San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rica's 5 most important environmental stories in 2013

Known for its pristine national parks and renewable energy efforts, Costa Rica often makes international headlines. But while the country looks like a green bastion on paper, the top headlines from 2013 reveal the country’s environmental struggles.


Hundreds of dead sea turtles washed ashore along Costa Rica’s Pacific coast in separate incidents in January and November. Hundreds more died in Central America this year. Courtesy of Roberto Umaña

5. Mass sea turtle deaths

While isolated unnatural turtle deaths are not unusual, in 2013 Costa Rica’s Pacific shores were home to what only can be described as turtle massacres. In January, more than 280 dead olive ridley turtles washed ashore in Costa Rica’s south Pacific in what experts ruled an illegal longline fishing accident. Then in November, hundreds of Eastern Pacific green turtles died from red tide in the northern Pacific.

The mass deaths weren’t isolated to just Costa Rica. Environmental reports from Panama, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala also described turtle death tolls in the hundreds. Suspected causes of death ranged from dynamite and longline fishing to rare forms of red tide.

Shrimp trawler

Costa Rica’s shrimp fleet discards some 4,000-6,000 metric tons of bycatch each year, the conservation group PRETOMA reported last year. Courtesy of MarViva

4. Costa Rica bans shrimp trawling then tries to take it back

In August, the Costa Rican courts ruled shrimp trawling, a controversial fishing practice that damages the ocean floor, unconstitutional. Though environmentalists celebrated the ruling, both the shrimp trawling industry and the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute (Incopesca) strongly opposed the decision.

Protesters flooded the streets in the central Pacific fishing hub of Puntarenas, and with help from Incopesca, lawmakers drafted a bill to overturn the decision. While Incopesca’s executive president, Luís Dobles, claims they can make the fishing practice sustainable, environmentalists and artisanal fishermen remain skeptical.


Protesters ultimately got the upper hand in an environmental conflict over an open-pit gold mine in northern Costa Rica. Canadian company Infinito Gold is now suing Costa Rica for $1 billion in a World Bank dispute center.
Alberto Font

3. Infinito Gold ruling challenge

Conservationists look at the 2010 constitutional ban on open-pit mining as one of the country’s biggest environmental victories. The ruling ousted Canadian mining giant Infinito Gold Ltd., invalidating their previously approved $1 billion gold-mining concession in the northern region, near the Nicaraguan border.

Last October, Infinito Gold Ltd. decided to fight back, filing a case with the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). The company claims Costa Rica’s decision violated the Costa Rica-Canada Bilateral Investment Treaty, and Infinito is suing Costa Rica for $1 billion. It could take up to three years for the court to issue a ruling, but Infinito Gold hopes it will send a message to other company’s hoping to invest in Costa Rica.


Kivu the lion was born in captivity in Cuba. He now lives in a cage at San José’s Simón Bolívar Zoo that is about 2 meters away from the zoo’s walking path.
Lindsay Fendt

2. Costa Rica’s impending zoo closures

This isn’t the first time the Costa Rican Environment Ministry (MINAE) has set out to close the widely criticized public zoos, but this time the animals are going free.

Despite a court battle over the zoo administration’s contract, Environment Minister René Castro declared that, starting next May, the government will no longer own caged animals. If MINAE gets its way, the country’s two zoos will be converted into cage-free bioparks. But if the court rules in favor of the zoo administration, they could be left with two zoos minus the animals.

Jairo Mora demonstration

A peace vigil for slain turtle conservationist Jairo Mora was held June 3 in front of the Environment Ministry in San José.
Lindsay Fendt

1. The Jairo Mora murder case

Nothing else stirred up environmental outrage in 2013 more than the murder of 26-year-old sea turtle conservationist Jairo Mora. Mora, a sea turtle researcher for the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Network, was found dead on the Caribbean’s Moín Beach, where he regularly collected leatherback sea turtle nests to rebury and hide from poachers. His body had been beaten and dragged behind a car.

Seven men, members of a recognized poaching gang, were arrested two months later on murder charges, but the government’s response wasn’t swift enough to avoid the wave of international criticism about the country’s security for environmentalists.


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