For a few more dollars

On July 18th, published at least three news related to the environment. It was not news that allows us to brag, as we did in October 2021, when we received the Earthshot Prize awarded by the Royal Foundation, in recognition of our model of environmental conservation. Today, almost two years after winning that prize, we should ask the Royal Foundation for its opinion on these recent news, which leave us in a very unfavourable position, not only in relation to the issue of conservation, but also of land planning.

Manuel Antonio

The Minister of Environment and Energy, Franz Tattenbach Capra, insists on increasing the capacity of Manuel Antonio National Park, despite the fact that last May the Sala IV condemned the State for exceeding the allowed capacity. As announced by the minister, the maximum capacity of the park will go from 1120 to 1568 visitors, despite the fact that the Sala IV had requested to justify any increase in capacity through a technical study that guarantees that the conservation of the species of the park would not be threatened by the change. Although the requested technical report was not available, the minister argued that 400 million colones (approximately 750 thousand US dollars) are being invested in improving the park’s infrastructure.

The 329 species of birds, 109 of mammals and 254 of flora do not need these facilities to be happier and at ease. However, it seems that their well-being is negligible compared to the economic benefit that 448 more park tickets per day will bring to the country.

Quick numbers show that turning a blind eye to this issue would mean the country, at best, a daily income of about 3 million colones (5000 US dollars), assuming they were only foreigners during that day. This extra money does not go down badly with the State, but at the expense of what or whom? Definitely our officials are seeing only the immediate benefit, without thinking about the consequences that this measure may have on the ecosystems of the park.


On the other hand, Minister Tattenbach, has given his approval to the proposed Regulatory Plan of  the Coastal Maritime Zone of the district of Cahuita, in Talamanca, despite the fact that there are strong objections from neighborhood organizations. Some  of the objections highlighted by are the following: a very poor, if not non-existent, consultation and socialization process; difficult or even impossible access to documentation by the population; the plan does not address the lack of water in the communities or the lack of proper waste management, as a result of mass tourism, and ignores most of the wetlands present in the area.

The minister does not refer to any of these approaches and reiterates his support for the city council in the process. The head of the Ministry of Environment and Energy (Minae) leads his portfolio in a direction opposite to that expected of that ministry. His statements show that he prefers to have, in the short term, a regulatory plan that allows investment and real estate development, to have a proper territorial ordering and guarantee the protection of conservation areas.

Central Valley

Finally, let’s review the environmental news of July 18th that indicates that Sala IV has given Minae a period of one year to resolve a matter of protection of surface and groundwater that, after 135 years, has not yet been resolved. In 1888, Costa Rica legislated to protect an area of 6870 hectares in the highlands of Heredia and Alajuela, to guarantee the supply of drinking water to the inhabitants of the Central Valley. This area contributes to the recharge of the Barva and Colima aquifers, from which water is supplied to more than 60% of the inhabitants of Heredia, Alajuela and San José.

Since 2008, the Sala IV has demanded action by Minae and the corresponding municipalities to initiate land recovery processes, in addition to the prohibition of providing construction permits. However, the action of the Minae has been limited to the demarcation of the area by means of cairns, which is insufficient and inadequate to satisfy the duty of protection of the waters.

A registration study has not yet been carried out, nor have actions been coordinated to recover the land. It is also unclear that the hydrogeological vulnerability assessments requested by the Sala IV in 2008 have been carried out. Given this situation, there is a risk that the most important aquifers for the Central Valley’s water supply could be contaminated.

Contamination of an aquifer is a complex problem, which can be costly, difficult or even impossible to remedy, depending on the contaminant and the conditions of the aquifer. How much would it cost to distribute water in cisterns for 60% of the inhabitants of the Central Valley? Where would that water come from if major aquifers are contaminated? Where would the state get the money to pay for that? From the ticket office of the national parks, which will be overexploited?

These are some of the questions that arise from news that were published in a single day this month, in relation to the environmental problems that affect the inhabitants and ecosystems of Manuel Antonio, Cahuita and the Central Valley of Costa Rica. Questions that our environment minister is irresponsibly evading, by putting himself in the place of someone who only thinks about a few dollars more.