Protected Areas Costa Rica stands out among other nations because it has protected a greater percentage of its land (more than 20%) than any other nation. There are 24 National Parks, 34 Wildlife Refuges, 10 Biological Reserves and 12 Forest Reserves under the National Conservation Areas System. In addition, some privately owned lodges and reserves have established protected lands that they monitor themselves. The government has realized that the forests have an economic value beyond timber, fruit and potential agricultural land.
The country participates in the “debt for nature” program whereby international environmental groups like the Nature Conservancy and World Wide Fund for Nature pay part of the national debt in exchange for the protection of a specified amount of forest. Also, by protecting nearly a quarter of its forests, Costa Rica attracts more than 800,000 foreign visitors annually, making tourism its second leading generator of income. It is worth mentioning, however, that not all ecotourism is actually environmentally friendly; many organizations that claim to be helping protect the environment are only exploiting it for capital gains.
EcoTeach is committed to supporting a variety of cultural and environmental conservation projects throughout the country, as well as to raising awareness about the importance of the environment and how to save it. Despite the government’s forward-minded policy, deforestation remains a rampant problem in the country, both outside of protected areas and illegally within them. With the destruction of 200 square miles (520 km2) of forest per year (about 2.3%), Costa Rica has one of the highest rates of deforestation in Central America.
As in any country, there are insufficient funds provided by the government to employ guards to patrol all of the protected parks, so illegal logging is taking place in many parts of the country. In addition to pressure on plants and animals due to habitat loss, deforestation also leads to soil erosion, degradation of watersheds and nutrient impoverishment of soils. Agriculture has blanketed nearly all land not officially protected and large resorts, new roads and hydroelectric damns further burden the fragile environment.
Over half of all of the species described by science live in rain forests between 10 degrees north and south of the equator. However, deforestation around the world is leading to the destruction of this precious ecosystem. The highly biodiverse rain forests have established a delicate equilibrium that is easily upset by human interference. Apart from the multitude of beautiful and exotic species of organisms that live in this unique habitat, over half of known medicines are derived from rainforest plants.
Natural medicines have long been used to remedy a wide variety of ailments by indigenous people. Certainly, there remain many plants with medicinal properties yet to be discovered, however, rain forests are being devastated before scientists get a chance to discover these invaluable resources. Costa Rica has appropriated the daunting task of collecting and classifying the country’s living creatures to INBio (Institute Nacional de Biodiversidad).