Conservation Costa Rica Ecotourism Threatened By Unprotected National Parks

Published on January 11th, 2010 | by admin


Costa Rica Ecotourism Threatened By Unprotected National Parks

A recent Op-Ed piece by Nicholas Kristof in the NY Times, and a letter written to us by a loyal ecotourist to Costa Rica, highlight the crux of the conflict relating to Las Baulas Marine National Park. It is not simply about the passage of Expediente No. 17.383 to downgrade the park to a wildlife refuge, it is a basic choice of priorities for the country.

Kristof’s article focuses attention on the typical, well-deserved praise for Costa Rica. The abolition of its army is an extraordinary achievement. High educational standards and an emphasis on environmental sustainability, whatever that actually means, are often mentioned in reference to the country. The recent attention brought about by some happiness indices has put Costa Rica in the spotlight yet again.

One paragraph in the piece stands out because it is at the heart of the dilemma. “This emphasis on the environment hasn’t sabotaged Costa Rica’s economy but has bolstered it. Indeed, Costa Rica is one of the few countries that is seeing migration from the United States: Yankees are moving here to enjoy a low-cost retirement. My hunch is that in 25 years, we’ll see large numbers of English-speaking retirement communities along the Costa Rican coast.” Websites promoting retirement tours in Costa Rica, as an example.

Costa Rica can sell its irreplaceable natural treasures to foreign investors and speculators, or it can retain park ownership and keep inviting visitors to experience these treasures forever. Maintaining the integrity of the national parks and the coastline is the only insurance against the sale of its most precious real estate to outsiders. If the United States didn’t have a strong national and state park system, much of its natural grandeur would be shared with golf courses, real estate developments and shopping centers.

Land sale is a single transaction, with the money most likely leaving the country. The alternative is to keep promoting a $1 billion a year industry with at least the promise of creating tourism related businesses and employment directly benefiting Costa Ricans. Environmental sustainability, which Kristof emphasizes, must incorporate the needs of the people and be economically viable in the long term. A true ecotourism industry guarantees sustainability, while the private buying and selling of parkland destroys it.

Now, imagine you are a very dedicated visitor to Costa Rica and you have been coming for fifteen years with your husband, and now with your children. What draws you back year after year is the incredible natural beauty of the country, its people, its precious wildlife, and knowing it is at least one place in the world that feels like forever. Well, the next time you visit Playa Grande, you are greeted by a world you thought you were getting away from for at least a few weeks. Lee Anne Simmons is your tourist, she and her family are the $ billion tourist industry. Her letter to the Legislative Assembly speaks volumes on behalf of protecting the Leatherback sea turtles and their precious nesting environment.

Dearest Seniors and Senioras,

Please protect Las Baulas National Park.  My husband and I, and now with our young children have been coming to Costa Rica for 15 years for vacation. Our recent trip we visited Las Baulas National park in 2008 and we were devastated to see the development, the developer from Germany had cut all of the trees and subdivided to build 100’s of homes. The museum was gone. There were now bars on the windows with hired security guards where we stayed. This was not how Playa Grande was just 10 years ago. It was very sad and not good for the local Costa Rican people.  The turtles have declined in the last 10 years even more. It does not have to be this way.

As a country, Costa Rica can lead the world in Ocean conservation and biodiversity. Your country has more opportunity than most other countries today. You can have history show your record of protecting the turtles and other marine animals. It will be better for the Costa Rican people as well. Please don’t let foreign developers destroy your national heritage for their own profit. These turtles need your protection.

Please protect the Leatherback Turtles for our children. Please reject this bill and show the world that you can’t be dictated to by citizens of other countries only interested in their personal profit.


Lee Anne Simmons



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