An alliance of surfers, local business owners and government-affiliated environmentalists are organizing to oppose a private venture to create Costa Rica’s largest marina in Puerto Viejo in the Limón province. The marina, if constructed, could be the first on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast.
The developers, Grupo Caribeño Internacional, submitted preliminary plans to the Inter-Institutional Commission on Marinas and Tourist Docks (CIMAT) last year for Marina New World with 398 docks, a yachtmaintenance area, gas station, warehouse and supermarket.
Activists organized by the Environmental Vigilance Committees held a protest and fundraiser at Playa Negra, just north of Puerto Viejo, last Saturday. The committees consist of volunteers loosely coordinated by the Environment and Energy Ministry (MINAE), organizer Marta Castro said.
Castro, of Puerto Viejo, said she isn’t against all marina projects and acknowledged she hadn’t protested another nearby proposed marina project, Isla Moín, north of Limón.
“This project is too aggressive, too big,” she said.
Castro and her husband, Craig Schieber, a professional surfer, said they opposed the project because it would destroy a living reef, make two famous surf breaks (Salsa Brava and La Escuelita) disappear, contaminate the nearby Cahuita National Park and Gandoca-Manzanillo Refuge, and hurt local businesses and youth who depend on surfers to make a living.
Commission Technical Secretary Oscar Villalobos, who oversees marina applications, said the community’s opposition has already achieved an effect: Grupo Caribeño modified its initial proposal from 398 docks to 100.
“They already reduced it because the community has protested against such a large project,” he said.
Villalobos also said the developers have the legal obligation to keep the public informed and engaged in the process if the project moves forward.
Lawyer Walter Coto, who represents Grupo Caribeño, said last year that he expected the company to start construction in April or May 2008, according to the daily La Nación.
But Villalobos said that was impossible because the company hasn’t even formally applied for permits and that the process normally takes at least three years.
“They haven’t even applied yet,” he said.
“It’s a long process to do the studies, get the permits and finally the concession. There is ample time to conduct studies, modify proposals and clear the community’s doubts.”
Coto said the marina project would be ecologically friendly and that it would not destroy a living reef. “The company is proposing to use a floating construction technology – clean and absolutely ecological,” he said.
“There will be no fill materials or rocks placed on the reef, affecting the surf breaks, as they have done in other marinas on the Pacific.”
The protest organizers sold T-shirts and conducted a paddleboard race with trophies to help raise awareness and funds for their cause. They estimated 40 to 60 people attended and some used a microphone that was made available for people to speak their minds about the proposed marina.
Castro said everyone who spoke was against the project. She also claimed attendance was low because many people in the area were afraid of retaliation by the local municipal authorities, who had already publicly declared their support for the project.
“Many people are afraid to protest because they could have problems with their paperwork or lose their concessions,” she said.
Luis Hernández, a Tibás councilman who said he owns the Tío Lou beach bungalows in Puerto Viejo, helped organize the protest. He claimed he was already being retaliated against by Talamanca Mayor Rugeli Morales.
He said Morales threatened to shut down his business Monday.
Morales did not return a phone call requesting comment.
According to Villalobos, there are currently three legal marinas operating in Costa Rica: Marina Yacht Club in Puntarenas,Marina Los Sueños in Herradura and Marina Maria Banana in Golfito. All are on the Pacific Coast.
He said there are an additional three marina projects, also on the Pacific coast, that have received permission from CIMAT to begin construction: Marina Papagayo in Bahía Culebra, Marina Pez Vela in Quepos and Marina Bahía Escondida in Golfito.
According to Castro, there will be a public meeting attended by community members and Mayor Morales on Feb. 12 at 10 a.m. in the Casa de Cultura in Puerto Viejo.