Costa Rica, although relatively small, contains approximately 5% of the world’s biodiversity. It is a country with almost one-quarter of its national territory under some form of protection, yet the oceans that border Costa Rica have been largely neglected. In terms of ocean conservation, less than one percent of Costa Rican oceans are being regulated under some form of protective category.
In the south pacific, marine ecosystems have been affected negatively by a number of factors: overfishing, unplanned coastal development, population increase, coastal and marine pollution, and severe lack of conservation awareness and viable economic activities. But recently, non-government organizations have been starting to talk the same “marine conservation” language, developing programs in coastal communities that address these issues. The following are two examples:
MarViva – Through their project titled “Sustainable Alternatives”, MarViva has been working for the past two years with coastal communities and entrepreneurs from Bahia Ballena and Uvita, Ciudad Cortes, Sierpe, La Palma de Puerto Jimenez and Puerto Jimenez in the Osa Peninsula. Their project focuses on developing sustainable economic alternatives for community members living near marine protected areas.
Fundacion KETO – One year ago the KETO Foundation started to help organize the boat tour operators of the Marino Ballena National Park through a series of participatory trainings that focused on the development of an association and the implementation of marine tourism best practices and certification program. Their work has led to the development of the Marino Ballena Boat Tour Association, creation of marine tourism best practices and certification program that each boat tour company is now implementing in order to improve their services and operations.
Communities Take Responsibility for Their Coastlines
Coastal communities depend on the ocean for their livelihoods. In Bahia Ballena-Uvita, new community based associations and small businesses focused on sustainable marine tourism, which in the past were scarce, are now becoming the norm. An example of such a responsible tourism business in the community of Uvita is Bahia Aventuras. Bahia Aventuras has led by example, working hard to improve their boat tour services in the following areas: whale and dolphin observation, client
services, safety and security, community responsibility, boat operations and maintenance, trash reduction and recycling, training of captains and guides, etc.
An example of a community based association in Uvita working towards achieving sustainable marine tourism is the Boat Tour Operators of the Marino Ballena National Park who have unified approximately fifteen different boat tour businesses. Additionally, they have organized trainings for Boat Tour Operators with Marviva and the KETO Foundation and hold monthly meetings to address certain challenges and opportunities in the area of boat tourism and whale observation.
Costa Rica’s Future in Land-Ocean Conservation
There is no doubt that Costa Rica is one of several pioneers in the modern eco-tourism sector. They accomplished this by taking small, smart steps, in land conservation throughout the past 30+ years. Now, Costa Rica has the opportunity to do the same with their oceans, and once they combine a well-balanced and managed land-ocean preservation model, they could very well
become the world leader in conservation.