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Costa Rica

Updated September 26, 2022

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Through these conservation efforts, the Costa Rican government can boast about”protecting 90 percent of its existing forests and the largest percentage of land dedicated to national parks in the world.” 13 In addition to the National Parks system, the government plays a large active role in joint efforts such as Project CARFIX with FUNDECOR. “FUNDECOR is an environmental non-government organization..with funding provided by the US Agency for International Development, to assist community organizations in the sustainable management of biodiversity and forest resources in..Costa Rica”14 This project is concerned with the creation of a land management program surrounding the Braulio Carrillo National Park that will create a “buffer zone” around the park to minimize adverse affects of development in the region. Other projects directly address the problems that are arising due to increased industrial activity such as carbon dioxide pollution. The Costa Rican Ministry of natural Resources, Energy and Mines has confronted the challenge of providing alternative energy sources that drastically reduce pollution in an economical fashion. This has been near impossible considering the high costs of solar powered electricity generation and other natural energy resources.

The Tierras Morenas Wind Farm Project exemplifies the cooperation of the government and private firms New World Power Corp., Energia del Nuevo Mundo S.A. and Molinas de Viento de Arenal–the three companies working with the government on this project. The project will construct a 20 megawatt power plant consisting of 40 wind turbine generators. This wind powered electricity will be located in the province of Guanacaste and is expected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 100,000 short tons per year, a significant reduction for a small nation with an expanding technology industry.15 On the other hand, many of the conservation initiatives in Costa Rica are privately funded or involve non-government organizations and private, special interest associations.

Educational and preservation foundations, such as the Bosque Lluvioso Foundation, are privately funded and dedicated to preserving and “restoring forests while expanding scientific and educational programs aimed at the understanding of the intrinsic value of tropical rain forests.”16 The Monteverde Biological Corridor Carbon Sequestration is an example of how the US Joint Initiative on Joint Implementation, the Arenal and Monteverde Conservation Associations and the San Luis Development Association joined forces to effectively protect the environment. Their common goals, through purchase and lease agreements concerning 16,000 hectares between the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve and the Gulf of Nicoya are: 1) long term conservation of the Arenal-Monteverde area; 2) improvement of the socioeconomic status of corridor residents; 3) protection of existing forest and regeneration of forest on unproductive pasture land; 4) improvement of and 5) further development of low-impact ecotourism.17 Facing high costs of research and implementation of such programs–the aforementioned Monteverde alternative energy project is priced at $5,916,22518–many conservation initiatives are exploring ecotourism projects as an a viable option considering its ability to generate revenue for funding and profits due to increased tourism in Costa Rica. ECOTOURISM IN COSTA RICA The partnership between the Fundacion Cuencas de Limon and the Selva Bananito Lodge exemplifies the success ecotourism can achieve when combined with conservation efforts of environmental groups, government projects and private foundations. The Limon Watershed Foundation is a non-profit organization that was founded in response to “indiscriminant logging in southeastern..Costa Rica and to the deterioration of water quality in the areas rivers. Since the 1997 establishment, the Foundation has promoted cooperation between local farmers, agricultural corporations, government agencies and non-government agencies in curtailing illegal logging and wood extraction from protected lands.19 The foundation is facing one of the most difficult challenges of ecotourism and sustainable development: Influencing attitudes among local farmers, loggers and other natives who depend on exploiting the land to survive.

However, the foundation seems to be managing this conflict of interests well and has seen increased activity and involvement in the program of local Ticos. The foundation has yet to prove itself to be successful in reaching many of its goals simply because it is not event two years old. But with the financial support from the Selva Bananito Lodge, the Fundacion Cuencas de Limon should be able to: 1) protect rain forest vegetation along the watersheds of the Banano, Goban, Estrella, and Bananito Rivers; 2) Educate local residents; 3) monitor and prevent illegal activities in the regions parks and reserves and; 4) expand the biological buffer zone along the La Amistad Biosphere Reserve spanning over 1 million hectares.20 The Selva Bananito Lodge was opened in 1995 by an America family and is situated 20 kilometers south and 15 kilometers inland of Puerto Limon in a secluded rain forest. The 850 hectares borders the La Amistad Biosphere Reserve near the Cahuita National Park generates all of its income from tourism.

The adverse affects of tourists is minimized by limiting the number of visitors permitted at any given time, the use of solar heated water, the absence of electricity and the seven small cabins placed within a small area. Educational rain forest study programs are offered to students and scientific researchers will soon be welcomed to the park. Some of the programs highlights include: 1)day time experiments in the forests; 2) evening discussions about ecotourism, deforestation and forest management and; 3) a visit to the Agriculture Research Institute (EARTH). The families 1250 hectares of land is devoted to low impact, sustainable agriculture and cattle management and forest preservation .21 The management of the Selva Bananito Lodge, its surrounding reserves, the educational program and financial support of Fundacion Cuencas de Limon has thus far been successful. This early success is primarily due to the tight control of the families land, its proximity to government protected forests and its partnership with the watershed foundation. Many of the problems usually associated with an ecotourism and land preservation project, such as socio-economic and socio-political challenges, have been avoided because of the familys wealth and the division of responsibility of between the two partners.

Many of the challenges ecotourism presents were, in fact, characteristic of a project in Rio Blanco Ecuador.  Ecotourism is an alternative to mass tourism that is educational, conserves the environment and benefits local communities. In other words, ecotourism should “incorporate economic development as a fundamental element of conservation.”22 The case of Rio Blanco, Ecuador offers a vast amount of insight and information regarding the challenges to the development of a successful ecotourism industry in a small Latin American village and possible solutions to overcome them. What the project ultimately reveals is the necessity of local control of ecotourism activities, national oversight and partial financial support along with careful planning and organization. The indigenous Quichua community in Rio Blanco is situated in the Ecuadorian Amazon and was founded in 1971. The economy was dominated by hunting and cultivation of cash crops such as coffee, rice and cacao but the relatively high population condensed into a small region has adversely effected the local ecology.

High growth and rising cost of living standards has resulted in deforestation and expanded land under cultivation. The community has responded to these problems by developing and ecotourism project to generate income and, according to environmentalists wishes, substitute the preservation of land for tourism for the destruction of forests for cultivation. The challenges and conflicts that the Quichua community has faced since implementation if the project are applicable and relevant to most ecotourism programs. The goal of this project was to improve the standard of living in the Quichua community while simultaneously preventing further deforestation. This presents the first and most difficult challenge: How does the community shift its emphasis on agriculture to a combination of agriculture and tourism? First of all the benefits of the change must be tangible to every member of the community and they must be retained by the community.

That is to say, the profits and other benefits from ecotourism must not leak out to other regions or countries. This is achieved by maintaining local control over the project. If foreign investors are permitted to control the tourism industry in a community, few local residents will share in the profits.23 In Costa Rica, the Selva Bananito Lodge is foriegn owned, however, profits are shared by the family and the foundation which presents successful alternative to complete local control. Another problem Schaller mentions in his study of the Quichua community is the lack of government cooperation and inability of locals to obtain national.

He sites that”governments may unwittingly hinder local tourism..[and] too often local people have neither the political power or business connections to compete at an international level with mass tourism.”24 Interestingly, it may be the national government that can overcome the shortfalls of their policies and local power by implementing a national program to promote ecotourism. As mentioned earlier, the Government of Costa Rica plays a large role in environmental preservation which should serve as an example to other governments such as that of Ecuador. A simple program that the US Government has practiced is the issuance of block grants to each state for welfare programs. Block grants to provinces and local communities for development of ecotourism could be based on performance which would provide incentive to preserve the ecology and innovative tourism programs. This would reduce economic leakages–through government regulation–and reduce economic pressures to clear more land for cultivation.

Furthermore, the government subsidies provided to the ecotourism industry has the potential of creating a level playing field of competition between mass tourism and smaller scale ecotourism. The absence of economies of scale in the ecotourism industry may eventually be the demise of the industry itself because of its economic inefficiency. However, government subsidies–if the funds are available–can alleviate this problem in the long run. Similarly, Schaller argues that “Increased demand encourages larger scale projects to move in, leading to mass tourism, a loss of local control, and the end of any hopes for ecotourisms sustainanbility.”25 His statement is incontestable a solution lies within the management strategy of a Swiss-Swedish electrical engineering multinational firm, Asea Brown Boveri. The CEO of this firm recently described his management strategy for an article published by “World Trade Magazine.” Three of his main objectives: “1) Common values must be established and then shared by every branch of the company; 2) create links through mentors between like divisions in different countries and; 3) operations in each country must adapt the companys global vision to local market and operation needs.”26 can be applied to large scale management of ecotourism development through the creation of an American-style trade association. The establishment of a trade association representing local communities like the Quichuas and individual owners developing ecotourism in a nation or region that applied these objectives would almost guarantee the survival of small-scale ecotourism ventures throughout Latin America.

The resulting objectives of the trade associations management policy would be: 1) Common values concerning the preservation of cultural identities and maintenance of local control between each project; 2) Create links between similar communities within a particular region or country so prevent conflict, inflated competition and to foster the sharing of ideas and; 3) projects in each country must adapt the global vision of environmental preservation and sustainable development to the region. Trade associations and block grants are not the only solutions to the many economic, cultural, social, political and environmental challenges characteristic of ecotourism and sustainable development but they do provide an essential stepping stone. Many Latin American nations are experiencing the growth in industry and tourism much similar to Costa Rica and there are numerous projects like the Selva Bananito Lodge/Fundacion Cuencas de Limon and the Quichua ecotourism development project throughout the region. Hopefully they will all contribute to the preservation of their natural resources and diverse ecological systems while developing their economies and much needed industries.

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Costa Rica. (2019, May 09). Retrieved from