San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Project brings trees to the beach

When University of Costa Rica student Max Tattenbach would go to the beach to surf, one thing always bothered him.

“I used to go with my girlfriend and she would complain that there was never any shade,” he said. “After a while I started to wonder why.”

So Tattenbach, an ecological economics student, did a little digging, discovering that much of Costa Rica’s coastline has been cleared.

That was 2009. Four years and a successful reforestation project later, Tattenbach, now a master’s student at Yale, is launching a new project with his organization, Costas Verdes. The goal is to restore six hectares of barren coastline in Playa Guiones in the northwestern province of Guanacaste.

Ranchers originally cleared the land, located on the north end of the beach. When developers hatched plans to turn it into a golf course, the government took over and incorporated it into the Ostional sea turtle reserve. 

“Our goal is to plant somewhere around 2,000 to 3,000 trees,” Tattenbach said, “but you can’t just plant any tree, there are not many that survive right along the coast.”

The right trees, Tattenbach added, will do more than just provide shade for overheated surfers. More shade means lower temperatures, enabling other species to grow in the area, displacing invasive exotic grasses. The trees also block lights from nearby developments, which can confuse nesting turtles.

The Guiones project isn’t solely about protecting the environment; it has a business element, too. The community, located near the booming tourist town of Nosara, has a vested interest in attracting tourists to the currently shade-less beach, he said.

“Our ultimate goal is to prove a concept that environmental organizations can unite communities, the private sector and schools,” Tattenbach said. “We are investing in their community and they can benefit from that as much as the environment will.”

Families and students in the area are stepping up to fill in where Costas Verdes’ small staff can’t. The beach’s harsh conditions make caring for the trees a daily affair, and members of the community plant, water and provide general maintenance for the trees.  The project has partnered with local school, Del Mar Academy to help with the project.

Tourists, too, have realized the importance of the project, giving up a part of their vacation to lend a hand. Many of these volunteers come from Costas Verdes’ partnership with Aquas Tibias Surf School, which sends over students.

“We all share a vision of having a forested coast,” said Costas Verdes project manager and Guiones resident Gerardo Bolaños Céspedes. “With the coast the way that it is, everyone obviously realizes how important this project is.”

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