Playa Azul, the “blue beach” connecting to the mouth of the Tarcoles River in Costa Rica, has become victim of all things filthy: plastic water bottles, deflated soccer balls, fractured fine china, little girl’s shoes and just about every household item you could think of throwing in the garbage. If it can fit in a plastic trash bag, it can be found washed up on the blue beach. These shores were once covered in blue sand, giving the beach its name, but illegal dumping and poor infrastructure in the Costa Rican capital have stripped the beach of its magical luster. Often found among the commodities dumped in the ocean water are marine organisms drowning in slime, which makes one wonder what they did to deserve this destruction of their home.

Seeing the beach for the first time myself, the colloquial phrase “Pura Vida” meaning “Pure Life” became misconstrued for a moment, and I speculated how a country so proud of their ingrained relationship with the environment could let their beach succumb to an ecosystem massacre. Costa Rican culture is immensely filled with environmental treasures, so why was the trash overlooked and left to rot on the beaches?

As my rubber boots sunk into the slime when the trash tide rolled in, it was clear to me Costa Rica could not go on like this. Our professor presented to us the challenges of wastewater treatment in the small nation, including lack of treatment facilities and inequality of clean water supply, despite it being a human right in Costa Rica. Our rivers, oceans, and groundwater are interconnected, and water pollution is an ongoing plight affecting many Latin American countries rich in biodiversity.

Sometimes you don’t realize what you have until it washes up on the shore of a once beautiful landscape. An ordinary cleanup crew wasn’t going to fix this mess either; major institutional reformation will be necessary to prevent another catastrophe like this. Although I know it won’t happen overnight, I would like nothing more than for the blue beach’s identity to be restored.

→ Sustainable Development Studies in Costa Rica