By Kearston Winrow
PLAYA POTRERO, Costa Rica — Streets that used to be gravel are now paved with vehicles bumper-to-bumper trying to come into town. Front porches of houses have been traded in for bars and local surf shops, and tourists walk around with cool beverages in their hands, screaming “Pura Vida!”
Today, Tamarindo Beach is just one example of how tourism has become one of the country’s fastest growing economic sectors, bringing in around $1.7 million in revue each week, according to Estado de la Nación.
The transformation comes with negative environmental impacts such as building resorts and hotels on top of a mangroves while displacing wildlife and killing trees.
Forty kilometers down the coast, in an effort save the environment from big tourism in Playa Potrero, Marie-Cécile Béal and her husband, James Siu Arriola, founded the Instituto de Oceanologia de Costa Rica in April 2012. In February 2013, the institute began its operations.
The institute aims to take action to conserve biodiversity in Costa Rican costal and marine ecosystems.
Béal said their mission is to protect their environment.
“Tamarindo is lost already, so we want to save this part of the coast,” she said.
The institutes’ members use the term “oceanology” to describe their efforts on the coast.
“Oceanology is a set of science, but we focus on the practical application because that is what is missing here,” Béal said.
The missing parts that the institute tries to implement are environmental protection, education and conservation.
Environmental protection includes beach clean-ups, hiking trials and reforestation. Volunteers from all over come in to help paint signs that are posted on the beach and to plant trees to help offset deforestation.
The institute also aims to educate local residents about the coast.
Béal said education in the community is very poor.
“The culture of the ocean has been lost,” she said.
To help residents gain knowledge of the ocean, the institute hosts workshops, teaches local high school classes on the beach and trains guides about nature.
Scientific research, legal action and community campaigns also play important roles in the institute’s conservation initiative.
The institute isn’t against tourism, Béal said; they just want tourism that leaves a positive impact.
They would like to see tourists “touring the country but giving something to the community,” she said.