CABO BLANCO, Puntarenas – With the Pacific Ocean crashing against the beach at Cabo Blanco Absolute Nature Reserve, the Costa Rican National System of Conservation Areas and the Ministry of the Environment and Energy (MINAE) posthumously honored Jairo Mora for his dedication to marine conservation during the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the national park system on Saturday.
As government leaders, park rangers and civil society celebrated Cabo Blanco’s golden anniversary, the national park system finds itself in a moment of self-reflection as dwindling budgets and rising violence threaten the parks and their protectors.
Mora’s mother, Fernanda Sandoval, accepted the honors on behalf of her son.
“It’s something very meaningful as a mother because he lived his life and gave his life to protect nature, biodiversity, trees, everything,” Sandoval told The Tico Times.
“I know that they will never forget, he will always be in people’s thoughts,” she said.
After recognizing Mora’s conservation efforts, MINAE Vice Minister Ana Lorena Guevara signed an executive decree authorizing park rangers to carry firearms in protected areas. Officials signed another executive decree that established incentive pay for rangers to perform police work.
Poaching, illegal mining and drug trafficking have become a dangerous trifecta for park rangers, who increasingly are out-gunned by trespassers and criminals who use the uninhabited parks for illegal activities. Diminishing funds have exacerbated security concerns.
Founded on Oct. 21, 1963, Cabo Blanco Absolute Nature Reserve was Costa Rica’s first protected piece of land, effectively establishing the national parks system. The park was the culmination of the efforts of Nicolas Wessberg and Karen Mogensen, a Swedish couple who purchased the land that is now the reserve in 1959 and began to reforest it.
Cabo Blanco protects 3,351 acres of land and 4,164 acres of sea around the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula.
During the 1960s and ’70s, the Costa Rican government aggressively pushed rural farmers to cut down forests and clear land for agriculture and cattle ranching, leading to some of the world’s highest rates of deforestation.
The efforts of Mogensen and Wessberg, and other like-minded Ticos helped reserved this course. Today, Costa Rica has the greatest percentage of protected national territory in the world, covering 24 percent of the Central American country over 28 national parks, eight biological reserves and two nature reserves.