Lack of Resources to Defend National Parks
Park rangers do not always have the manpower or resources to adequately manage and oversee national parks and prevent infractions from happening there. They make claims about having too few numbers of employees, outdated weapons, and insufficient authority to do so. They also complain about infrastructure problems resulting from lack of funding being reinvested back into the parks. According to Vice News, each individual park ranger is in charge of 4000 hectares of land. They are armed with outdated weapons making it impossible for them to effectively enforce park regulations when confronted with poachers and narcotics traffickers (“Poaching, Drugs”, 25:3027:30). Ambiguous laws leave rangers subject to criminal charges if they are forced to use their service weapons. This is demonstrated by the recent court case involving Costa Rican park ranger Mauricio Teller. In April 2016 Teller received a 12 year prison sentence for using his service weapon to shoot an armed poacher. Although the case has became clouded due to Teller’s alleged involvement in a drug possession case, it nonetheless raises controversy regarding the guards’ legal rights to defend the national parks and themselves while confronting poachers and drug runners. In regards to adequate funding being reinvested back into parks, environmentalist Diego Marin sharply comments on the disproportionate funding for “SINAC bureaucrats in air conditioned offices in San José, meanwhile rangers, the ones responsible for making sure the parks are functioning, go without basic things like toilet paper” (Anders).
SINAC, the Sistema Nacional De Areas De Conversacion, has expressed concerns about the parks turning into drug sanctuaries (Anders).
Tourism can also present unintended social consequences along with added revenue and people. Local populations attribute rise in alcoholism, drug use and prostitution to increasing international tourism (Driscoll et al. 40). International tourists represent a potential market sector for industries like prostitution and drugs. This in turn attracts organized crime, which has become a problem in the southern coastal regions of Costa Rica. Costa Rica cannot necessarily control the type of tourist coming into the country and the tourist's motivation for coming there. Recent developments like Cuba Dave, a U.S. American recently convicted in Costa Rica for promoting sex tourism, have shed light on the growing sex tourism within Costa Rica due to more lenient laws regarding prostitution (gray area that does not legally ban prostitution).
A growing concern regarding ecotourism is the interaction between humans and fauna. As animals grow more accustomed to human exposure, they begin to lose natural instincts. They lose the fear of humans. Humans feed the animals or attempt to interact with them by taking photos or touching them. They leave behind food and other products limiting the animals ability to hunt over time which has changed their behavioral patterns to the extent that they have become dependent on human visitation. In some cases animal behavior has become unpredictable, endangering their own safety and that of human visitors. This has been particularly noted in monkey populations and can also be placed into context with problems that developed in U.S. parks in regards to Bear populations in places like Yellowstone National Park. In Costa Rica, sea turtles, a prevalent touristic attraction, have been observed
returning to sea instead of laying their eggs as a result of human behavior disrupting the turtles in their nesting process (Kitching). There is also a growing problem of animal electrocution as development encroaches on Natural reserves and animals come into contact with power lines (Mckeone 30). Kleszczynski expressed concerns over changes in animal behavior during her stay in Costa Rica:
I visited the national park in October 2014 and could'nt help but remember the strange behavior of the animals within the park; I saw a female raccoon run beside me and stand inches from my friends and put on a cute show for the rest of my classmates who were sitting on a nearby tree log. I had also watched monkeys ‘smile’ for pictures and run down the beach and steal packed lunches from tourists who were busy swimming (Kleszczynski 19).
Regulation Regarding Ecotourism Practices, Accreditation & Green Washing
Ecotourism regulatory agencies like Bandera Azul and CST, as mentioned before, are a major accomplishment in Costa Rica when speaking about efforts to regulate and provide incentives encouraging the practice of authentic and sustainable ecotourism. That being said however, there remain concerns regarding the extent of their effectiveness. While they are vital oversight measures, they are sometimes criticized for not being stringent enough or are being tricked into giving accreditations to undeserving organizations. It is also important to acknowledge that they are elective as opposed to compulsory accreditations.
number of concerns and factors that undermine Costa Rica’s reputation as an ecotourism leader and success story. The following presents a brief description of each of the issues discovered during this research. Furthermore, any citation within this research that came from a publicly available source has been hyperlinked in the bibliography and is available for further viewing. The sources include newspaper articles, YouTube videos, and scholarly articles that can be found and publicly viewed online. We include these links as an invitation for those who would like to gain better understanding of any of the following issues.
Jairo Mora (2013)
The most famous and widely recognized is the Death of Jairo Mora. Mora was an environmental activist involved in sea turtle conservation on Moín beach in the province of Limón. He was murdered by being dragged behind a car on the beach. The suspects arrested for the crime had ties to organized crime and poaching. Their motivations for the killing are believed to be the result of past confrontations with Mora on the beach over turtle eggs. This highlights increasing turbulence between environmentalists, poachers, and organized crime and the government’s ability or willingness to acknowledge these problems. The suspects were acquitted after the first trial due to lack of evidence largely due to mistakes by the prosecution in handling and presenting evidence (Fendt, "Little Has Changed").
A significant concern with the introduction of tourism in any form is competition regarding natural resources. In areas that already experience shortages of certain resources, the introduction of tourists strains already existing dynamics. Tourists by definition are willing and able to spend more on buying scarce resources and have different consumption habits in comparison with locals. In the case of Costa Rica, water shortage is a particular issue in the Guanacaste region. Guanacaste is one of the original locations for tourism in Costa Rica and the region most often criticized for mass tourism dynamics and over-development. In an interview with the The Tico Times, Carolyn Herman, a local hotel owner, comments on problems about consumer demands, water shortages and her hotel in Guanacaste,
The number of tourists visiting Costa Rica yearly, contribute an enormous addition to waste production within the country, an issue that has not been adequately addressed. In 2015 Costa Rica welcomed over 2.6 million visitors (Dyer, “Costa Rica”). This represents over half the existing population. These numbers put stress on infrastructure including roads, solid waste management, and water supply. Tourists from other countries tend to have differing consumption and waste production habits than local populations and are not always willing to conform to local consumption habits. There also remain questions regarding recycling and waste management practices, whether they are only practiced within the parks and nature reserves, where tourists go, or in the whole country.
* It is important to be clear that not every one of these issues can be directly linked to ecotourism practices when being carried out ethically and soundly. Some issues are happening as a result of mass tourism practices as well as the agricultural industry, and even foreign parties. This shows that ecotourism is not encompassing the total economic sector nor the entire tourism industry. This is leaving room for exclusion or willing non-participation (in ecotourism) by a percentage of the population. A portion of the environmental issues in Costa Rica are being brought to them by forces not entirely in their control, nevertheless how Costa Rica deals with these issues moving forward will determine the continued success and sustainability of ecotourism within the country and their continued 'green' reputation throughout the world.
A 2012 article on the city of Jaco highlights the sex tourism industry there. While providing some economic stimulus and sustainability during low tourist seasons, it is also attracting other less appealing factors like drugs and humans rights abuses of women and minors (Strange).
Violence & Competition Between Poachers and Environmentalists
In the last decade there have been three murders within Costa Rica that can be attributed to competition between environmentalists and poachers.
Kimberly Blackwell (2011)
Despite being the most well known environmental murder in Costa Rica, Mora’s murder is not an isolated incident. Three years prior Canadian Kimberly Blackwell was beaten and shot at her home in The Osa peninsula. Blackwell was well known within the community as a conservationist who had frequent conflicts with poachers. She was an 18 year resident of Costa Rica that founded an organic chocolate company there. She was active in animal and environmental protection in the area and developed her business to create job opportunities for local people as alternatives to poaching and environmentally harmful practices. Although a suspect was detained, as of 2015 the murder had not been brought to trial (Boddiger, "Reward Offered").
Diego Armando Saborío González (2014)
Most recently, in 2014 Diego Armando Saborío González, a law student was killed presumably as a result of his confrontations with a hunter on his property. The suspect allegedly shot Gonzalez and then burned his property to hide evidence. The suspect was initially detained by authorities but later escaped custody. These crimes all share common elements that they involve the deaths of environmental activists and questionable law enforcement leading to unsuccessful prosecutions those suspected (Hernandez).
In 2015 La Nacion released an article linking 9 environmental murders dating back to 1989 as being unsolved or reported as unrelated motives (Delgado). The most recent two murders - of Mora and González - were motivation for Global Witness - U.K. based environmental watchdog group - to place Costa Rica on their 2015 list of most dangerous countries for environmentalists (Arias, "Costa Rica included").
How do these murders relate to eco-tourism? Costa Rica has sold itself around its green reputation and peaceful stability making it attractive for tourists wanting to experience the incredible biodiversity of Central America while feeling stable and secure. With each event that attracts attention to environmentalists being murdered undermines that reputation and provides incentive for eco-tourists to question that stability. Tendencies for these murders to go unsolved and the hesitancy by officials to associate them as environmental crimes opens up more uncomfortable questions regarding the disparity between the image Costa Rica presents to the world and actual events that are occurring there.
*In the interest of accuracy it is important to note that the suspects in the Jairo Mora case were retried in March of 2016. 4 were convicted and 3 cleared of the charges. This helped to soothe some of the public outcry after a first trial that was marred by mistakes and confusion resulting in an initial acquittal.
“Guanacaste es todo lo que en materia de Turismo no se hace.”
Felipe is explaining how mass tourism was the first type of tourism that came to Costa Rica in the 70s. He points out Guanacaste, a north-western province of Costa Rica on the Pacific Ocean, where nature suffered heavily from hotel resorts that made prices rise exorbitantly, caused water shortages in the local communities and destroyed many natural treasures such as the mangroves.
“Cada vez la presión es más alta.”
Felipe speaks to us about the murder of Jairo Mora and Berta Cáceres due to their involvement in environmental protection and activism. He claims for more legislative and political protection for environmental activists and confesses that he himself has already received death threats. However, he points out that there is still the possibility to report and freedom of speech in Costa Rica, in contrast to other countries like Mexico and Honduras.
Felipe criticizes the system of distribution of funds between the different National Parks by SINAC. He calls for a financial distribution that matches the size and income generated by each individual National Park: if one National Park is generating high profit, consequentially it should be given more money for its maintenance. Because every National Park is given the same amount of money, many Parks lack personal and financial resources to efficiently control illegal hunting and the crossing-through of drug-trafficking groups using the National Parks as a transit zone between the South and North American continent. Due to this lack of resources, the MINAE and Council of Homeland Security are equipping and training volunteers as watchmen of National Parks.
'Greenwashing'- is the term “Used to describe the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or services.” (stopgreenwash.org) This concept is particularly relevant to the case of Costa Rica where the image being sold is nature and the target consumer is generally (but not always) environmentally conscious.
Examples of greenwashing are found in Kleszczynski's 2016 case study submitted as her senior thesis. The examples come from quotations from interviewees who claimed to have seen greenwashing first hand during the course of their work in relation with ecotourism. During her study she encountered subjects that said similar things. They claimed that while there was some effort on the parts of hotels and establishments to promote being green,
many times these efforts fell short or were only external changes that helped the hotels obtain ratings and designations to appease consumer expectations. One interviewee, working for the University of Veritas, described the situation as followed,
Yeah, some of them cheat. Its been the 'in' thing right now to be green… but they are not really like that. In the place that I worked they stated to do little things like that, for example they had a bio digester to use the gas that was being produced to cook in the kitchen, but it wasn’t working yet. They are just a little bit ahead of lying a little, they have little visual impacts on people that [are] not true. (Kleszczynski 27)
Another interviewee, a male who had studied degree in forestry engineering at the Technical Institute of Costa Rica in Cartago, discussed his preoccupation with the temptations for businesses to cut corners and the necessity for Regulatory practices to hold them accountable, “[W]e really need to be thorough with all of this. Because at the end of the day with the tourism or ecotourism it’s a business and their looking for profit and to get as much tourism as they can" (28).
While it is very difficult to assess the prevalence of greenwashing and the effectiveness of certain regulatory programs, it is important to acknowledge that the existence of these programs at all is a step in the right direction. Their continued development is essential for the ethical practice of ecotourism and on-going improvement in the ways they give certifications will result in less greenwashing and more accurate consumer information.
Shark Finning and Paul Watson
There is a continued problem of Shark finning off the shores of Costa Rica. The Costa Rican Government has failed to prevent shark finning in their waters and has allowed a technicality to allow more sharks to be finned and traded off their coast and in their ports. Many of these sharks are being illegal fished off the shores of Cocos Island National Park (Fendt, "Illegal Fishing"). In 2016, Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís was named Shark enemy of the year by conservation group Sharkproject International (Fendt, “Shark Enemy of the Year”). In relation to the shark finning dilemma, Costa Rica has a long standing international warrant out for sea captain Paul Watson. Watson is known for being a radical marine conservationist and is the founder of Sea Shepherd. In 2002 he attempted to make a citizens arrest of a Costa Rican vessel suspected of Shark finning. Watson has been pursued by Costa Rica ever since on charges of attempted shipwrecking. The fifteen year pursuit of an environmental defender has done harm Costa Rica’s reputation as an environmental role model (Boddiger, "Paul Watson").
Emily Mckeone addresses the discrepancies in waste management in her thesis using recounts of her time spent in Costa Rica,
Costa Rica has some serious infrastructure issues relating to waste. The landfills throughout the country are reaching capacity. When I was there the government had tried to stop trash being delivered to one of the landfills because it
was so full and leaking toxins. They never reached a solution and reopened the landfill to accept garbage. Throughout the capital there is trash everywhere. The country is so small and having thousands of tourists coming, consuming, and producing more waste is having an impact. (29)
The issue with water problems in Guanacaste also comes into play here as well. A 2016 article in The Costa Rica Star News blames illegal drilling into aquifers as a cause for the contamination of drinking water in the region that has only worsened existing drought conditions (Willliams). There remain doubts of Costa Rica's ability to receive increasing volume of tourists every year damaging or overstressing infrastructure capacity.
Source: Knudsen, Ingrid
Source: Knudsen, Ingrid
Source: Wikimedia Commons
From the surface level Costa Rica has been well perceived as a country that has successfully linked economic growth and resource utilization as a responsible developmental tool while avoiding the pitfalls of resource exploitation and environmental damage. Linking a large sector of the Costa Rican economy with a style of tourism that stresses the preservation and admiration of the unique natural resources present seems to be an ideal dynamic. The individuals and organizations profiting from this would naturally seem to have the preservation of these resources within their best interests. While the notion and execution within Costa Rica has been substantial and arguably successful, there remain a
Over-visitation of national parks has been cited as a concern since the development of ecotourism in Costa Rica. Although laws and regulations are in place that mean to protect the balance between tourist traffic and environmental sustainability, it is unclear how strictly they are followed. There are contradictory accounts regarding the practices of park rangers. In her Thesis Emily Mckeone described this dynamic as followed:
The guard outside the entrance gates was telling tourists that there was already a surplus of visitors in the park and that they would need to wait ten minutes before they entered. I talked to the guard about why he was letting more tourists in, what the ten minute wait was for, and why they had limits in place if they did not recognize them. He just replied that these people had traveled so far to visit the park, and he did not want to disappoint them (30).
The pressure to appease tourists and offer more access to increasingly delicate eco-systems further pushes the balance of environmental sustainability. This personal account based on Mckeone’s experience in Costa Rica raises questions regarding how strictly and regularly official policies on visitation capacity are carried out in day to day operation and with what frequency do policies succumb to pressure to appease the tourists.
Source: Knudsen, Ingrid
Source: Knudsen, Ingrid
Impacts on Animals
Source: Knudsen, Ingrid
Most clients are understandably very upset about this. Most do not live in countries where they have ever experienced not having water whenever they want it. We work hard to patiently explain the situation. If we discover that a tank is empty during the day, and there are clients in the unit or complex, we will call in a water truck to fill the tank up before the evening rush. We are constantly checking water tank levels in all of our properties and associations. We have sometimes brought bottles of water to our clients and other things to try to tide them over. (Golden)
This dynamic has caused significant friction between local communities and large hotels. Water is becoming a significant problem in this region as communities who struggle for water to carry out daily necessities live next to hotels and resorts who are using the precious resource to fill pools and keep lawns green.
Many local communities feel threatened by resort and residential developments that use vital and scarce resources, particularly fresh water. A typical golf course, for instance, uses as much water per day as a Guanacaste town of 5,000 to 10,000 persons. There are a range of social issues as well – displacement of local residents, closing of access to beaches, rise in land and living costs, and most fundamentally, a loss of sovereignty as coastlines are increasingly
sold off to foreigners. (Honey & Durham)
In addition, one hotel has also attempted to build an illegal blockade trying to privatize a beach to further promote their all-inclusive marketing to tourists. This caused clashes with locals in Costa Rica where public access to beaches and natural environment are rights of everyone ("La Gallina", 19:30-21).
The circumstances in Guanacaste help suggest that although ecotourism exists in the region, there are other factors at play that have slowly encroached in the area and now over development and mass tourism dynamics are contributing to stress on local communities.
Resource Depletion & Access to Natural Resources
Source: Knudsen, Ingrid
Changes in animal behavior can be avoided if tourists are being educated correctly, to learn more about this click here.
* -Shark finning- the practice of slicing off shark fins at sea and releasing the animal back to sea to die. The fins are later sold at a high price in Asia where they are considered a culinary delicacy (stopsharkfinning.net).