Costa Rica has several stunning parks and reserves that are considered national treasures, containing superlative phenomena that are members of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserves and World Heritage Sites
UNESCO, through its Ecological Sciences and World Heritage Program has recognized the following protected areas of exceptional beauty, with natural habitats of biological diversity.
Within these parks and reserves there are on-going ecological and biological processes for the evolution and development of plant and animal ecosystems. Additionally, these sites contribute to the world’s transition to green societies by promoting sustainable tourism and creating eco-jobs.
Costa Rica’s newest member of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves is the Savegre River Watershed, which is located on the Central Pacific slope of the Talamanca Mountain Range. The Savegre covers approximately 590 square kilometers and consists of steep mountain slopes where the Savegre and Division rivers merge.
An estimated 3,800 people live in 35 different communities, primarily along the banks of the two rivers, where the population density is low, due to the rugged terrain. In the higher elevations, the residents have fruit orchards, trout farms, and ecotourism businesses. Those who live in the central portion grow coffee, vegetables and fruit. In the communities at lower elevations, the residents make a living from the cultivation of palm oil, cattle farms, and ecotourism activities.
In the higher elevations, the residents have fruit orchards, trout farms, and ecotourism businesses. Those who live in the central portion grow coffee, vegetables, and fruit and in the communities at lower elevations, the residents make a living from the cultivation of palm oil, cattle, and ecotourism activities.
The Savegre River Watershed is the only remaining intact biological corridor in all of Central America that connects the Pacific Ocean to the Talamanca Central American Mountain Range.
This incredible altitudinal variation combined with a relatively intact ecosystem means that the variety of habitats and species is enormous. The Savegre contains about 20% of all plant species recorded in Costa Rica and is home to more endemic species than any other area of Costa Rica.
Ecosystems of the Savegre are abundant and 62% of the watershed is dense forest. Because of this, the Savegre Watershed is the only remaining intact biological corridor in all of Central America that connects the Pacific Ocean to the Central American Mountain Range (Talamanca).
The Savegre River Watershed is one of the best-preserved areas in Costa Rica, where the residents live in harmony with nature, and during recent years ecotourism has increased and become a sustainable source of socio-economic growth in the region.
The Cocos Island National Park is located 550 kilometers off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica and is the only island in the eastern Pacific containing a tropical rainforest.
It’s position as the first point of contact with the northern equatorial counter-current and the myriad of interactions between the island and the surrounding marine ecosystem make the area an ideal laboratory for the study of biological processes. The underwater world of this national park has become famous due to the attraction it holds for divers, who rate it as one of the best places in the world to view large pelagic species such as sharks, rays, tuna, and dolphins.
The species listed below, are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and they thrive in the waters around Cocos Island: bigeye thresher shark, brown noddy, blue whale, green turtle, Cocos cuckoo, hawksbill turtle, greater frigatebird, common white tern, Olive Ridley turtle, humpback whale, Cocos flycatcher, Wilson’s storm-petrel, Galápagos batfish, waved albatross, Cocos finch, whale shark, scalloped hammerhead shark, brown booby, common bottlenose dolphin, Californian sea lion.
The La Amistad National Park extends along the border between Panama and Costa Rica and contains 570,045 hectares, of which 221,000 hectares are on the Panamanian side. Tropical rainforests cover most of the area and four different Indian tribes inhabit this area. The Talamanca Mountains located within this park contain one of the major remaining blocks of natural forest in Central America.
There is no other protected area in Central America containing a comparable altitudinal variation, with some peaks exceeding 3,000 meters above mean sea level including Cerro Chirripo, the highest elevation in Costa Rica and all of southern Central America. The beautiful and rugged mountain landscape is home to plants and animals of extraordinary biological and cultural diversity in a wide range of ecosystems.
The park is home to several animals that are on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, including Geoffroy’s spider monkey, bare-necked umbrella bird, giant anteater, splendid poison frog, jaguar, resplendent quetzal, three-wattled bellbird, and the yellow-green finch.
The Area de Conservación Guanacaste was inscribed in 1999 and consists of 147,000 hectares of land and sea in the northwest corner of Costa Rica. It encompasses several protected areas of various categories, containing important natural habitats for the conservation of biological diversity, including the best dry forest habitats from Central America to northern Mexico and key habitats for endangered or rare plant and animal species. Additionally, the park has significant ecological processes in both its terrestrial and marine-coastal environments.
There are 7,000 plant species and more than 900 vertebrate species. Some notable mammals include the endangered Central American tapir, at least 40 species of bats, numerous primate species and several felids, namely jaguar, margay, jaguarondi, and ocelot. Among some 500 bird species are the endangered mangrove hummingbird and great green macaw, as well as the vulnerable military macaw and great curassow.
The diversity of reptiles and amphibians is also high with the vulnerable American crocodile and spectacled caiman. Several species of sea turtles thrive in this park, with a nesting population of the critically endangered leatherback and a massive breeding population of the vulnerable Olive Ridley. Invertebrate diversity is extraordinary with an estimated 20,000 species of beetles, 13,000 species of ants, bees and wasps and 8,000 species of butterflies and moths.
The species listed below are on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and thrive in the Area of Conservación Guanacaste. mantled howler monkey, blue-winged teal, military macaw, Geoffroy’s spider monkey, white-throated capuchin, green turtle, great curassow, American crocodile, leatherback turtle,
The Cordillera Volcánica Central protected reserve is located in the central highlands, about 60 km northwest of the city of San José. The Cordillera Volcánica Central Reserve is one of the richest in both natural resources and cultural heritage. On its long axis, there are several volcanic cones with their still well-formed craters. It comprises four National Parks, such as the Poás and Irazú Volcano, each rising over 3,000 meters above sea level, and both still active. The park also encompasses two forest reserves, six protected zones, and a national monument. Significant variation in its physical characteristics has fostered a very rich biological diversity evidenced by life zones ranging from wet and rain tropical forests to neotropical vegetation. Currently, only small patches of vegetation remain in the volcanic peak zone, generally in the riverbeds. Here it is possible to distinguish several oak species and other trees such as Dogwoods and Magnolias. The topography is very steep and broken with many streams, waterfalls and several lakes. Premontane rainforest, tropical humid forest, lower montane rainforest and montane rainforest are the reserve’s major land cover types.
Over 300,000 inhabitants live in land reform settlements surrounding La Selva Biological Station, engaged mainly in agriculture (coffee, cardamom, beans, manioc, maize, and black pepper) and animal husbandry. Management and economic strategies have been implemented in the protected areas, such as forestry activities with emphasis in forest resource management and agro-forestry systems.
A number of studies have been carried out, particularly in volcanology and geomorphology, with some work on flora and fauna.
The Agua y Paz Biosphere Reserve is characterized by mountain ranges and plains. In the mountainous zones are the volcanoes Miravalles, Tenorio, Arenal, Chato and Platanar and in the plains areas there are lakes, flooded forests and swamps, some of which are Ramsar sites, such as Lake Caño Negro.
The reserve is comprised of eight core zones that are protected wildlife areas legally constituted in the country and that are administered through the National System of Conservation Areas, SINAC. This agency divides the country into 11 conservation areas, of which three are included in the Agua y Paz Biosphere Reserve, these areas are the Arenal Huetar Norte Conservation Area (ACAHN), the conservation area of the Arenal-Tempisque Biosphere Reserve (ACAT), and Cordillera Central Volcanic Conservation area (ACCVC).
The estimated population in the territory covered by this biosphere reserve is 299,350 people. representing about 7% of the total population in Costa Rica. Of this population, the vast majority are considered a rural population.
The La Amistad Biosphere Reserve lies in the foothills and mountains of the Cordillera de Talamanca and contains 584,592 hectares of the wildest non-volcanic mountain range in Central America. Eight life zones occur in the park, including; lowland tropical wet rainforest as well as cloud forests, which are the ecosystems of the regions above the continuous forest line. Most of the main crest lies within the montane rainforest life zone, characterized by mixed oak forest, the largest tracts of virgin forest in Costa Rica. On high peaks along the ridge, over 3,000 meters above sea level, there are swamps and cold marshes with frequent stands of neotropical vegetation, including; giant rosette plants, shrubs, and grasses. The ecosystem on Mt. Kamuk contains the richest and most variated vegetation in Costa Rica. There are several Indian reservations in this area with about 24,950 people maintaining their traditional lifestyles of free-range grazing, hunting, fishing and use of medicinal plants. Within this reserve, various species of animals thrive, including; tapirs, pumas, ocelots, jaguars, Central American squirrel monkeys, and the Geoffroy’s spider. This site forms part of La Amistad International Park.
All of these protected sites combine conservation with sustainable use of resources and aim to achieve integrated management of land, fresh and marine waters and living resources by including joint international planning based on integrating conservation between governments and private resources.
The writer, Tom Rosenberger has lived and worked in Costa Rica since 1993 and from his travels throughout the country inspecting property he has acquired a wealth of knowledge about living in Costa Rica.
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