You may have heard the saying “Pura Vida’, when someone speaks about the spectacular nation of Costa Rica. ‘Pura Vida’ translates to ‘Pure Life’, which reflects a way of life that emphasizes a positive, relaxed, and joyful attitude. The phrase embodies the Costa Rican ethos of appreciating the simple things in life and maintaining a laid-back, optimistic outlook.

Take a moment and consider that there are 195 countries in the world. Now consider that 500,000 different species of plants, animals, and insects, are found in Costa Rica. This means that Costa Rica possesses a staggering 5% of the world’s biodiversity. Since Costa Rica occupies only .03% of the world’s landmass, you might be wondering how are there so many species?

The first reason is the location. Costa Rica is situated on a part of the continent called the Isthmus of Panama. Millions of years ago, North America and South America were separated by the Central American Seaway, but eventually movement of the tectonic plates created a series of volcanoes, which formed a chain of islands.

Sediment built up and resulted in an isthmus or land bridge, between the continents. Species long separated were able to finally meet.

A second reason is that while Costa Rica is considered a small country at 19,700 square miles, it has a collection of 12 different ecosystems. These diverse biomes include Caribbean Coastline, Cloud Forest, Pacific Coastline, Mangrove Forest, Wetlands, and Coral Reef.

Thirdly, the position of Costa Rica geographically means it gets mostly wet weather from the Atlantic Ocean and varied wet and dry weather from the Pacific Ocean. The mix of weather across the country contributes to the amount of biodiversity.

Today, approximately 28% of Costa Rica’s land is designated as protected areas, including national parks, wildlife refuges, and biological reserves. This commitment to conservation is one of the highest in the world.

Costa Rica’s journey towards conservation began in the 1960s and 1970s when the country faced rapid deforestation due to agricultural expansion. Recognizing the urgent need to protect its rich biodiversity, the government implemented several pioneering policies to curb deforestation and promote conservation.

The establishment of the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC) in 1994 integrated various conservation efforts under a single entity, enhancing the management and protection of natural resources. The Forestry Law of 1996 further bolstered conservation efforts by prohibiting the change of land use in forested areas and providing incentives for reforestation and sustainable forestry.

National parks such as Manuel Antonio, Corcovado, and Arenal Volcano attract millions of tourists annually. Revenue from ecotourism is reinvested into conservation programs, park maintenance, and local communities, creating a sustainable cycle that benefits both nature and people.

Local communities play a crucial role in Costa Rica’s conservation success. Community-based conservation initiatives, such as the Ostional Wildlife Refuge’s turtle protection program, demonstrate effective collaboration between locals and conservationists. Environmental education programs raise awareness and foster a culture of conservation among citizens from a young age.

Costa Rica pioneered the PES program, which compensates landowners for preserving forest ecosystems. This innovative approach provides financial incentives for maintaining forests, ensuring the provision of vital ecosystem services like carbon sequestration, water purification, and biodiversity conservation.

While Costa Rica is known for its incredible biodiversity, some species are critically endangered due to various threats. Here are three of the most endangered animals in Costa Rica.

Baird’s Tapir (Tapirus bairdii)

Baird’s Tapir, also known as the Central American tapir, is the largest land mammal in Central America. These tapirs have a distinctive prehensile snout and are mostly nocturnal.

They are crucial for the ecosystem as they help in seed dispersal. However, they face threats from habitat destruction due to deforestation, illegal hunting, and human encroachment. Conservation efforts are in place to protect their habitats and reduce hunting pressures.

Great Green Macaw (Ara ambiguus)

The Great Green Macaw, also known as the Buffon’s macaw, is a large, vibrant parrot native to the rainforests of Costa Rica. This bird is endangered primarily due to habitat loss from logging and agriculture.

The Great Green Macaw relies on specific tree species, like the mountain almond tree, for nesting and feeding, which are also threatened. Conservationists are working to protect and restore these critical habitats and implement breeding programs to increase their population.

Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)

The Leatherback Sea Turtle is the largest of all sea turtles and is known for its distinctive leathery shell. These turtles face numerous threats, including egg poaching, coastal development, bycatch in fishing gear, and pollution.

In Costa Rica, beaches like Playa Grande and Playa Langosta are critical nesting sites for leatherbacks. Conservation efforts focus on protecting nesting sites, regulating fisheries to reduce bycatch, and raising public awareness about the importance of sea turtle conservation.

Despite its success, Costa Rica faces ongoing challenges, including pressure from development, climate change, and funding and resources. The urbanization, infrastructure projects, and agricultural expansion continue to threaten natural habitats.

Additionally, the impacts of climate change, such as altered weather patterns and increased frequency of extreme events, pose risks to ecosystems and species. Ensuring sufficient funding and resources for the maintenance and expansion of protected areas remains a constant challenge.

Costa Rica’s dedication to conservation, innovative policies, and community involvement have made it a global model for sustainable development and biodiversity protection. The country’s extensive network of national parks and reserves not only preserves its unique natural heritage but also contributes to its economic well-being through ecotourism.

The Costa Rican commitment to conservation serves as an inspiring example for other nations striving to balance development and environmental stewardship.