific type of organization, or accomplish a certain amount of research, I think that is not true. What I have seen is that people study biology, and then some of them work for universities, reserves or national parks. However others, create their own organizations or even service enterprises, or something totally different from what you would expect. And it is super cool how they used the knowledge, creativity and problem-solving skills they got from their studies to do it.”

The dense canopy of the Cloudbridge forest. Credit: Cloudbridge team.

“All of that is fine and admirable, because they are doing what they enjoy, diversity is good. Of course, you must try to decide what you enjoy the most. What I mean is, there is not one single path we should follow to be successful. We must be flexible to change that path if we are called to do something different.”

To finish this article in the same way it started, here’s a beautiful statement from Greilin that really sums up her story.

“Allow yourself to be surprised and you will find beauty in the simplicity – be grateful and share.” – Greilin Fallas Rodrguez.

 

Author Profile | Jordan Gledhill

A conservation biologist from the UK, Jordan has worked with and supported conservation projects around the world through One Planet Conservation Awareness. A platform to support, empower and celebrate small NGOs working in conservation. Follow them on FacebookLinkedIn and Instagram.

 

Interviews, Mid Career, Celebrating Diversity in Conservation, Project Manager, Scientist

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