Costa Rica and the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development

2017 has been deemed the “International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development”, as declared by the General Assembly of the United Nations. Elected as the ambassador for this initiative was Costa Rica’s President, Luis Guillermo Solis, which is clearly fitting as Costa Rica continues to lead the pack in sustainable tourism and renewable energy.  The Costa Rica Star reported that “Solis said he was deeply honored by the recognition, saying ‘it reflects the excellent work carried out in the country to promote tourism as an engine of social and economic development’.”

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) website sites that the International Year will promote tourism’s role in five key areas:

  • Inclusive and sustainable economic growth
  • Social inclusiveness, employment and poverty reduction
  • Resource efficiency, environmental protection and climate change
  • Cultural values, diversity and heritage
  • Mutual understanding, peace and security

These key areas are in collaboration with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals adopted by 25 countries in September 2015 (Sustainable Goals List).

Costa Rica has already set the bar for sustainable tourism, having instituted the successful program behind the Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST) implemented by the Costa Rica Tourism Board (ICT); which has “the main purpose to turn the concept of sustainability into something real, practical and necessary, trying to improve the way in which natural and social resources are used, promote an active participation of local communities, and provide a new support for the competitiveness of the entrepreneurial sector” as stated on their website (www.ict.go.cr).  Businesses baring the mark of CST accreditation must prove that they:

  • Avoid gas emissions, and environmental pollution
  • Have environmental management and conservation initiatives
  • Implement environmentally friendly waste management programs
  • Use natural, biodegradable and recyclable products
  • Have programs which limit water and electrical consumption
  • Educate clients on these environmental programs and the role they play
  • Comply with specific environmental, archaeological and safety standards
  • Employ and train locals from the community
  • Have an accurate knowledge of the local area, flora and fauna
  • Integrate the local traditions and customs of Costa Rica

Truly honoring the International Year, Costa Rica launched an exciting program in June, that of ZonaLibredePlastico.org.  Zona Libre is a collaboration between public and private sectors, as well as the general public, to reduce single use plastics and replace them with recyclable and compostable alternatives.   An exciting aspect of the strategy is the section aimed at growth of the alternatives industry, promoting “economic activity associated with the production and trade of products made from renewable sources, from recycling processes and that are compostable”.  Business owners within the alternatives industry can register their product on the site and upon approval, be listed along side other businesses offering alternative products.

As we see sustainability initiatives growing on a global scale, it is encouraging to see Costa Rica continue to charge ahead with programs on both governmental and community levels.  Most importantly, this is resulting in younger generations being educated on the importance of protecting the environment and thus the future of this beautiful country.

If you have recently relocated to Costa Rica, I encourage you to look into what programs your local community is implementing, perhaps there is a need not yet filled, ways that programs can be improved, or even solely a need for more support?  Whether young or old, could you volunteer time for a role in a local initiative?  Are you an investor or local business owner who could strive to obtain the standards of the CST?

Everyday we make conscious decisions and one of the most enriching things you can do when enjoying this beautiful country is work together with the local community to protect that what which we all enjoy on a daily basis, the stunning nature which surrounds us.

By Z. Wright, part of the Properties in Costa Rica Team

 

 

 

 

Corcovado Foundation

The natural beauty of this Cloud Forest watershed property and this Wildlife Refuge development parcel, coupled with the business philosophy of the owner and also the appreciation I have for this beautiful country, have inspired a deeper passion within me. This passion is to work with properties aimed at conservation of the environment and along with that, the people who take an active role in its protection. In a world where the earth is valued more for what we can take out of it by force, as opposed to what it naturally provides us when respected, conservation of nature is a vital to our future. One of the many reasons I personally relocated to Costa Rica was so I could not only have more time with my future children, but also raise them to value, cherish and protect our natural world. Costa Rica is home to one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet, Corcovado National park, so it seemed fitting that the wonderful work of The Corcovado Foundation would be the ideal subject for my first blog on conservation.

Corcovado National Park (Parque Nacional Corcovado) was established in 1975, and National Geographic has called it “the most biologically diverse place on earth”. The Corcovado Foundation was formed in 1996 and is ultimately collaboration between local land owners and conversationalists to protect over 1000 Hectares boarding Corcovado. Over the years their team has established ranger stations and patrols to prevent logging and hunting. An intensive volunteer turtle preservation program was put in place in 2006 to protect endangered sea turtles and their nests, resulting in an impressive protection of over 90% of the nests in Drake Bay and Rio Oro. In Drake Bay over 450 sea turtles were tagged and over 77,000 babies were released into their natural ocean habitat. I was able to have a conversation with Alejandra Monge, the Executive Director for The Foundation, about her team’s efforts, and what inspired her to become part of such an important movement.

Alejandra was inspired by her father to be conscientious of nature and protection of the country in which they live; one of the inspirational acts was when her father ” 30 years ago started the first recycling program in the Cerveceria in Costa Rica”. Later in tourism school, her teachers were “biologists and geologists” who showed her the close bond between tourism and conservation. In 2001, she began her love affair with the Osa Peninsula and started working for The Foundation. 15 years later she works as the Executive Director, and while she now spends most of her time doing administration, she told me it is “the passion within our team which inspires me so much”. It is true; the dedication of the team at The Foundation is the definition of inspirational.

Take for example the work of Alvaro Amo and Helena Pita, who head the environmental education team, which provides leadership programs, tutoring and after school programs to 20 schools in the South Pacific. Through their efforts they reach 600 children and teens, not only educating these younger generations about protection of nature, but empowering older teens to lead the example in this movement and aid them in discovering ways to be actively involved. Their goal is to work with the ministry of education (MEP) in Costa Rica to educate teachers to integrate environmental protection into their philosophy and curriculum.

So to my surprise, The Corcovado Foundation doesn’t only protect flora and fauna. “In the 11 communities in which we work, local people often resort to illegal logging, poaching and hunting in order to feed their families. Many have very limited access to education and suffer social problems such as teenage pregnancy, addiction and abuse. By involving local people in our conservation projects and training them to develop their own ideas and businesses, we can improve the lives of rural Costa Rican people, while protecting the spectacular ecosystems that surround us.”

The Foundation is sponsored by businesses throughout Costa Rica, including hotels, tour companies, marketing groups, car rental companies, etc, who participate in their membership program. Through the program the Foundation provides educational programs to staff, action planning for the business and a variety of information on sustainable practices. This is provided in order to motivate all within a company to not only support their cause, but truly set an example though environmentally conscious business practices.

Near the end of the passionate discussion Alejandra and I had, which radiated positivity behind every bit of information she gave me, she informed me that the Foundation is in threat of closing down by the end of February due to lack of funding. My heart sank with this news. The heavy rains of the 2016 season affected their hostel business in Drake Bay which supports the foundation and volunteers, they were unsuccessful in grant applications and their fundraising was insufficient.

After I hung up with Alejandra, it was clearly evident to me that the small team (made up of 13 conservationists, plus volunteers from all over the world) who are behind The Corcovado Foundation are extraordinary people, selflessly working to protect not only one of the most precious biological locations in the world, but taking it beyond that to reach the hearts and minds of youth in an effort to better their lives. As a reader I am sure you would agree we need more people like this in the world.

What started for me as a simple blog article about The Foundation and statistics on conservation, has evolved into a call for support of this great cause and the diligent work of this group of people in this remote corner of Costa Rica.

Ways you can support The Corcovado Foundation:

– Donating online at their website, www.corcovadofoundation.org.

– Booking your vacation with Marvin and Natalia at Drake Bay Backpackers.

– Popping in to their office in Agujitas and buying a t-shirt, recycled artwork, or tour from Charlotte.

– Volunteering with the sea turtle or environmental education programs.

– Registering your business as a Corcovado Foundation Make a Difference member.

Whatever effort you can make will support the rescue of baby turtles, the future of disadvantaged youth and the protection of a piece of the delicate planet on which we live, can you think of a better combination of causes? I certainly can’t.

By Z. Wright Part of the Properties in Costa Rica Team