The dirty laundry is out of the hamper, and it isn t pretty.
Costa Rica, it appears, is quickly headed from ecoparadise to eco-disaster unless politicians, developers and residents come together to deal with the following issues:
The once-pristine and remote ocean waves of Tamarindo, in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, are contaminated by the fecal matter left behind by the surfers and tourists who stay in that area s hotels and inns.
Tourism development itself is eating up open space and encroaching on the country s wildlife and rivers have been converted to open sewers.
Laws are lax, and enforcement even more so. Don t expect much to change in 2008.
These problems are not going away without serious government intervention.
The year will also hear about more illegal developments, polluted rivers and streams, archaic environmental laws and polluted water supplies.
At the same time, look for continuing growth of citizen action and community groups, which will advocate for stronger local environmental laws, restrictions and controls.
There are indications that change is in the air including the recent hard line taken by the Health Ministry in shutting down polluting businesses in Tamarindo. A stronger environmental review process the result of an increase of funding and personnel at the National Technical Secretariat of the Environment Ministry (SETENA), will help some too.
The Great Playa Grande Debate
It may be the most hotly contested piece of real estate in the country and 2008 will see it finally simmer.
Playa Grande, inside Las Baulas National Marine Park in Guanacaste, is the most important Pacific nesting beach for the leatherback sea turtle a species currently threatened with extinction.
Everyone agrees the beach is critical to the turtle s survival, but the pleasantries end there.
Last year, the government began expropriating property inside the park a move which set off a series of rival press conferences between those who defend it, and those who want to develop it.
A large, vocal group of mostly foreign landowners, some of whom bought land inside the park before it was decreed as such, believe Las Baulas is intended, as its name implies, to be marine in nature. As such, development on land is OK and special interest groups and the municipality have developed a zoning plan they claim will minimize impact.
Environmentalists, meanwhile, believe the land must be protected, and expropriations must continue.
The case will go to international arbitration a move announced last week – and the World Bank may end the debate this year.
An End to Shark Finning?
Shark-finning raises more hackles than cock-fighting in Costa Rica.
Shark populations are plummeting worldwide. Finning the practice of lopping off a shark’s rudders and tossing the live creature back into the sea to die an agonizing death makes even those with strong stomachs feel nauseous.
But the fins mean big bucks in China, where a burgeoning middle class eats them in soup.
Costa Rica s National Fisheries Institute (INCOPESCA) claims that the era of sharkfinning is over and that the practice has been completely eradicated from our coasts.
Environmentalists say no, claiming flimsy laws, poor enforcement and lack of funding allow fishermen to get away with what amounts to murder.
Look for this debate to reach fever pitch again this year and to possibly get resolved as petitions against the practice continue to circulate alongside a lot of bad press.
Fighting Over Peace with Nature
Peace with Nature, President Oscar Arias initiative to send the country down the path of carbon neutrality (by 2021) while at the same time solving its environmental woes, has done little.
Outside experts, including Claire Hughes, a specialist from Great Britain, spent six weeks reviewing the program and found it to be progressing too slowly.
Arias is understandably proud of this endeavor, hence the pomp and circumstance used to usher it in. But actions speak louder than words. Look for this initiative to gain some momentum as public and international pressure mount.
A Global Warning
The drumbeat won t stop this year and if anything, it might grow louder. Despite government foot-dragging, private scientists and research institutions continue to make Costa Rica their home for global warming research.
Look for more depressing news about global warming and its effects on tropical ecosystem.