Issue of May, 05, 2002
  de uso

New Park Shows Off the Wonders of the Sea
By Néfer Muñoz

The natural wealth of Cocos Island was made famous by the late French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, and is now one of the main attractions of a new Costa Rican sea park.

SAN JOSE, (Tierramérica).- The Marine Park of the Pacific, inaugurated by the Costa Rican government in recent weeks, will promote scientific research and serve as a vital hub for ecological tourism in Latin America.

Located at the western port of Puntarenas, it is the main nature park on the Costa Rican Pacific coast, 130 km from San José and was designed to attract marine-life enthusiasts, tourists, researchers and students.

"The idea is that Costa Rica should be seen by the world not only as a 'green' country but also as a 'blue' country," said Vice-President Elizabeth Odio, who has been the driving force behind the initiative and is a noted international jurist.

The first phase of the project was launched Apr 26, and covers a three-hectare area along the Puntarenas coast. The three-phase initiative will have a final cost of more than 4.8 million dollars.

"On the one hand, we educate visitors about conservation and, on the other, we are promoting the economic reactivation of Puntarenas," said Odio, a native of this city in which poverty is on the rise.

The park has been designed in harmony with the natural attractions it highlights, and visitors can observe the local flora and fauna in several aquariums, 28 large fish tanks and a series of educational modules.

The complex also offers informational videos and exhibits, interactive computer programs, biology laboratories and special ecological games for children.

The main aquarium, with a volume of 90 cubic meters, is home to the variety of species representing the biological wealth of the southwestern Cocos Island, a tropical paradise that has been declared a Natural Heritage of Humanity Site by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

This enormous tank is one of the park's greatest attractions because it is a display of the island's extensive biodiversity, which gained international fame thanks to the films made by the late French scientist Jacques Cousteau.

With just 51,100 square km, Costa Rica holds a relatively high five percent of the Earth's biodiversity. Politicians, scientists, business leaders and civil society groups alike insist that the country should take advantage of this wealth - but in a sustainable way.

With this in mind, the Marine Park of the Pacific is intended to serve as a research and education center and to provide alternative sources of revenues for the communities in the surrounding area.

To promote a transformation of the local marine-based industry, for example, there are tanks for raising fish and crustaceans that are also available to the public.

This department of the park will provide training for the local fishing communities so that they do not depend exclusively on open-sea captures, which can suffer great variations in the volume of fish brought in, and to explore alternatives like fish farming.

The park has been designed for school-age children, foreign tourists and researchers to make the most of the local biodiversity in fomenting knowledge while preserving nature.

"The park also includes a special recycling program, taking advantage of the mollusk cartilage," Juana María Coto, president of the Marine Park of the Pacific Foundation, told Tierramérica.

The fisherfolk have long thrown out the shells and cartilage of shrimp, for example, on the beach or into the sea, creating a great deal of pollution, she said.

The park provides an area for collecting this material, which will be processed to extract a substance known as chitine, a much sought-after product by international pharmaceutical corporations and used in making medications, cosmetics and natural products for organic farming.

"The benefit is two-fold: we are preventing pollution and teaching people to sell a new set of products," Coto said.

The park is jointly managed by the Environment Ministry, the state-run National Learning Institute and the National University, and the non-governmental National Biodiversity Institute (INBIO).

INBIO, a non-profit organization consisting of biologists, geologists, historians and environmental specialists, has become a world leader in developing knowledge about biological diversity.

These institutions seek to make the Marine Park of the Pacific into a top marine research center on the international level.

Most of the staff working at the park are women who belong to local community development organizations and have received training in business administration, ecology and English.

Located 200 meters from the Puntarenas pier, the park administrators hope to attract the hundreds of tourists who travel in the cruise ships along Costa Rica's beautiful Pacific coast.

* Néfer Muñoz is an IPS correspondent.

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