Spring Break Service: Drone Training and Journalism in a Tropical Forest

LIBERIA, Costa Rica — We touched down last night in Liberia and met our guide and translator, Francis Joyce, right outside the Daniel Oduber International Airport. We arrived at the motel well after midnight. The students (and their professor) were tired from the all-day, three-legged journey (Columbia-St. Louis-Chicago-Liberia). But some wandered the motel grounds a while, and others would be out at the crack of dawn with cameras and binoculars. One needed some mentoring on journalism ethics.

We’re an interdisciplinary team of MU students and faculty heading tomorrow to the nearby Área de Conservación Guanacaste (ACG) in northwest Costa Rica over spring break to do what we call “Project Tiger Eye in the Sky.” (For readers who aren’t familiar with the University of Missouri, our mascot is the Bengal tiger.)

We will teach ACG firefighters how to fly small drones. Our group will study and report on how the firefighters use the drone. The ACG is a World Heritage Site and a leading global example of large-scale tropical ecological restoration. Its forests and wildlife suffer from annual dry-season fires from November to May. ACG’s firefighters just acquired a drone, and they hope to use it to gather critical, real-time aerial views that will help them combat and prevent fires and save biodiversity.

Meanwhile, the MU students will get to learn some of the history, politics, biology and culture of the ACG — and meet some of its people. They also aim to produce multimedia journalism about the experience.

Let’s go!

— Bill Allen, assistant professor of science journalism

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