Costa Rican Problems Are Fixable, But It Will Take Integrity

The problems here are more self-inflicted than related to Costa Rica tourism. Attempts have to be made to treat raw sewage, and make tougher pollution controls on vehicle emissions, particularly buses. It should to be considered wrong to litter, since it hurts everyone. Litter is picked up in front of most peoples homes, but farms, both urban and rural along the public roads have ditches full of garbage and litter, that almost never gets picked up. Though an astonishing 28% of Costa Rica is parks, preserves, buffer zones and Indian reserves, more people are required to protect these lands from logging and poaching and to enforce fishing regulations. Greater concern for the whole environment has to be incorporated in all future developments and farming practices.

Better tax collection methods are essential. An aquaintance is the owner of a metal finishing factory with thirty five employees, yet the tax department does not know his factory exists because he exports nearly all of his products. Submitting sales and income tax in Costa Rica is almost on the honor system, the downside of a weakened governmental power base.

Basic welfare is needed to assist the disabled, the elderly, and homeless children. Sound business decisions have to come from leaders who do not bow to unfounded public emotions. Communications should be privatized and forced to compete. Foreign investment needs to be welcomed and bank interest needs to be competitive to encourage borrowing and development. The list is long and difficult, but still possible, poco a poco, through common sense, simple arithmetic, and broadening the tax base. Ticos need to regain that positive democratic egalitarian attitude that got them this far ahead of the rest of Central America in the first place.

In the Central Market of San Jose I was disheartened to see turtle eggs in plastic bags openly for sale, less than $2 per dozen. Ticos swallow them down raw in cantinas in a sweet hot sauce to give them the “strength of lions”. Upon further investigation, the eggs were said to be Lora or Pacific Ridley turtle eggs taken from Playa Ostional on the Nicoya Peninsula, one of the world’s most important sea turtle hatcheries. Though harvesting turtle eggs is illegal in Costa Rica, the controlled sustainable egg harvesting program in Ostional is the exception.

As many as 200,000 turtles storm the beach on mass for a week or more in what is called an arribada, clambering over each other to find a piece of beach to nest, burying an estimated twenty million eggs. So many hatchlings scampering to the sea at the same time ensures their propagation. Local residents came to find the greatest scourge, however, are the turtles themselves, with later waves of arriving turtles inadvertently digging up and destroying the nests of their predecessors, cluttering the beach with smashed eggs and rotting embryos, preventing the development of further embryos because of the ensuing bacteria and fungi. Therefore egg harvesting is only allowed during the first thirty six hours of any arribada where many of the hatchlings would never have survived anyway.

After this period the beaches are diligently guarded from poachers and animals. Numbers of turtles arriving are increasing every year proving the controlled harvesting is more than sustainable. Eggs are placed in pre-stamped bags with a government seal, and distributed throughout the country. Proceeds are given back to the community of Ostional, the Ministry of Agriculture, the egg collectors, biologists, and the Sea Turtle Project. In 1992 a report stated that the cheaper Lora eggs from Ostional have 94% of the Costa Rican market.

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