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Clarkston grad learns lots in Costa Rica



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Matt Smokoska, with a Scarlet Kingsnake, which is not venomous but mimics the coral snake in coloration. (click for larger version)
May 28, 2014 - BY LAURA DUCHARME

Special to the Clarkston News

Not having a job right out of college can be difficult, but Matt Smokoska made the best of this situation and found a six-month internship in Costa Rica through an organization called Global Vision International (GVI).

After graduating last spring from Oakland University with a degree in biology, the 2008 Clarkston High School graduate decided to get more experience in his field and take this internship opportunity. He had gone on a 10-day field ecology course while in school and loved the biodiversity Costa Rica had to offer.

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"I came across GVI's webpage and liked what I saw about what I could get out of the six month internship program in Costa Rica," Smokoska said. "Getting to work with sea turtles, among everything else, seemed amazing."

It also seemed like a great way to get more experience and stand out among other college students looking for jobs. He would be able to use the information he learned in Costa Rica and bring it back to Michigan and use it here.

Smokoska was located in the southern most part of Tortuguero National Park at GVI's Jalova field station. For the last two months of his internship he was stationed in a place called Cloudbridge Nature Reserve. Cloudbridge was in the interior of Costa Rica, while Jalova was on the Caribbean Coast.

He was offered the position of being the resident biologist at Cloudbridge when he expressed his interest. The position was for three months, which extended his time in Costa Rica to nine months.

Days at both locations were full of adventures. At Jalova, his days were spent taking surveys. In the morning he would survey the sea turtle tracks, nest checks (including at night), mini jaguar walks, set up and take downs, monkey surveys, biological assessment surveys and for fun, night hikes. Walking five to 10 miles a day wasn't unusual for surveying.

At Cloudbridge, Smokoska worked mostly with birds. He would wake up before sunrise and do a survey up the mountain trails, lasting about three hours. The rest of the day was more relaxed and he would record incidental species, conduct bird point count surveys and conduct night hikes, which they hadn't been doing before he arrived.

Smokoska accomplished many achievements while on this internship.

"At Jalova, a fellow intern named Michael Park and myself found a species of frog commonly referred to as the leaf-breading rain frog," Smokoska said. "It was a known species but it was the first time it had been recorded as a species found in Jalova's species database."

Smokoska also found new amphibians while working at Cloudbridge.

 "It's amazing to find things not seen there before, for you get a great reaction out of everybody," Smokoska said.

His favorite memory was setting a record that will most likely never be broken at Jalova.

"Seeing 18 eyelash palm pit-vipers in all five color morphs (brown, yellow, gray, pink and green) on and during the way back from just one survey was my favorite memory," Smokoska said.

Smokoska is back at his old job but currently looking for a new job in ecology, ornithology and herpetology. Since returning he has wasted no time practicing for his career.

"With the weather finally turning here in Michigan I have already gone out and photographed many species of salamanders, frogs, birds and some snakes," Smokoska said.

He would like to stay here in Michigan with his family and friends, but if the opportunity arises he will take a job wherever it may be.

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