By Clair-Maríe Robertson
Friday is a big day at Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, the crown jewel of the country's park system.
Not only did officials come to celebrate the park's 37th anniversary, but there was the little matter of the toilets and washrooms. Finally the park has facilities that are not polluting the area.
Attending Friday were Allan Flores, minister of Turismo, Jorge Eduardo Rodríguez Quirós, the minister of Ambiente, and María Luisa Ávila Agüero, the minister of Salud.
Manuel Antonio is Costa Rica's most popular national park and received more than 300,000 visitors in 2009. But its existence has not been without controversy. The health ministry threatened to close the park in January 2009 when high levels of contamination were found on its coastline, this pollution was largely attributed to inadequate facilities for tourists and staff.
A $300,000 donation from the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo has been invested in the construction of toilets and wash rooms with treatment facilities. These steps have been taken to ensure that visitors cause the minimum amount of environmental impact, officials said. The bathrooms have also been built in line with disability legislation and the environmental minister said that a minibus service would be made available for people with disability. In addition a $1 million investment was announced. This is for the construction of a staff building as well as the donation of a small speedboat and additional personnel to provide improved working conditions and enhanced marine protection and security.
With tourism figures to Costa Rica taking a dip, members of the community and local businesses have helped to push for improved facilities to prevent its closure.
“It is clear that we are moving in the right direction. The government promotes nature and sustainable tourism and this is why it is so important that MINAET and ICT continue to invest funds into the national park and encourage the controlled development of rural tourism in Manuel Antonio," said the president of the local chamber of commerce, Richard Lemire.
A resident of Costa Rica for 18 years, Lemire was one of the key local figures who organized emergency meetings with representatives from the various ministries to provide possible solutions and prevent the closure of the park.
As president of the local chamber of commerce, he has encouraged local businesses to participate in cleaning up Quepos and Manuel Antonio. This includes the creation of The Malecón Gardens of Quepos, a series of mosaic decorated seats and flower beds that run along its coastline.
In addition Lemire helped raise funds to challenge the environment ministry in the courts regarding the implementation of Law 8133 which saw the creation of a fidecomiso or trust in 2001. The law was created to ensure that owners of expropriated land would be paid via the funds that were generated from visitors to the park. After 37 years 98 percent of this debt has now been cleared.
Manuel Antonio National Park continues to grow. In 2002 its 537 hectares increased when Playa Rey was added with its 14 kilometers of beach. Today the park has nearly 2,000 acres of land and 55,000 hectares of marine extension. In addition, the park board has identified more than 18,000 hectares to be registered as state property.
Coopealianza has been assigned the task of selling entry tickets to the park. Recognizing the importance of protecting the area as well as the rest of Costa Rica, the trust currently has 2.5 billion colons ready to be used to purchase more land and extend the adjacent biological corridor.
Receiving over $2 million in revenue annually, a plan for Playa Rey is essential to connect Manuel Antonio Park and Playa Rey to the biological corridors of the areas rivers: Naranjo, Savegre and Portalón and to other protected areas such as the Zona Protectora Cerro Nara, Parque Nacional los Quetzales, the Reserva Forestal Los Santos and the central mountain range of the country. It is possible that this project will see the creation of the first Interoceanico corridor. The chamber of commerce is working on a first draft of the Playa Rey Project with the hope that the environmental ministry will help give an adequate budget for its implementation in 2011.
The chamber of commerce now forms part of the board of directors of the national park which is integral to ensuring it protection. For Lemire, the governments continued support is essential for its survival. He explained that although the newly opened facilities are a positive addition to the park, other concerns need to be resolved.
Unlike Parque Nacional Volcán Poás Manuel Antonio does not offer proper parking for its visitors. This has given rise to empty lots being used outside the park where guards are charging from 3,000 to 5,000, no matter the length of stay.