Nature Conservation and Environmental Protection in Costa Rica

Nature conservation is a trademark of Costa Rica. Hardly any other country can feature such an impressive variety and number of protected sanctuaries in so many different categories. According to a 2003 publication from the Costa Rican Ministry for the Environment and Energy (MINAE), the country has designated a total of 256 protected areas in 10 categories. More than 25% of the country’s territory possesses a conservation status. The natural diversity and the beauty of the country’s landscape is being preserved in the reservations of the indigenous population, in forest reserves and national parks, as well as in protected zones and privately-owned protected areas.

Consequences of Farming

However, the agricultural colonization of the country has almost completely destroyed the tropical dry and moist forests outside the protected areas. While in 1940 around 70% of the country’s territory was still covered with primary forests, this percentage was reduced by the late 1990s to less than 40%, as estimated by the Costa Rican Ministry of the Environment and the world food organization FAO. This percentage also includes younger secondary forests; dense afforestation can virtually only be found within the protected areas. According to data from 2003 from the Ministry for the Environment and Energy (MINAE), only 16.4% of these forests are publicly owned. Even in these protected areas, the conservation of the forest is not necessarily guaranteed: A growing population and urgency to exploit, as well as shortcomings in the management of the protected areas, continue to put pressure on the remaining forests.

Deficiencies in Management…
The deficiencies in the management of the protected areas are a result of financial and staff constraints in the respective administrations in charge. In the early 1990s, 50% of personnel expenditures of the national park administration still had to be financed by external funds. Buffer zones around the protected areas only existed on paper. The legally defined coastal protection width of 50 meters for publicly owned and not-to-be-developed property is not being respected. The pressure of the timber industry on the remaining forest areas in the protected zones is great. The tourism boom since the end of the 1980s threatens the diversity of species and the ecological balance, especially in smaller protected areas due to excessive exploitation. Hunting, performed commercially in the meantime, and the exploitation of mineral resources in the protected areas are additional factors.

..and in Environmental Protection
In addition, Costa Rica has major problems in the area of environmental protection. Soil erosion as well as air and water pollution are omnipresent problems. While the soil erosion affects mainly the farmland and leads to high losses in useful agricultural acreage, air and water pollution, as well as the waste burden in the region due to unregulated or unprotected waste dumps, are a virulent problem especially for the urban centers in the central high valley.

All of these environmental problems are definitely also having an impact in more distant parts of the country: The turbidity of coastal waters due to the sediment discharge by rivers is blamed for the damage to the country’s coral reefs. All coral reefs at Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast are now considered practically dead. The rivers hold other dangers for humans and animals besides the eroded soil. The agrochemical products used by the plantation industry in the coastal plains endanger not only the health of the resident workers and families, but also have an impact on the flora and fauna of the bordering territory, waters, and shore lines.

Even though a higher-than-average part of Costa Rica’s total land area is formally under protection, considerable work still remains to create effective environmental protection and management. TROPICA VERDE is committed to nature conservation projects and educational measures in Costa Rica.

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