In this Daily: A Look at the National Parks of Costa Rica
This weekend the National Park system in Costa Rica hosted a celebration to honor the efforts of park rangers, visitors, and conservation groups in maintaining the ecosystems of Costa Rica. The event took place at Rincon de la Vieja National Park near Liberia, and coincided with Costa Rica’s Park Ranger Day (August 23rd) and National Park Day (August 24th).
In times where much of the world’s ecosystem is under threat, this meeting served as a reminder and a call to action to the many stakeholders of conservation in the country. The message was clear: the work being done across Costa Rica matters, not just for the health of this country, but as a leading symbol of conservation across the world.
The History of National Parks in Costa Rica
Realizing that the natural wealth of Costa Rica would bring more long-term value to the country if it were properly protected and managed, Costa Rica created the National Park System in 1970, implementing eleven protected areas around the country. Since then, Costa Rica has implemented El Sistema Nacional de Áreas de Conservación (SINAC) to help administrate over the system, which as grown to include 186 protected areas and counting, a portion of land comprising almost 25% of the country’s landmass, a percentage larger than any other country in the world.
Within these 186 protected areas, there are 31 National Parks, 34 wildlife refuges, 15 biological and forest reserves, 11 wetlands, and 33 protected zones. Costa Rica also protects more than 15% of its marine territory in Protected Marine Parks.
SINAC is in charge of providing maintenance, organization and strategic planning in all areas of the protected territories, and also serves as a uniting force for the many private conservation groups around the country.
The Many National Parks in Costa Rica
The full list of National Parks of Costa Rica range from the northwest coast of Santa Rosa National Park to the carribean seas of Cahuita National Park, from Tortuguero National Park at the northeast border of the country down to Isla Del Coco to the far southwest, from the very top of Chirripó Mountain to the depths of the caves at Barra Honda National Park.
Due to the geographic and topographic complexity of the country, each has its own unique terrain, conditions, and biodiversity, offering something new for travelers all across the country.
Just within Guanacaste, it’s possible to visit the coastal dry forests of Santa Rosa and Guanacaste National Parks up on the far northwest coast, the mangroves of Las Baulas National Park on the Central Coast, see the arribadas at Ostional Wildlife Refuge, explore the caves of Barra Honda, delve into the forests of Palo Verde, or summit the Tenorio and Rincón de la Vieja volcanoes all within a day’s trip.
The Role of Park Rangers Within the Costa Rican National Park System
Throughout each of Costa Rica’s 11 major conservation areas, SINAC’s park rangers work on three overarching tasks. The first is to keep environments free of poachers, pollution, and other harmful actors on the environment, serving as protectors of these environments. SINAC’s second task is assisting with research and understanding of these ecosystems, by working hand-in-hand with researchers and experts from around the world to collect data and continue to refine procedures for protecting these areas.
The third task of these rangers is by informing and guiding the public, either through educational outreach or physical guidance through national parks. In doing so, park rangers help foster an appreciation and respect for the environment throughout the community, which is very important to the continued protection of these areas for years to come.
How SINAC and the Costa Rican National Park System Continue to Evolve
Outside of the boots on the ground work of the park rangers, SINAC oversees the growth, development, and continuing preservation of Costa Rica’s National Parks from an administrative perspective as well. This includes partnering with local and international groups to collect data about these protected areas and then work with stakeholders to implement adaptive and cutting edge plans to protect them. Outside of the parks, SINAC supports local legislature and the Costa Rican EPA as they work with corporations, helping ensure that environmental standards are upheld and responsible, sustainable practices can be put into place.
Another major part of the continued protection of Costa Rica’s National Parks is through work with local, independent conservation groups. Whether partnering with grassroots rejuvenation projects like Restoring Our Watershed or working alongside private reserves like Las Catalinas, SINAC facilitates offering guidance, creating a network for the exchange of information, and provides a uniting force for these groups to come together.
The Birthplace of Ecotourism and An Example for the Future
Costa Rica is generally credited as one of the birthplaces of ecotourism, the practice of visiting a country primarily to explore its natural resources. Thanks to a high density of microclimates, these ecotourists only need to travel short distances to explore national parks ranging from Mangrove-Tropical Rainforest to Volcanoes to Tropical Cloud Forest to Tropical Dry Forests at the beach, a blend of natural beauty and convenience that draws more than 1.7 million tourists to Costa Rica every year.
Moreover, the country has been an example cited repeatedly in the world community as a premier example of how community development and ecological protections can exist in harmony. In many places, ecological protection and development are seen as mutually exclusive, leading to sacrifices of one or the other, but Costa Rica has shown that this is not the case, and that by developing thoughtfully, both towns and environment can thrive together.
By continuing to protect its natural resources, invest in renewable energy and transport, and stay at the leading edge of conservation and sustainability, Costa Rica continues to drive progress towards a way of living that is healthier for people and the environment. Proud to be part of a country that is setting an example on the world stage.