Costa Rica Sustainable

To understand what the concept of sustainability in Costa Rica means, a little knowledge of the country is required. Climate, topography,  geography, population and development play an important role in this. For example, the approach to disposable plastic: this is more important and difficult in Costa Rica compared to a country without rivers, oceans or heavy rainfall. During the rainy season, in Costa Rica, litter is washed from cities and villages to rivers and from rivers into oceans. 

 

What kind of country is Costa Rica?

Costa Rica is a tropical country, located close to the equator, giving it an overwhelming nature. It lies between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The landscape is extremely diverse, it consists of rainforests, mountains, plains, volcanoes, rivers and beaches. It also has an enormous diversity of animals and plants. All this on an area slightly larger than the Netherlands. Costa Rica is known as a leading country when it comes to ecotourism and nature conservation.

Is popular because of its natural beauty and its commitment to preserve it. The country is probably not an outstanding choice in a list of sustainable countries, as the Costa Rican government announced in 2007 that it would be the first climate-neutral country in the world by 2021. Around 25% of the country consists of protected nature reserve. It is already one of the leading countries in the use of renewable energy sources. Electricity is green; 70% is generated by hydro-power plants and the rest comes from wind and geothermal sources. It is notable that in 2017 Costa Rica ran no less than 300 days on sustainable electricity.

The country benefits from the popularity of this sustainable course; tourism is now the first source of income for the population. Awareness of the pollution caused by plastic disposables has also increased sharply. The country wants to get rid of disposable bottles and other single-use plastic products before 2022. The sustainable developments are all very positive. But unfortunately, sustainability also has a different face in Costa Rica.

 

Sustainable agriculture, back in time:

In the early 1980’s Costa Rica was one of the countries where most of rainforest was felled. Agriculture and cattle breeding policy was important for the economy at that time. The felling of (primary) forests, to make room for agriculture, was quite normal. A piece of land was worth more without forest. The greatest enemy of nature, not only by destroying the rainforest but also by using chemicals, were and still are the agricultural plantations. This started in the 1950’s with bananas from the gigantic American concern United Fruit Company (Chiquita). Costa Rica became one of the first banana exporters in the world. Later on, the palm oil companies and the pineapple production followed.  Currently only 15% of farmers and agricultural companies use bio products.

 

Pineapple

The pineapple you eat during breakfast at the hotel, but which is also shipped with container loads to North-America and Europe, causes a lot of damage to nature. Costa Rica is the largest pineapple exporter in the world. Of course, pineapple cultivation and export is all about money. Few pineapple plantations want to be sustainable, because this endangers their profitability. For example, pesticides are used that are banned in Europe, because they are very harmful to humans and animals. Internationally, the demand for sustainable grown agricultural products is growing. Certification, for example by the Rainforest Alliance for agricultural products such as bananas, is a good step in the right direction. Unfortunately, there is still too little government control or supervision in the plantations.

 

Sustainable eco-tourism?

Since the mid-1980s Costa Rica has focussed on a green course, nature was paramount. This was mainly thanks to the awareness that tourism is a huge source of income and by subsidies from abroad to protect the rainforest. Costa Rica is still growing as an eco-destination. More and more nature lovers travel to the country, looking for the true eco-holiday. New projects to protect nature are constantly emerging and the eco-infrastructure is growing, especially the eco-lodges and tour operators, who know that nature is worth gold. Certificates are now required in order to be active in tourism. Officially, tour operators must have a certificate and guides must have a diploma in tourism and nature in order to offer tours. Terms such as eco, environmental awareness and recycling are frequently used, because companies want to sail along on the sustainable hype.

 

What happens to the eco-hype?

Everyone knows that the term eco attracts many tourists to Costa Rica, but the use of the word is sometimes misleading. You can find eco-accommodations everywhere, but not all of them are environmentally friendly. The government has no codes of conduct to check the certification and no staff to make the inspections on site. Sometimes the hotel owners and staff have little or no understanding of nature and no knowledge of the impact of their hotel on the environment. The certificate for sustainable tourism, which is issued by a government agency to hotels and tour operators, praises how sustainable they are, but this is sometimes questionable.

Some hotels actually achieve good results when it comes to environmental friendliness, but get bad marks for their certification. Other accommodations wrongly receive good certification, while the score is not reflected in the hotel’s activities. We know a number of hotels that score the highest marks, but that have 200 rooms, rooms with very large windows where birds fly to death daily. Also hotels with activities like quad-driving, which is very bad for the environment with the noise they cause and the destruction of the jungle paths, can still get a good certification. Or think of ‘sport fishing’, an activity that is often offered at the coastal regions, where the fish are mistreated for a long time and in most cases die from broken intestines or stress. Cruelty to animals in Costa Rica is punishable, but tourism is sometimes subject to different, unwritten rules.

Unfortunately, a large part of the tourists have little or no knowledge of what sustainability and their impact on the environment is. A disadvantage of such negative facts in the tourism sector is that the truth does not reach most foreign travel agencies and/or travellers or hardly reaches them. It is difficult to be critical about sustainability. Most large travel agencies are only interested in making a profit. An example of this is what happens in and around the Manuel Antonio national park: monkeys, parrots and other wild animals are fed to take a picture. Another example is the ‘turtle hunt’ during the nesting period. Large numbers of tourists walk on the beaches where sea turtles land. When the turtle experiences unrest, she returns without laying eggs. It is therefore important that turtle watching during the laying period is well organized. Animals should never be disturbed in their natural behavior.

 

Sustainable waste processing?

By 2022 Costa Rica wants to get rid of all the throwing plastic. This in itself is already a special goal. There is much talk about the use of plastic and its impact. People are becoming more and more aware of it. The village of Uvita, next to National Park Marino Ballena, has started an initiative in supermarkets and shops to prevent the use of plastic. For example by providing biodegradable bags. With the ban of disposable plastic, Costa Rica expects to tackle an environmental problem. There is no alternative: at the moment the waste infrastructure is not well equipped to process all the waste. Now, 20% of all waste ends up in the environment. The Rio Tárcoles, a river that flows from San José to the Pacific Ocean, is an example of this: the chance of finding plastic on the riverbanks is 100%. Limiting the use of plastic and recycling materials is also an important issue for the tourism industry. Tourists can make a significant contribution to sustainability in Costa Rica and to reducing environmental pollution. Not only by producing less waste, but also by opting for companies, such as hotels, that handle waste smartly.

 

What can you contribute to sustainability in Costa Rica?

We already gave a number of examples that you can take into account. A few tips for sustainable travel in Costa Rica:

If you book a trip through a travel organisation, choose a small-scale, independent organisation that really works sustainable. Many organizations offer a sustainable trip but book everything through third parties in Costa Rica and this is not always reliable. The major tour providers in Costa Rica can build beautiful websites and pay for expensive publicity. They stand out when you search on the internet for holiday packages. The foreign travel agencies often book such packages without having a sustainable insight. Therefore you will find many trips where you travel with large groups, without taking into account the impact on nature. It is clear that mass tourism is very harmful for the fragile ecosystems in a small country like Costa Rica. Examples are the sea turtle tours in Tortuguero, the night tours in Monteverde or the wildlife tours in Manuel Antonio. Places where nature is overloaded, so tourists eventually cannot enjoy nature.

Into Nature does not offer such activities and will not include these places in the route. Instead, activities are offered that are better suited to the traveller who has an eye for what is truly sustainable. Activities that are more authentic, fun and special, chosen on the basis of our knowledge of the country and sustainability. This distinguishes Into Nature from other travel agencies/travel agents: Knowledge about the land and its biodiversity and sustainability as a principle and based on a hype.

 

Into Nature Team