In the late 90’s, two ecologists from the University of Pennsylvania struck a deal with an orange juice manufacturer, Del Oro, in Costa Rica. Del Oro owned some land bordering the Guanacaste Conservation Area, a national park in the north-western corner of the country, and in exchange for signing that land over to the national park, the company would be allowed to dump certain its orange peel waste in the middle of a pasture at no cost. It was an offer that the company could not refuse.
A year later, a rival orange juice company, TicoFrut, sued Del Oro to stop dumping its waste in the field, claiming that the dumping, which initially created massive piles of rotting peels and flies, was both dangerous and defiling the land.
However, by the time Del Oro was forced to stop, it had already dumped over 12,000 metric tons of orange peel waste on the deforested land. And then, the experiment was forgotten and the land was left untouched for over a decade.
Before the experiment ended, the two American ecologists had placed a sign on the site. So, after 16 years Princeton researcher set out to locate the site, however he had difficulty finding it again. When he returned a week later and confirmed he was in the right place, he said the site of the food waste deposit was “like night and day.”
A team of researchers from Princeton University studied the site over the course of the following three years.
What they found was that the initial projections had proved correct: the 12,000 metric tons of fruit waste had fertilized the land extraordinarily well. The researchers measured trees, canopy growth, and soil health in the dumping region compared with a nearby area in which no dumping had taken place, and found “richer soil, more tree biomass, greater tree-species richness and greater forest canopy closure” in the dumping area, according to a Princeton press release.
The ecologists’ incredible discovery revealed an important new lesson for ecologists: it turns out that fully deforested areas can come back to life. This means that if more projects like are taken up, they could help slow climate change.
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