Mention the words “Costa Rica” to someone, and their minds are usually transported to a verdant tropical world, filled with exotic creatures, tree houses, zip lining through the canopies and surrounded by endless miles of beaches. And they would not be wrong in this.
Costa Rica, in many aspects, is a veritable Eden in the America’s. The positive vibes only bolster this image of a green paradise that one gets by being told that Costa Rica is a prime destination for ecotourism. The connotation that surrounds this word is mostly positive. Heck slap “eco” in front of anything and it goes up at least two levels on the karma scale.
Labeling a place as an ecotourism destination means that it is someplace that promotes and maintains the natural beauties and wonders of the land. All business practices would have a little impact on the environment and locals, and tourists alike would educate on the environment. The thought is that a fitting portion of the revenue generated by tourism and sales would go back to the conservation of the land and build infrastructure to prevent foster growth for the local economy and promote cultural exchange.
So high is the mantle of ecotourism that Developing Countries around the world have turned their eye towards ecotourism to bolster tourism revenue figures, attract foreign investors and foster trade. What outsiders and visitors merely view as an act of “care for the environment” is in actuality a significant opportunity to affect income and employment at levels of government. Then there’s the real land itself. Adopting an ecotourism mindset allows a country to protect its land, by refusing further development, disruption, and pollution. It may seem contrary to the previous points since a decrease in growth usually means a reduction in revenue. However, an ecotourism mindset also forces people to think of different ways to generate revenue, and who knows, these may be methods that are more sustainable.
With the protection of nearly half a million acres of land, Costa Rica’s embrace of ecotourism is paying off. This figure doesn’t include the countless streams, tributaries, and rivers within the protected land areas, that by default are also protected. The same can say for the river deltas and miles of beaches. Costa Rica is known worldwide as an ecotourism destination, its jungles, coastline and tropical climate attracts millions of people every year. But is there such a thing as “too much of a good thing” when it comes to ecotourism? Are there repercussions to adopting such an unorthodox way of thinking in this day and age? Sadly, the answer is yes, and with good reason.
On its own, ecotourism seems like a surefire thing. After all, who doesn’t want a revenue generating economy that has the added benefit of keeping the environment clean and preserving the natural beauty of the country? However, as with all things, it seems that there is a delicate balancing act associated to ecotourism. Take exposure, for example. A government will see a natural or human-made site is gaining the attention of tourists. They will then seek to preserve or protect the site from further development, maintaining its status as an attraction. On the one hand, this is a positive because it is ecotourism at work, but many countries fail at regulating the number of visitors to the site. This increased amount of focused exposure will expedite the overall degradation of the site. There is little regarding standardized regulations when it comes to ecotourism, so there isn’t anyone setting down rules and enforcing them.
Ecotourism pretty much praises and promoted across the board within the Costa Rican government, but there is evidence to suggest that other parts of Costa Rica’s infrastructure are neglecting as a result. Since the majority of the country’s GDP relies heavily on the tourism industry, the need to increase the number of visitors to the country is always a priority. But it seems that the country is turning a blind eye when it comes to issues surrounding overcapacity at many of its sites. The number of people visiting is straining, and in some cases breaking, the infrastructure put in place to keep the areas “eco-friendly. ”Seemingly innocuous things like solid waste, water treatment, and sewage are poorly managed and are endangering the very same ecotourism that the government sorely relies on it. Natural and wildlife sites are seeing so much traffic that the amount of vegetation degradation and soil erosion that have occurred are staggering. Pollution and trash at these locations have also increased by the order of magnitude.
Ecotourism is a real thing, a fact that should not be confused. However, the proper infrastructure is created to support and sustain it. Yes, the money generated by the tourism industry will indeed be great, but to ensure that there will be future for businesses and a future for nature, a significant amount of the earnings should reinvest into the infrastructure, and standardized regulations are created and enforced.
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