Costa Rica s most critical wildlands will enjoy a $26 million boost over the next 16 years, ensuring the protection and preservation of tropical ecosystems home to threatened macaws, jaguars and sea turtles.
Under the terms of the recent debt for nature swap, authorized by the U.S. Tropical Forest Conservation Act (TFCA), the United States will contribute $12.6 million in financing as part of the deal.
Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy, two global environmental groups already operating in Costa Rica, have each agreed to contribute $1.26 million in matching donations (TT, Oct. 19).
These funds, combined with the interest they generate, should total $26 million in debt forgiveness and protected resources by 2024, according to Francisco de Paula Gutiérrez, president of the Central Bank.
As of today, instead of paying the United States directly for the debt we owe, the money will be transferred to a national trust, Gutiérrez said.
The trust will be supervised by representatives from each country and the environmental groups involved, as well as one yet to- be named national nongovernmental organization.
The funds themselves will be administered by the Costa Rican-United States of America (CRUSA) Foundation.
According to Environment and Energy Minister Roberto Dobles, the money will be used to protect and enhance some of Costa Rica s most valuable remaining wildlands (see sidebar).
These are the most important areas of the country to protect, for their extraordinary abundance and wildlife, unique habitat, rich biodiversity and endangered species, Dobles said.
The agreement, the largest of its kind since the Tropical Forest Conservation Act s passage in 1998, signals a new era of cooperation between the governments, said Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno, one of the chief negotiators in the deal.
What more ethical investment is there than to pardon our debt and allow us to use this money for the protection and conservation of the environment? he posed.
The environmental groups involved spoke highly of the great potential for meaningful conservation.
For more than 30 years, we ve been working in Costa Rica, which has always been at the forefront of Latin American conservation, said Stephanie Meeks, chief executive officer of The Nature Conservancy.
Costa Rica is teeming with natural beauty, biodiversity and threatened species, from jaguars to squirrel monkeys to scarlet macaws. And as an increasingly popular tourist and retirement destination, it faces increasing development pressure.
The target areas for protection were selected using the results of the recently completed GRUAS II project, which analyzed the country s biodiversity and highlighted important areas for conservation (see sidebar).
The agreement is the 13th such deal made by the United States in the past decade, generating more than $163 million for conservation projects, according to David Henifin, a representative from the U.S. Embassy.
Other countries in the region with similar agreements include El Salvador, Panama, Paraguay, Guatemala, Belize and Colombia, he said.
The deal is part of a growing trend worldwide, in which industrialized nations support the conservation efforts of developing nations.
It s a win-win situation for all, Henifin said.
We reduce their debt, and at the same time generate financing to support conservation, he added.
This debt for nature swap now joins the booming carbon-offset market, in which individuals and companies have invested heavily in forest protection and clean, renewable energy in Costa Rica to compensate for their carbon emissions in industrialized nations (TT, June 15).
Mapping Project Aids Conservation Planning
When it comes to meaningful conservation, Costa Rica now has a new, cutting edge tool in its box:
The expansive mapping project, which included input and assessments from more than 300 scientists, professors and technicians, surveyed levels of biodiversity on land and at sea throughout Costa Rica, identifying hot spots and pointing out vulnerable areas.
The project revealed that while 30% of the country s land territory is under some form of protection, only 13.74% is completely off-limits to resource extraction. It also found that only 0.09% of the country s enormous ocean territory is currently protected under effective conservation measures.
The concept is simple, explained Ronald Vargas, director of the country s National System of Protected Areas (SINAC): To alert the government to conservation hot spots and to provide planners, conservationists and municipalities with the information they need to ensure the country s sustainable development.
GRUAS II is an invaluable tool that will bring us one step closer toward our goal of conservation-minded, sustainable development, Vargas said.
Costa Rica Parks and Natural Areas to Benefit
Funds from the “debt for nature” swap will be used in
the following regions:
Osa Peninsula: This peninsula in the southern Pacific faces severe threats of illegal logging, poaching and uncontrolled development. The rainforest meets the sea on the Osa, which is home to the jaguar, squirrel monkey, scarlet macaw and more than 370 bird species.
Tortuguero National Park: Along the northern Carribean coastline, this popular park consists of rich expanses of forests and provides safe refuge for jaguars, green macaws and several species of turtles.
La Amistad World Biosphere Reserve: Contains the largest untouched tract of rainforest in Costa Rica, and adjoins protected areas in Panama. Also home to most of the country’s indigenous communities.
Maquenque National Park: In north-central Costa Rica, this park is rich in wetlands, lagoons, forests and hills and is home to the great green macaw and ocelots.
Forestlands north of Rincón de la Vieja National Park: North of the park’s volcano in the province of Guanacaste, a vast tropical dry forest is among the largest and least disturbed in Central America.
Nicoya Peninsula: A booming tourist destination in northwest Costa Rica with rich biological corridors that connect protected areas. Threatened by uncontrolled development.
Source: Conservation International