San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Ocean of opportunity

Costa Rica feels ready for another golden age of sail.

The rich coast boasts more oceanfront slices of paradise than even a Costa Rican can count, and boats have been plying the seas here since way back when. Yet most coastal areas are accessible only after burning a lot of fuel, belching a bunch of toxins, and breaking cars, trucks and buses in the gauntlet of engineering disasters sometimes called roads.

Shawn Larkin

Shawn Larkin

Might there be a better way to beach hop in Costa Rica?

Imagine a network of ferries, marinas and docks anchoring a new expansion of economic activity based on oceans. Eco-style, of course.

Instead of a jarring, toxin-drenched ride along the coast, consider inhaling the salty air on a sea breeze with gentle roll beneath your seat. Instead of wondering about close calls, precipice drops and black clouds, you could wonder about dolphins, wave patterns and the big blue. Main veins of coastal public transport could move heaps more people and goods for far less fuel and pollution, and get us closer to carbon neutral.

Maritime transport has been huge for all of Costa Rican history, but recently the focus shifted to internal road systems. While crucial, seaways have been neglected. Ocean infrastructure is in even worse shape the famous roads.

You can’t just operate a boat anywhere along Costa Rican coasts. There are very strategic places that enable boats to load up with people and things relatively easily. Many might not realize that most of the coasts are too dangerous for boats to approach. Pounding surf, rocky cliffs, muddy swamps and roiling rivers discourage even the saltiest captain.

That’s why only certain places tend to have boats and base small, ocean-oriented economies. You could call them natural marinas. From Manzanillo to Puerto Viejo to Río Colorado on the Caribbean to Playas del Coco to Drake Bay to Golfito on the Pacific, natural marinas contain a whole lot of boats. But there are very few maritime connections between these places and the many others in between.

There are still too few commercial marinas, which deal efficiently with toxins like fuel, cleaning fluids and other wastes that are all part of going to sea. The lack of proper marinas has invited unchecked spilling and contamination within Costa Rican natural marinas, and is one of the top eco-tragedies we face. Communities need the infrastructure to deal with the growing pains of a a fast-growing economy.

There are far too few ferries connecting coastal towns. The famous Nicoya ferry from Puntarenas could be one of many departing for points north and south. Except newer ferries could take the experience to another level. Think fine dining and massage en route to your favorite beach. Small water taxis could even make pickups from the ferry at sea for smaller destinations with no large docks.

There are also too few docks. Many old docks around the country have rotted in neglect. But docks do not have to be the dirty, rickety things some may fondly remember. Each one could be a major tourist attraction as well as a place for boats to deal with their waste in a better way. There are a lot of communities that would benefit big with a dock into the sea.

Technology is poised to allow marinas, docks and ferries to operate in a more eco-friendly way than ever before. If eco-tweaking needs to be done, who better than Costa Ricans to show the world how to go green in the big blue, while making money at the same time?

Let the next golden age of sail begin.

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