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Costa Rica
Project Stage:
$1,000 - $10,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Fishermen in Costa Rica have the most to lose when the coastal ecosystem is compromised, yet they are often the ones who cause the most damage. Instead of focusing narrowly on this quagmire, Omar Rodríguez has stepped back and found that the most effective protectors of coastal ecosystems are actually engaged teachers and students.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

"Although Costa Rica literally means “rich coast,” the government and citizens of Costa Rica have historically turned their backs on their coastal environments. Despite Costa Rica’s long Pacific and Caribbean coastlines, 80 percent of its people live and focus their attention on inland areas. Government investment and education have focused on the protection of the country’s forests and parks, and those policies are now considered benchmarks for progressive environmental practices around the world. Nearly 27 percent of Costa Rica’s inland areas are officially protected in adherence with international agreements; meanwhile, Costa Rica has ignored its deteriorating coastline. For example, only 1 percent of Costa Rica’s marine areas are formally protected, and 80 percent of its fish have died or disappeared in recent decades. Turtles have completely disappeared, and the dolphin population has been reduced by 50 percent with the remaining dolphins having dangerously high levels of chemicals in their bodies. The coral reef, one of the largest in Central America, is also dying despite major government investment 20 years ago when the effort was championed by leading technical experts and won major prizes for its sophisticated technical approach. That flagship project and a recent study showing that the coral reef is in a terminal stage have proven that traditional technical approaches to marine protection have failed. Although part of the problem is that the pollution and destruction of the seas is underwater and, therefore, not a daily eyesore, other reasons account for the neglect. Coastal community members and fishermen have ignored warnings and continued to pollute the seas through fishing practices that have led to dramatic declines in marine life. Having technical experts exhort the community to protect the seas and explain the effect of their destructive practices did not change behavior. The experts said they tried but added, “It is easier to work with the dolphins than with the community.” While experts have continued to study and analyze the problems, no new solutions have appeared in the past 20 years, and Costa Rica’s marine life has continued to deteriorate."

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

As a marine biologist involved in earlier government projects to save the seas, Omar saw the missing ingredient needed to improve the deteriorating marine environment: The involvement of coastal community members. He identified local school teachers as a logical means to educate the community and to promote good practices, both on land and in the sea. He translated the complicated technical description of the problems into practical, common-sense explanations that he explained to primary school teachers in coastal towns. The teachers incorporated the material into their curricula, such as using seashells to teach math lessons; began to read to their students about the sea; and introduced class projects about marine life. As teachers became more committed and children more engaged, they all gradually became important new actors in their communities by promoting healthier practices and by creating dialogue with their families and local fishermen. Omar holds festivals in the communities to celebrate the best student projects and teaching techniques, which broadens and deepens the community's recognition and understanding of the issue and spreads his ideas to neighboring communities. Government officials noticed the groundswell of local support and began to sponsor the innovative school and community programs. In response, enthusiasm has grown and communities have begun to clean their beaches, implement more sanitary practices to reduce seawater contamination, respect fishing regulations, and mitigate the harvest of undersized clams. Over time, many ecosystems in the Gulf of Nicoya showed signs of improvement. By empowering the local community members and fishermen to serve as protectors of the environment, Omar has proven that community involvement is a critical component in reversing marine life degradation. Furthermore, Omar has planted the seeds necessary to spread this approach throughout Costa Rica and to 10 other nations within the Americas.