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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Costa Rica National Parks: Understanding Their Importance

Wallace Stegner, an American novelist and environmentalist, rightly said, “National parks are the best idea we ever had.”

I recently watched a documentary named ‘Our Great National Parks’. I was very inspired and moved by it. But that also got me thinking, what would happen if there were no national parks in the world?

The benefits of national parks extend far beyond the conservation of biodiversity. Humans, too, are benefitted from them in many different ways. With a rise in the extinction of species, plastic pollution in oceans, deforestation, industrialization, mining, and poaching, it became essential to focus our efforts on the conservation of fragile ecosystems and flora & fauna. And national parks are a great way to do that!

What are national parks?

Oxford dictionary defines a national park as “a scenic or historically important area of countryside protected by the federal government for the enjoyment of the general public or the preservation of wildlife.” Britannica describes it as “an area set aside by a national government for the preservation of the natural environment.”

According to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), there are over 6,500 national parks in the world. Today, 15% of the earth’s land and 8% of oceans are protected. This is a testament to the commitment of governments across countries and continents to protect our world’s extraordinary wildlife, unique landscapes, and majestic forests.

National Parks in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is home to 5% of species found worldwide, though it contributes to only 0.03% of the earth’s surface. As incredible as this is, Costa Rica was once gripped by rising deforestation and development during the early 20th century. Taking note of the harmful effects of deforestation on the biodiversity and environment, Costa Rica began reversing deforestation. Expansion of national parks took place rapidly in the 1970s.

Costa Rica now takes pride in having 30 national parks under its belt. Today, more than 25% of the territory of Costa Rica is marked for conservation. One of the highest ratios in the world!

List of National Parks in Costa Rica

Why are national parks important?

What makes national parks so important? Let’s delve deep into the importance and significance of national parks.

Conservation of Biodiversity

National parks play a very important role in the conservation of biodiversity by protecting great areas of wilderness. A minute change in the ecosystem can bring about large and unpredictable effects on biodiversity. Therefore, it becomes essential to contain natural habitats and provide safe havens for the flora and fauna to thrive.

Costa Rica aims to protect more than 200 animals on its endangered species list through its national parks and other protected areas.

Preservation of Natural Resources

National parks contain a wealth of natural resources like minerals, timber, thermal water, medicines, etc which many industries would be interested in exploiting for profit. National parks are protected areas, which means they are least affected by human activities.

National parks are also a source of renewable energy in the form of solar energy, hydro [power, wind energy, and thermal energy.

Environmental Protection

The vital role of national parks in protecting the environment cannot be undermined. Rainforests store carbon dioxide, thereby reducing the carbon in the environment and minimizing the carbon footprint generated by humans. Approximately 15% of carbon stores are within national parks and protected areas.

National parks act as a buffer against extreme weather events and help control the climate. They also help mitigate the impact of natural disasters by protecting against avalanches, landslides, erosion, and flooding in the forests through soil stabilization. Coral reefs and coastal wetlands in the marine national parks protect against hurricanes, typhoons, and tsunamis.

Economic Value

National parks have economic value to both national and local economies. Costa Rica takes advantage of the growing demand for tourists visiting these national parks in the form of entry fees. National Parks contribute almost 2 billion USD to Costa Rican economy. Many tourists who visit Costa Rica visit at least one national park on their visit. A whopping number of 122,465 tourists visited national parks in Costa Rica between December 22, 2021, and January 2, 2022.

Local economies near the national parks benefit from the generation of jobs and increased expenditure by tourists on hotels, local shops, guides, restaurants, tours, etc. It also benefits from the protection of rural land for agriculture which would otherwise be developed.

Education & Awareness

National parks are a great way of educating visitors and creating awareness in them. Visiting national parks encourages conservation efforts on an individual level. Informed tour guides and educational material can entice a tourist to start participating in conservation.

Every national park in Costa Rica has plenty of information about the place, its history, efforts taken for conservation, and much more. Some parks also offer guided tours where guides explain the process or significance of a particular species in the environment.

Health Benefits

25% of all our medicines originated in rainforests, and scientists are still discovering new medical advances.

Moreover, national parks play an important role in improving the physical and mental well-being of individuals. Visiting national parks often involves walking and hiking through designated trails amongst nature. This helps you reconnect with nature, improves lung function, increases vitamin D levels, and boosts immunity.

Connecting with nature reduces stress, anxiety, depression, and psychological disorders and improves cognitive abilities. Nature can heal your soul, and the fresh air helps in clearing the mind.

Conclusion

Next time you visit a national park in Costa Rica, be thankful for its existence, immerse yourself in the surroundings, and take time to read all the information that is given about it. Lastly, don’t leave anything but footprints behind!

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