For some time now, I’ve had the perception that Costa Rica is the model nation when it comes to neotropical forest conservation. It seems like almost everyone has gone on vacation to a beautiful forested area in Costa Rica, seen a tree frog or a sloth, and posted pictures of it on Facebook. Places like La Selva Biological Station are known as the premiere research stations in the tropics, hosting prestigious researchers in its luxurious accommodations and large protected area. My perception was especially skewed given the conditions of my research site, which lies in a ‘paper park’ in Ecuador where gunshots from hunters can be heard frequently.
At Cabo Blanco, this view of mine was challenged by Alberto Torres, the resident park guard, who informed us that Costa Rica is actually struggling as a nation with protecting its protected areas. He told us stories of his patrols, where he and a few other guards fight to keep poachers out of the park’s boundaries. The looming danger confronting Costan Rican forests was corroborated by Carlos de la Rosa, the station director of La Selva. He told us about his deep concerns for La Selva due to the encroachment of drastic land use changes around the station. The free trade agreement between Costa Rica and China includes the export of agricultural products such as bananas and pineapple, which are land and pesticide intensive.
While my initial viewpoint was starting to change, I wasn’t totally convinced…until I saw the pineapple plantations myself. Our science communication video was told through an interview with Carlos de la Rosa, and it focused on the magnificence of La Selva and the issues the station faces. In his interview, Carlos talked about these banana and pineapple plantations. To tell a good story, we realized we had to get footage of these plantations. Our wonderful driver Carlos ventured with us to the nearest pineapple plantation – a place filled with spikey plants, blood sucking flies, and trucks filled with pesticides. Dole Food Company signs riddled the road sides, warning us to not enter the private property. We went in anyway, and got great footage, making us aware of the threats that tropical forests in Costa Rica face.
I now understand that no country is immune to the effects of global capitalism and consumer driven markers. As consumers, we make choices every day that impact natural areas near and far. Personally, as someone who strives to conserve tropical forests, Carlos de la Rosa’s words resonate with me still and I hope they will speak to you too:
“…we should realize how important and how effective individuals can be…every individual has the power to change the world…we are the ones that have the power to destroy a great portion of the life on earth, so we are the only ones that can fix it…and we start with that individual.”