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The “poster child” for ecological protection !!

To have arrived on this earth as the product of a biological accident, only to depart through human arrogance, would be the ultimate irony. ~ Richard Leakey, anthropologist

Its reputation as an ecological paradise is what first drew us to visit Costa Rica – and it keeps us coming back. Costa Rica has been described as the “poster child” for ecological protection for the world, and with that label comes a great deal of responsibility – and public scrutiny.

Costa Rica boasts 25% of its land area dedicated as “wildlife protected,” and is rightfully proud of its remarkable national park system. Its conservation effort is important because of its unique position in the north-south corridor between the two larger American landmasses. Aprimary stop on the evolutionary highway, it has an incredible multiplicity of individual animal, plant, insect and bird species. Tiny Costa Rica may cover only 0.03% of the planet’s surface, but is the natural habitat for as much as 5-6% of the world’s bio-diversity.

It leads the world, including the United States, in meaningful ecological preservation efforts. Each year thousands of students research and study in its natural outdoor laboratories and thousands more tourists enjoy eco-touristic diversions that help make the forests more valuable in their natural state than either logged or cleared for farming. Unique “biological corridors” of undeveloped land have recently been created that, at least on paper, will allow animals to move unhindered between protected areas, instead of trapping them in pockets of parks.

The de-centralized overseer of forests, wildlife and protected areas is the Sistema Nacional de Areas de Conservacion (SINAC), governed in turn by the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE). They pursue the goal of reaching sustainability in safeguarding the country’s natural resources.

INBio Parque: InBio is the National Biodiversity Institute (www.inbio.ar. cr/en/), a private, non-profit organization whose mission is “to promote a greater awareness of the value of biodiversity and thereby achieve its conservation and improve the quality of life for society.” This ambitious biological and educational project is actually attempting to record and sample every species of plant and insect life in Costa Rica. North American universities and drug giants such as Merck are helping fund the project in the hopes of finding new medicines and cures from the rainforests’ plants. Species collections and park trails are open to the public. See our link to tours.

But despite Costa Rica’s successes in land management, it would be Pollyannaish to ignore the half of the glass that’s empty. Costa Rica lost almost half of its forest cover between 1950 and 1990. In 2000 the government sold oil-drilling rights all over the country, including the ecologically sensitive offshore in the southern Caribbean, despite heavy environmental opposition. Fortunately, that decision may be held up in court for many years. Illegal miners, cattle ranchers and loggers still operate, at times openly, in protected areas. And big business and government still sometimes think with the old “bigger-is-better” tourism theories, approving mega-developments such as the attempted imitation of Cancún on Papaguayo Bay. (We go out of our way in this guide not to publicize any properties we believe have caused an inordinate amount of ecological damage.)

A close look at the 25% preserved land figure reveals that only two reserves (a relatively minuscule 3,285 acres) are “Absolute,” which means they have absolutely no human interference. Property that belongs to the government, wetlands, “protected areas” and “other protected wildlife areas” make up 6% of the 25%. These are called “protected” on paper, but often lack oversight against poachers, loggers, miners and squatters.

The sheer size of some of these properties makes them hard to manage, and there’s also a lack of money to pay rangers and park workers to patrol and maintain. Ironically, with the success of conservation efforts comes a perception by other countries and outside environmental groups – who have helped fund these projects in the past – that Costa Rica is in good shape. Funds from such agencies are now being directed to other places around the world in dire need of protection.

The remaining preserved land is designated as Biological Reserves (0.4%), National Wildlife Refuges (3.4%), Forest Reserves (5.5%) and the wellknown National Parks system (11%). The phenomenon of “private reserves” – acreage bought and protected as natural areas by individuals or organizations – has supplemented the national effort and contributed in no small measure to the patchwork of protected areas.

Fortunately for everyone concerned, two or three generations have matured since local and foreign environmentalists first raised the public’s ecological consciousness to the level that helped create the national park system. Today’s Ticos, as Costa Ricans call themselves (short for hermaniticos, little brothers), tend to support the preservation of their natural heritage, even when it comes out of their pocket.

So far, continued funding from world environmental organizations and the financial success of local eco-tourism programs in poorer sections of the country, helps keep pressure on the federal government. Environmental regulations are enforced and, in some instances, the government has even created new reserves and is expanding the acreage of existing protected areas.

All of this is good news for the world, the environment and for all of us who enjoy eco-tourism as a great way to travel.


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