San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Fundación EPIC Hopes to Inspire Children to Save the Oceans

When Cuban-American businessman Eduardo Acosta finally made it to Isla del Coco after three days of violent seasickness, he staggered through the water and kissed the island’s sandy shore in gratitude.

He then headed back to the boat, ate a sandwich, and – inspired by the grandeur of his natural surroundings, and probably also by his newfound ability to hold down solid food – sketched out the plans of a nationwide educational program that would inspire young Costa Ricans to protect natural resources many of them will never see. His plans, penned in 2004, became the nonprofit Fundación EPIC and a book called “Hope,” designed to teach kids about the damage being done to turtles, dolphins and other sea life.

His efforts appear to be gaining steam. At an event last week, Public Education Minister Leonardo Garnier signed a letter of intent to support the program nationwide, and the foundation is seeking corporate sponsors to make that possible. At bulk rates as low as $1 per book, companies or individuals can sponsor a school of their choice.

Though kids in coastal communities have an obvious responsibility in marine conservation, according to Acosta, the program also seeks to educate city kids who, in this beach-lined country, may never have seen the animals they will one day have to protect.

“I think in the next five years I’ll be able to get a book in every one of the children’s hands from 7 to 13,” the energetic developer, 51, told The Tico Times at the launch event, held at downtown San José’s Escuela Buenaventura Corrales Nov. 26. “Once I do that, I’ll have a generation of children focused on this problem, in the most ecologically focused country in the world.”

Teachers and students at Buenaventura Corrales, renowned as one of the best public primary schools in the country, took the book and accompanying educational activities  for a spin in recent months. The kids studied marine life and participated in a painting contest; the 50 winners, who depicted dolphins, whales and other creatures, received copies of “Hope” and a chance to visit Costa Rica’s famed Isla del Coco, located 365 miles off the country’s Pacific coast.

Also at the event last week, the kids experienced another key element of the program: an interactive presentation of “Hope” by foundation member Larisa Quirós. The educator and principal of the Escuela Bilingüe Las Nubes, a private school in the central Pacific beach Herradura also founded by Acosta, showed the kids projections of the 10 paintings from the text-free “Hope.” The book depicts an eponymous turtle floating happily in a pristine sea, then watching as shark-finning, damaging fishing practices, oil slicks and other forms of human interference gradually destroy the ocean.

The kids had clearly learned their lessons well.When Quirós asked the kids to define the word “abuse,” one attentive boy called out that it means “fishing a lot,” while other kids solemnly contemplated the dismal fate of the angel fish they referred to en masse as “Nemo,” in reference to the animated Disney character.

“And what’s going to happen to Nemo?” Quirós asked as the kids contemplated a painting showing fishing practices such as long-lines and nets that sweep over the ocean floor.

“He’s going to die,” a few kids said sadly.

Acosta said he created stick drawings for the book that day at Isla del Coco, then worked for six months with Costa Rican artist Ferlander Arguedas to create the paintings.

The originals ringed the Buenaventura Corrales auditorium during the presentation.

The foundation focuses on conservation in general, and in particular the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor – underwater mountains that break the surface in the form of Isla del Coco, Panama’s Isla Coiba, Colombia’s Isla de Malpelo, and Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands – as well as the Costa Rican thermal convection dome, north of Coco (see sidebar).

According to Acosta, the harmful practices described in the book are threatening these biologically diverse areas. The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has declared Cocos Island National Park a World Heritage site, and marine conservation group MarViva is among the organizations working to protect the waters near the site, where illegal fishing is on the rise (TT, Sept. 15).

However, the thermal dome has received less attention, Acosta said. “It’s not being protected by the United Nations or by anybody, so that’s why I’m committed to saving the dome,” he said.

Acosta, who left Cuba with his family at age 2 and grew up in Los Angeles, California, came to Costa Rica in 1991 as the Senior Vice-President for Construction of the Los Sueños Resort and Marina in Herradura.

After completing the project in 2000, he founded the Escuela Las Nubes – motivated in part by his own children, Nicole, 12, and Kevin, 13, who attend the school – and then, last year, the foundation.

With the support of Garnier, the foundation hopes to expand the program in the months ahead. Corporate sponsors can buy copies of the book in bulk – for 350 books, they’ll pay only $350, Quirós said –and donate them to the school of their choice.

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