Plans for a controversial marina in the Caribbean waters of Puerto Viejo’s Playa Negra beach have been called off, much to the delight of a vocal opposition that claimed the project would have harmed the environment and Puerto Viejo’s small, Rasta-infused beach community.
Opponents said the marina would destroy local legendary surf breaks, including the internationally known “Salsa Brava,” and the offshore coral reef over which the marina was to be built.
Marina backers reportedly claimed the reef was dead, but experts from the University of Costa Rica (UCR) say it is still alive and, though sick, can recover.
The man behind the marina proposal, Jan Kalina, dismissed the protests as the work of a small group of meddlesome outsiders, saying they had nothing to so with his decision to shelve the project.
“The protests of a couple foreigners? All the investors are Costa Rican. They know how to defend the project in their own country,” said Kalina, who was born in the CzechRepublic but has lived in Costa Rica for 25 years.
“Yes, the last study from the University of Costa Rica said that the coral reef between Limón and Panama is still alive,” he continued. “But what they don’t say is that it’s 96 percent dead. A reef, when dead, needs 10,000 years to grow again. They forgot that little point.”
Kalina said the marina has been docked not because of protests or environmental concerns, but because of a lack of skilled laborers in the area and failing infrastructure.
“You can open a marina, but you need 200 or 300 people. But (in Puerto Viejo) you don’t have qualified people,” he said. “The young people from Puerto Viejo don’t have college. They don’t go to school. They just hang out on the street.”
In a July 30 letter sent to the Inter-Institutional Commission on Marinas and Tourist Docks (CIMAT), the government office that must approve all marina plans before they can apply for permits, Kalina also complained of chronic lack of water and of regular electricity outages.
“The investors said they didn’t want to give any more money. They work too hard to throw their money away,” he said this week.
The marina was still in the initial application stage before CIMAT, and had yet to present any plans to CIMAT, the local government or opponents. In fact, Kalina said, he just received the first copies of the plans for the marina the previous week.
Still, opposition to the marina from a mix of surfers, local business owners, environmentalists and local indigenous leaders has been fierce since the first announcements last year.
Joaquín Arias, a Spanish-born resident of Ciudad Colón, southwest of San José, and organizer behind the anti-marina campaign called “Salvemos Puerto Viejo” (“Let’s Save Puerto Viejo”), said he collected nearly 6,000 signatures on a petition to the Costa Rican Tourism Board to reject the marina proposal.
“People from all over signed the petition, but the majority was from Costa Rica,” he said. “In Puerto Viejo, there are people from 48 different nationalities. There has always been the influence of people from outside (Costa Rica). But there is no conspiracy.
Everyone who supports this does so because we like Puerto Viejo.”
Kalina also criticized the UCR for taking a stand against the marina.
“It is spending government money and Costa Rican tax money and not taking a neutral position,” he said. “They say they want to help the pueblo but I think they want to destroy the pueblo.”
Pablo Ortega, a filmmaker with UCR’s Social Action Vice Rectory, recently completed a 30-minute documentary on the potential environmental and social impacts of a marina on Puerto Viejo’s black-sand Playa Negra shore.
The video, called “Marina Errante” and available on the Web site www.youtube.com, was produced at the request of another UCR office, Kiskos Ambientales, which aims to provide environmental information to communities around the country.
“The information came from the Environment and Energy Ministry oceanographers, marine biologists and underwater shots we took of the coral,” Ortega said.
Ortega’s video warned not only that the remaining reef would be threatened, but that the influx of tourists and construction that could accompany the marina – which was originally planned to have space for nearly 400 boats but was reduced to around 100 – would ruin what makes Puerto Viejo attractive in the first place.
“Puerto Viejo’s tourism is dependent on nature, and not so much on good services because, in fact, Puerto Viejo doesn’t have many good services,” Ortega said. “People come because they want to forget about civilization for a little bit and have contact with nature.”
Kalina said he believes the locals will be sad to hear the marina isn’t going to be built, and he hasn’t discarded the idea entirely, saying it depends on the government, the local residents and the investors.
But Oscar Villalobos, who heads CIMAT, said the project would have to start from zero, and this failed attempt would be taken into consideration.
“We know about the opposition at the site,” Villalobos said. “To start a marina project where there is so much pressure from the community that doesn’t accept it, that is something very important for the developer to take into consideration.”