Tarcoles River: Facing the Realities of Waste Management in Costa Rica

Posted: October 24, 2016

This semester, the Sustainable Development students have had the pleasure of exploring some of the many beautiful National Parks and Reserves in Costa Rica. There, they have received Tropical Ecology lectures, conducted field experiments, and discussed effective conservation methods across many different biodiverse ecosystems. Although Costa Rica has been celebrated for preserving this biodiversity (with 25% of its land protected including all remaining primary forests), it still looks like a developing country in regards to waste management. Recently we visited the Tarcoles River, one of the most polluted waterways in Central America, to show that despite its biodiversity and conservation successes, Costa Rica still faces the major environmental challenges that come with development.

In the morning we toured the Tarcoles River by boat, spotted many local birds and crocodiles, and received a river and mangrove ecology lecture on the roots of the mangrove trees.

Later, we arrived in the coastal village of La Garita, which sits at the mouth of the Tarcoles River. Much of the solid and liquid waste from the heavily populated Central Valley makes its way into the river and eventually washes out onto the beaches of this community. Upon arrival, we were greeted by the scene of a beautiful beach completely covered in plastic waste; polluted water and empty hotels dotting the shoreline. Students had a Natural Resource Management class against this backdrop, discussing the social, environmental, and political issues surrounding this problem. Students considered effects on the local community, national waste management law, and different integrated policy approaches to address this complex issue. Overall, it was an eye opening experience and great exercise in considering the global and local importance of waste management strategies in developing countries.

→ Sustainable Development Studies in Costa Rica