Juice company dumped orange peels in deforested area. Here’s how AMAZING it looks 16 years later!
They say nature is wise, and this story is the best example. In the 1990s, a group of researchers embarked on a curious experiment with tons of food waste on a desolate land. 20 years later, they had to travel twice to the same place because they did not recognize it.
It was an experimental conservation project. The plan started in 1997 when Princeton researchers Daniel Janzen and Winnie Hallwachs approached Costa Rican orange juice maker Del Oro with a unique opportunity.
If the company committed to donate part of the land bordering the Guanacaste Conservation Area to the national park, it would be allowed to dispose of its discarded orange peel at no cost to degraded lands in the park. The juice company accepted the agreement and 12,000 tones of orange peel were transported to a sterile landscape.
What happened? The deluge of nutrient-rich organic waste had an almost instantaneous effect on the fertility of the soil. As Timothy Treuer of Princeton University explained:
“In about six months, the orange peels had become this thick loamy clay soil.”
However, despite this promising start, the conservation experiment didn’t last long. A rival juice maker called TicoFruit sued Del Oro, claiming its competitor had “polluted a national park.” The Supreme Court stood by TicoFruit, and the ambitious experiment was forced to end. The result was that the site was almost forgotten and remained intact and largely unexamined for the next 15 years. A sign was placed to ensure that future researchers could locate and study it.
16 years later, Janzen asked graduate student Timothy Treuer to look for the site where the waste was discharged. So, in 2013, Treuer decided to evaluate the place while visiting Costa Rica for further research. There was a problem when he arrived: he did not find the land desolate. After wandering for half an hour without any luck, he consulted Janzen, who gave him more detailed instructions on how to find the parcel. “It’s a huge sign, bright yellow letters, we should have seen it,” says Treuer.
When he returned a week later and confirmed that he was in the right place, Treuer was astonished. Compared to the old adjacent grasslands, the site of the food waste deposit was “like night and day”. In fact, the researcher says that he traveled twice to the same region to realize that the arid landscape had been transformed into a dense jungle.
Treuer and a team of Princeton researchers studied the site over the next three years.
The results, published in the journal “Ecology of Restoration”, highlight all the discarded pieces of fruit aided by the rotation of the area.
Environmentalists measured several site qualities against a pasture area earlier than the other side of the access road. Compared with the adjacent plot, which was dominated by a single tree species, the orange peel reservoir site featured two dozen species of vegetation, the most prosperous. How could such peels generate such a scenario?! According to the researcher:
“That’s the million-dollar question that we still have no answer to. I firmly believe that there was a certain synergy between the suppression of invasive grass and the rejuvenation of highly degraded soils.
Be that as it may, as researchers look at what mechanisms led to turning a barren area into a lush forest, the team hopes the experiment inspired other conservation projects, would be the best legacy,” Treuer says.
Recent evidence suggests that secondary tropical forests – those that grow after the original inhabitants are torn down – are essential to help delay climate change.
Treuer believes that better management of discarded products, such as orange peels, could be key to helping these forests grow again. In many parts of the world, rates of deforestation are increasing dramatically, undermining local soil of much-needed nutrients and, with them, the capacity of ecosystems to be restored.
“We do not want companies to go out and dump their waste in the streets, but if it’s scientifically driven and experts are involved in addition to business, this is something I think has a really high potential,” says Treuer.
Two years after his initial investigation, Treuer tried again to find the sign that marked the site. Since his first exploration mission in 2013, Treuer had visited the plot more than 15 times. He hadn’t seen the original sign.
In 2015, Treuer, with the help of David Wilcove, lead author of the research, and Princeton professor Rob Pringle, finally found it under a vineyard scrub, and the scope of the transformation of the area became truly clear.
19 years of waiting had buried, apparently thanks to two scientists, a flash of inspiration, and the bark of an unpretentious fruit.