Global Inspiration in Costa Rica: INBio

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    [captionpix imgsrc=”” align=”left”]“Costa Rica,” said Dr. Rodrigo Gamez Lobo, longtime President of INBio (National Biodiversity Institute) “is complex enough to be interesting, and small enough to be manageable.” Thanks to modern technology, I had a tremendously informative conversation with Dr. Gamez between his office in Costa Rica and my home in California.

    Costa Rica is one of the most ecologically diverse lands on earth. It’s a country that has gone from extensive deforestation into the 1980’s, to a tremendous recovery of nature, with 27% of land presently placed in national parks. Could Costa Rica be a model and provide leadership for right relationship with nature, and the intelligent management of the earth’s resources?

    “How and whether Costa Rica could be perceived in a vital way as a social inspiration for other nations is a difficult question,” replied Dr. Gamez. “Human beings first have to see the magnitude of our dependence on biodiversity; when people do, they naturally do more to conserve and preserve it.”

    That’s clear, but given that Costa Rica is moving in the right direction, while most of the developed and developing world is not, what can be done?

    “We have to strengthen the many values of biodiversity, and help create more conscience in people for nature. If people come to love and understand biodiversity, they will have a clear mission together, a mission transcendental.”

    INBio is probably the most prestigious and respected environmental center in Central America. Conceived by its founders, including Dr. Gamez, almost 25 years ago, it was first envisioned as a fully supported department of the Costa Rican government. But the government could not support such a vision and mission at the time, and INBio has had to stand on its own, finding funding from various sources and engaging in a wide range of activities.

    INBio has “a collection of more than 3 million specimens of arthropods, plants, fungi and mollusks, each one duly identified and catalogued, INBio also generates information on the country’s different ecosystems.” The institute also works closely with the Costa Rican government on a consultancy and even contractual basis, assessing environmental partnership proposals from other nations for example.

    Conservation is obviously at the heart of INBio’s mission, and it “works closely with the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC), as a strategic partner in the conservation of the country’s protected areas.”

    But there’s also a “bio-prospecting” component in the institute, which “seeks sustainable uses and the commercial application of biodiversity resources…for the pharmaceutical, medical, biotechnology, cosmetics, food and agricultural industries.”

    In addition, INBio has a strong educational component, including a focus on teaching children, with the aim of “strengthening the environmental actions and decisions of the Costa Rican people.”

    Toward that goal, the institute has built “INBioparque,” which has been visited by 20% of the Costa Rican population. As the New York Times reported in a review of INBio’s park, “visitors can tour two large pavilions explaining Costa Rica’s biodiversity and natural wonders, and hike on trails that re-create the ecosystems of a tropical rainforest, dry forest, and premontane forest.”

    Returning to my interview, I asked: Clearly Costa Rica seems to be the world’s leader in the protection of forests. What other ecological niches need urgent attention?

    “We have a long way to go with regard to fisheries and maritime protections,” Dr. Gamez replied. “Costa Rica has ten times more marine territory than land, and only 5-7% of it is preserved and protected. There’s a lot of illegal fishing, such as people coming from other parts of the world to kill sharks for their fins. So we can do a lot in this area.”

    [captionpix imgsrc=”” align=”right”]Anything else?

    “With respect to protecting lands for biodiversity, we’re doing well. Farming and land use practices are improving, but need more work. Land degradation, silting, erosion, and pesticides are real dangers, but there are hopeful signs, such as the organic farming industry. And we seem to be doing poorly in the urban areas. For example, garbage disposal is still poorly done.”

    How do you see Costa Rica’s experiment in ecological values and preservation in light of man’s destructiveness of lands, oceans, and air?

    “You could see it as following the example of the Wright Brothers when they first tested their flying machine. They chose the right place with the right conditions for their first flight; they didn’t conduct it in the mountains or on a stormy day. Many things have to be tested, and in a way that is what we have been doing in Costa Rica.”

    That’s well put, but the trend in the United States has been in the other direction. Just last night I listened to an interview with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Director, Lisa Jackson, in which she said that the Republicans are making no bones about dismantling the EPA, and gutting its achievements such as the Clean Air Act, because to a man, and woman, they say the EPA’s regulations destroys jobs.

    Dr. Gamez responded, “Costa Rica is a country that has made a major investment in biodiversity conservation already. To achieve biodiversity preservation is a matter of understanding the idiosyncrasies of the people, and seeing how we can communicate with them.”

    We’re failing at that presently in the United States.

    “It is very important that there be a clear mission. Costa Ricans are very proud of the fact that now 27% of our land has been placed into national parks. This process is very much valued and appreciated by the people, and Costa Ricans are now very much aware of the importance of biodiversity.”

    Martin LeFevre for

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