Environmentalists are usually furious at corporations when they dump their waste out in nature, but twenty years ago, two ecologists convinced an orange juice company to do just that. And researchers returning to the scene today found the scene utterly transformed.
Ecologists Daniel Janzen and Winnie Hallwachs first approached the Del Oro fruit juice company in 1997, with a rather unusual deal. If the company would donate part of their natural land to the Área de Conservación Guanacaste, the conservation area would let them dump their food waste in a barren, deforested area of the park
They wanted to test the hypothesis that the organic compost would help the soil rejuvenate itself, and Del Oro wanted to get rid of 12,000 tons of orange goop. It was a sweet deal – that is, until competing company TicoFruit got the project shut down.
In 2013, Janzen was very curious to know how the project had turned out. So he sent graduate student Timothy Treuer out to find and report on the site.
Even though there was a sign marking it, Treuer had a very hard time finding it, and Janzen had to give him more detailed instructions.
With the newfound directions, he was able to find the dumping site without any problems.
And the difference between the dumping ground and the area next to it was “like night and day.”
The old site had been completely overgrown with vegetation, transformed from barren farmland into a tropical paradise. It now supports a wide range of plants and animals, including trees so strong the researchers could climb in them.
Treur quickly found the reason for the missing sign; it was so overgrown that he simply couldn’t have seen it! Meanwhile, the site nearby was still struggling.
“It was just hard to believe that the only difference between the two areas was a bunch of orange peels. They look like completely different ecosystems,” he said.
Treur hopes that this might stimulate further research into how to repair other struggling ecosystems; research that may prove important in our era of environmental decline.