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Minister: Environment tops 2013 agenda

Protecting rivers and oceans will be a priority in 2013 for the Environment Ministry, as well as adopting cleaner technologies and updating Costa Rica’s public transport sector, officials announced this week. 

The ministry plans on cleaning up polluted rivers and watersheds, among other measures. 

“In Costa Rica, we’ve lived with our backs turned on our oceans and rivers, and the situation has become disastrous at several rivers and coastal areas. But we’re changing at the [Environment Ministry] in order to address these issues properly,” Environment Minister René Castro told The Tico Times. 

Castro said that one of the administration’s achievements in 2012 was pushing forward a “Blue Agenda,” which calls for new measures to protect oceans and rivers, as well as the creation of a new Water and Oceans Vice Ministry. 

Ministry officials are preparing a series of measures to identify, register and protect major aquifers and threatened wetlands, he said. Officials also will initiate river cleanup initiatives, starting with rivers in the San José metropolitan area, home to some of the most polluted rivers and streams in Central America. Officials also hope to reduce the use of pesticides that often pollute Costa Rican waterways, and to strengthen environmental legislation. 

In coastal areas, environment officials plan on implementing a “maritime control and vigilance” strategy, which includes promoting responsible fishing and sustainable development projects. Officials would like to see better regulation of development in coastal areas. 

Environmental Agenda 2

Environment Minister René Castro.

Alberto Font

“We’re going to review [fuel] subsidies given to fishermen, which are not reaching artisanal fishermen as they’re intended to do, but rather are benefiting industrial-sized fleets. That has cost the country $100 million in the past five years,” Castro said. “We’re also working to help artisanal fishermen understand how to sustainably manage multiple-use marine areas, such as the Gulf of Nicoya.” 

In late December, Castro and Water and Oceans Vice Minister José Lino Chaves met with artisanal fishermen in the gulf to design responsible fishing strategies. 

“We want responsible fishing that doesn’t eliminate our resources, and we should create protected areas based on an overall plan for fishing,” said Wilson Pérez, a leader of artisanal fishermen in Puerto Thiel, in the Gulf of Nicoya.

Castro said that in 2013, the administration will form a new group responsible for monitoring coastal areas with radar and helicopters, in an effort to combat illegal fishing and other environmentally damaging activities. In a joint operation in late December, park rangers from the Osa Conservation Area (ACOSA) and National Police officers seized equipment used in an illegal mining operation inside the Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula in southern Costa Rica. 

According to ACOSA Regional Director Etilma Morales, officials used satellite technology and a helicopter to disrupt the operation.

Chaves said the administration’s environmental efforts need to be joined by actions by citizens. “The public should understand that if we destroy our rivers, wetlands, oceans and water sources, we’re destroying ourselves and the best part of our country. We need to understand that development should happen with the sustainable management of our ecosystems,” he said. 

Upgrading the Transport Sector

Switching to clean-energy technology and upgrading the country’s buses and taxis are also priorities for ministry officials, who hope to begin importing more natural gas in 2013, as well as using more wind and solar power, and purchasing cheaper, cleaner electricity from private generators. Costa Rica hopes to become the first carbon-neutral country by 2021, and reducing its carbon emissions is a top priority for the current administration, according to Castro. 

“Unless we replace buses and taxis with ones that use cleaner fuel, carbon neutrality will be a utopia,” Castro said. 

“We held a very productive meeting with bus owners in December, and we plan on meeting with taxi owners this month. They will have to make decisions based on norms established by the government in terms of efficiency and emissions,” he added. 

Conservation Efforts

Castro also promised to focus on forestry conservation this year. The government has $63 million donated by the World Bank’s Carbon Fund, and in national parks, officials hope to modernize infrastructure, both for tourists and for park guards. That includes better trails at Carara and Manuel Antonio national parks, to be inaugurated during the first quarter of 2013. The National System of Conservation Areas will invest more than $25 million on upgrading the parks from its own funds and from a loan by the Inter-American Development Bank. 

“This is going to be an intense year of work, as our environmental agenda is extremely important for Costa Ricans; it’s going to be a broad and complex agenda, and we need help and support starting now from everyone who lives here,” Castro said.

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