Preserving biological diversity in Costa Rica

We just returned from a trip to Costa Rica, including the cloud forest in Monteverde. We even got to see the wonderful Quetzal (see above) and hear the Three-wattled bellbird. That region is increasingly dependent on eco-tourism to support it biological reserves. Most of those are privately owned, with the national parks appearing to be more “rural preservation” zones than the ecological protection areas that we have in the U.S. The question is whether relying so heavily on eco-tourism is a desirable and sustainable path for preserving the biological diversity in such a resource-rich area?

Tourism can have a big environmental footprint from travel modes as well as pushing the local labor force from productive agriculture to service jobs. Already, 300,000 people annually visit a community with 5,000 residents. Several people in Monteverde mentioned that they were reluctant to support improving road access (which is difficult now) because it could bring in more visitors, particularly cruise-ship buses that are typically not as interested in a “close to nature” experience.

One option is to train the workforce to provide the means of maintaining and observing the local ecosystem. This could include both nature guides for eco-tourists, scientific observation and analysis, and habitat restoration.

Another question is whether the local workforce should be trained to transform the habitat to match the climate change that is likely to occur in the region? Human activities such as cattle grazing and crop and forest cultivation tend to impede natural transformations that might mitigate climate change impacts in the local ecology. We might have to acknowledge that existing local habitats will change and certain species will disappear, but that we should move to substitute appropriate habitat for other species to escape to from their disappearing habitat.

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