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On the trail of the ARC.


The events transpiring in the Guanacaste megapark are among the most exciting in tropical ecology. This area, which contains two important national parks, has long been of special importance to Costa Ricans. Santa Rosa National Park, currently the site of an audacious experiment, protects the largest remaining tract of tropical dry forest from California to Panama. Rincon de la Vieja Park, which surrounds a volcano, has numerous habitats due to marked differences in altitude, rainfall, and the effects of the eruptions. It is home to the largest natural concentration of Costa Rica's national flower, an orchid called the guardia morada.

The ecosystem found in Santa Rosa National Park is virtually extinct outside of Costa Rica, and what remains has been seriously degraded. But that is changing. For the past 14 years, Professor Daniel Janzen of the University of Pennsylvania has made Santa Rosa his main study site, working to interest local people in the park through educational programs and tos top the conversion of land into cattle pasture. If properly protected from grazing and fires, Janzen believes the ecosystem can be returned to closed-canopy forest in twenty years. Planting selected seedlings may speed the process to ten years.

If Janzen's experiment succeeds, it will dramatically increase the populations of all kinds of animals, including jaguars, ocelots, wild pigs, coyotes, gray foxes and spider, white-faced and howler monkeys. The namesake of the area, the Guanacaste tree, will also be saved. This tree can grow 100 feet high and its limbs can cover an acre. It supports a wide variety of life within and under its canopy.

Santa Rosa Park also protects the most endangered species of marine turtles, the Olive Ridley. The turtles lay large clutches of eggs on the beach. As they head back to the sea, their eggs are stolen from their nests, and the turtles are killed for their meat, oil, and leather. With the old ones captured and eggs destroyed, the turtles have little chance for survival without direct protection throughout the nesting season.

With support from numerous international foundations, the Costa Rica government will be able to buy cattle ranches to add to Santa Rosa Park. For a cost of about $10 million, Janzen thinks that 295 square miles could be purchased from existing owners and restored. Once these purchases are made, the Guanacaste park would provide a corridor of protected areas from the top of the Guanacaste mountain range surrounding Rincon de la Vieja park all the way to the ocean. This is especially important for larger mammals such as the cats. Right now, the cats stay in pockets around Rincon and Santa Rosa Parks. Once the "megapark" is created, they will be able to roam freely between these areas.



Several well-known parks are situated within this protected area which encompases the volcanic mountain range: Irazu and Poas National Parks, Braulio Carrillo National Park, and La Selva Research Station and Protection Zone. Irazu and Poas, both active volcanoes, are popular attractions (when they are not erupting). At Poas, it is possible to hike down well maintained trails and look into the crater, a depression 300 meters deep and 1.5 kilometers across. The volcano is surrounded by cloud forests, although vegetation is sparse in many places. Irazu Park provides a beautiful setting as well; on clear days both oceans and a huge portion of the country are visible from one of the peaks within the park. Although the vegetation around Irazu is also stunted forest, the slopes leading up to the volcano are very fertile due to the latest eruptions, which took place from 1962 to 1965.

The road between San Jose and Limon cuts through Braulio Carillo Park, where the lucky visitor may spot a quetzal, one of the more spectacular birds in the park. Also within this megapark is La Selva (The Forest), perhaps the world's best known spot for research and training in tropical biology. This research station, run by the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS), is a five mile square area at the junction of two rivers, Sarapiqui and Puerto Viejo. The limited number of tourists that can be accommodated at the station have the opportunity to mingle with renowed biologists and ecologists who frequently visit La Selva to conduct research.

The tranquility of La Selva was threatened by logging and cattle-rising in the early 1980s. But the World Wildlife Fund, the Nature Conservancy, the National Parks Foundation and OTS raised enough money to create a zone of protection between La Selva and Braulio Carrillo Park. This zone travels about 21 miles from sea level to the 10,000 foot high slopes in Braulio Carrillo Park. Maintaining this gradient is important to many species which move up and down the mountain slope following the seasonal variations of rainfall and flowering plants.


The most popular area within the Arenal Regional Conservation Area is Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, renowned for the cheese manufactured by its Quaker community. Quakers from the United States settled here in the early 1950s, shortly after Costa Rica abolished its army. They purchased 3,500 acres, divided it into parcels, set aside some land for watershed protection, and converted the rest of the forest into pasture for dairy cows. Eventually they began a small cheese business, which was tremendously successfuly and led to the economic growth in the region.

More renowed even than the Quaker cheese, is Monteverde's golden toad--a small, shiny, amphibean found nowhere else in the world. To protect the toad and othe unique wildlife, private donations were used to set up the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve in 1973. The Reserve, operated by the Tropical Science Center in San Jose, straddles the continental divide in the Tilaran mountains and includes seasonal rainfall on its Pacific side and a wet Atlantic side. Quetzals, bell-birds and umbrella birds flit through the air and jaguars, ocelots and kinkajous roam among immense oak trees.

The area is threatened by subsistence agriculture, logging, and land speculation. The Monteverde Conservation League is planning to purchase land to expand the reserve and triple its size. With a good business base and high levels of nature tourism, this area offers a special potential to demonstrate that the ARC system can benefit local residents.


Unlike many of the other ARCs, which have one or two major national parks to ground them, the Pacifico Central megapark is made up of a continuous stretch, including one forest reserve, eight protective zones, and one biological reserve. A national park, Manuel Antonio, is included in the planning unit. This area contains beautiful beaches which recede into palm trees and evergreen forests as well as mangroves and marshes. Squirrel monkeys and two-toed sloths, howler and white-faced monkeys and coantimundis prance among the trees. A rich marine life--sponges, corals, fish and crustaceans--flourishes in the waters within the park limits.

Within the contiguous area, the Carara Biological Reserve is a transition zone between the dry northern and the humid southern regions. An abundant water supply from several rivers results in extensive marshes where roseate spoonbills and other marsh birds are numerous.


Isla del Coco (Cocos Island) lies about 500 miles off the western coast. The unique flora and fauna on the island, a result of its distance from the mainland, offers a natural laboratory for evolution. Although the island itself is quite small, an area of surrounding water equivalent to 50,000 acres is also protected.

Cocos Island is covered mainly be an evergreen forest, which hides the steep ravines and rugged volcanic terrain. Waterfalls cascading into the ocean and rocky outcroppings make the scenery spectacular. Marine life includes the brightly colored parrot fish and the white-tipped and hammerhead sharks, as well as another 200 fish species.

The ecology of the island is occasioanally disrupted by treasure hunters. Legend has it that three different pirates, William Davies, Benito "Blood Sword" Bonito, and William Thompson all buried treasures on the island. So far, only a few doubloons have been found after over 500 expeditions. Gold-seeking divers can be kept busy exploring the underwater caves which ring the island.


This unit, which includes the Lomas del Barbudal Biological Reserve, Palo Verde National Park, and the Rafael Lucas Rodriguez Wildlife Refuge is one of the regions of greatest ecological variety in the country. The area contains approximately 15 different habitats, such as lakes, swamps, grasslands, thorn scrubs, evergreen and lowland forests and woodlands.

Palo Verde is subject to seasonal flooding and its natural network of waterways provides ideal conditions for the largest concentrations of waterfowl and wading birds in Central America. Seasonally, hundreds of thousands of herons, storks, egrets, grebes, ibis, ducks, and jacanas flock to the area to feed and mate. Not only is the sheer number of birds tremendous, but nearly 300 species of birds can be found here.

Lomas del Barbudal is particularly rich in insect species--bees, wasps, butterflies and moths. Four endangered types of trees grow in abundance in this reserve, including mahogany, Panama redwood, gonzalo elves, and rosewood.

Unfortunately, the river system in this area could be seriously threatened by pesticide and chemical runoff from a large scale irrigation project to be developed in the near future.


Corcovado National Park is located in the Osa Peninsula in the southern Pacific Region and is a prime example of wet tropical forests. About 13 different ecosystems have been described, including: intertidal (both rocky and sandy) mangroves, the 2,470 acre freshwater Corcovado lagoon, swamps and several kinds of forests which cover about half of the park.

Corcovado contains over one-quarter of all the tree species known to exist in the country, including some of the largest trees in the tropical forests, towering 50 meters above the ground. The park also protects many tropical endangered mammals, especially cats, such as cougars, ocelots and jaguars. It also boasts the largest population of scarlet macaws in Costa Rica. The entire peninsula, including Corcovado Park, is rich in gold deposits and invasion by gold miners has been a persistent problem.

Corcovado National Park is surrounded by the Golfo Dulce Forest Reserve, a buffer zone area where about 5,000 families live. A project entitled BOSCOSA, initiated by the Neotropica Foundation and the World Wildlife Fund, is improving the livelihood of the local population through natural management of the forests and sustainable harvesting of timber. Improved agricultural production, conservation education, and community development activities have spurred a flurry of activity in the area and are helping to link environment and development concerns.


La Amistad Biosphere Reserve is an ARC of over 1.5 million acres which covers about 12 percent of Costa Rica's land area. It is made up of International La Amistad and Chirripo National Parks, two biological reserves, a wildlife refude, a protected area, seven Indian reserves, and a botanical garden. It is the largest and most biologically diverse regional project and the only one to contain the remaining native populations. The area protects the largest and only remaining blocks of virgin forest in Costa Rica. Plans call for La Amistad to be linked to a large reserve in Panama, creating a Bi-National Park of over 2.5 million acres.

The enormous variety of wildlife in Talamanca has not been properly assessed, but between 30 to 40 percent of the species are found nowhere else in the world. The plant life is amazingly rich with more than 10,000 species of flowering plants and 1,000 species of orchids. The area also has the highest concentration of mammals in Costa Rica and the second highest diversity of butterflies of any place in the world.

The Talamanca region is inhabited by over 20,000 Bribri and Cabecar Indians, as well as by many new settlers encroaching on Indian and forest lands. Both Indian reserves and the park are threatened by logging pressures and the expansion of the road network. The Organization of American States, Conservation International, World Wildlife Fund, and many Costa Rican groups are working to preserve this complex region, one of the highest priorities for Costa Rican conservation.


This regional projct provides a coastal link between Tortuguero National Park and Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge. Tortuguero is the most important nesting site for the green turtle, which grows up to four feet in length and can weight up to 440 pounds. Other species of sea turtles that nest in the park are leathernecks and hawkbills. A natural network of canals and waterways cut through the park and Barra del Colorado can be easily crossed through the rivers and delta of the San Juan River, making it possible to observe the wildlife that inhabit the banks.

The refuge is inhabited by about four thousand families whose lifestyle is endangered by logging pressures and encroachment from agricultural expansion in northern Costa Rica. The search for sustainable development alternatives related to tourism, wildlife management, and agroforestry are critical to this preservation area which is also part of a regional project established with Nicaragua called "Protected Areas for Peace".
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:regional conservation areas in Costa Rica
Author:Brandon, Katrina; Umana, Alvaro
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Date:May 1, 1991
Previous Article:Rooting for Costa Rica's megaparks.
Next Article:Fate and fortune on the Pearl Coast.

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