March 6-17, 2014
Gabon is a country of beautiful and diverse landscapes, rich cultural history, and a bright, although uncertain, future. With a low human population of only 1.5 million people, much of Gabon remains relatively untouched. Lush forests cover 85% of the country – the second highest forest cover in the world -- most of which have barely been affected by modern human activities. The lack of environmental destruction, combined with its stable climate through geological time, has favored its remarkable biodiversity and still flourishing populations of iconic forest elephants, gorillas, and other large mammals. Only in Gabon do hippos and buffalos surf in the ocean waves, while sea turtles nest on the white sand beaches and whales spout offshore.
But Eden is now at a crossroads. The oil supplies that have fueled its economic engines for the last 40 years are now dwindling. The government must diversify its economy to develop. This means developing resources – timber, minerals, agriculture -- which will surely increase rates of deforestation, forest degradation, and biodiversity loss. The pressures from new and growing industries are already being felt. Forests are being felled and replaced with palm oil plantations. Ocean bottoms are being dredged. The high price of ivory has reportedly fueled the massacre of nearly 30,000 elephants in the last few years.
The Gabonese government has launched a number of initiatives to diversify its economy and pursue sustainable development. President Ali Bongo Ondimba played an active role in the negotiation of the 2009 Copenhagen Accord and established a National Climate Council to coordinate Gabon’s response to climate change. The government is developing a national land use plan and incorporating sustainability into its development projects. To brake the pace of poaching, the President has assigned 150 soldiers to help patrol the national parks.
During the Duke Gabon Field Trip, we will explore the country’s natural wonders and learn about its development challenges. Over two weeks, we will visit the beaches, mangroves and towering Okoumé forests on Gabon’s Atlantic coast and then trek into the interior tropical forests. Along the way, we will study the drivers of environmental degradation and destruction, touring logging concessions and palm oil fields. By talking with government officials, company leaders, and village chiefs, we will examine the pressing issues and the different stakes at play.
The Ecology and Conservation of Gabon is a 1-credit field course. Students will spend nearly two weeks in Gabon, from March 6-17, 2014. There will be 2-3 mandatory meetings before the trip and a debriefing meeting upon return. The course will be limited to 12 participants. Prerequisite for admission is one graduate level course in Tropical Ecology or Conservation Biology/Management. Priority will be given to second year MEM students and students with French language skills.
Students must pay travel expenses to Gabon (est. ~ $1800 - 2300 roundtrip). There may be opportunities to raise money to reduce costs.
Course Instructor: Dr. Connie Clark
For more information about the course, please contact Dr. John Poulsen (firstname.lastname@example.org).