“Working with people to protect nature”.
This statement stands at the heart of all Corcovado Foundation’s work for the last 25 years. The Corcovado Foundation’s deep commitment to this credo in action makes us proud to be their partner.
Corcovado Foundation [CF] is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of Costa Rica’s fragile natural ecosystems. And it does so by helping people out of poverty. People will always do whatever they must to protect their families.
Thus, the only truly sustainable approach is systemic: Making sure that people can earn their living from protecting nature.
Currently, the CF team consists of 11 employees, focusing on the following activities:
Cooperating with community organizations, government entities, and other non-profits on solutions for climate change mitigation and for sustainable, balanced, and equitable development across rural areas in Costa Rica.
Promoting environmental education and empowering communities through various types of training and support (targeting especially women and children, and people residing in rural remote communities).
Supporting government entities and local communities in maintaining infrastructure and promoting sustainable tourism development in Costa Rica national parks.
Most programs are multi-tasking. For example, in 2022, CF has been overseeing projects in mangrove restoration, terrestrial reforestation, and national park infrastructure. A key part of all projects is engaging local communities in developing business plans and whatever training is needed to maintain conservation efforts. For example, not only replanting mangroves – but also experimenting with bee hives for unique mangrove honey and above-ground visiting trails to bring tourism to enjoy the mangroves. Not only renovating ranger stations and tourist amenities – but also co-creating management plans with local communities, so they can continue to sustainably run them.
The logic of supporting communities runs through all CF projects. An example of this commitment was when tourism income disappeared during the pandemic – plunging many families back into poverty. CF directed whatever available resources it could find to supporting vulnerable seniors and helping families feed themselves through regenerative agriculture.
A Historical Excursion
CF’s origins and name go back to an almost resistance campaign in 1998, when an unlikely team of gringos and Ticos joined forces against illegal logging surrounding the Osa Peninsula. We provide a brief recap of the full story that is chronicled here (and is definitely worth reading!).
The official entity, registered as “The Corcovado Lon Willing Ramsey Junior Foundation”, was created in 1991 and laid dormant. Back then, Drake Bay had no electricity or roads, and was still a blank spot on the maps of adventure tourism.
Yet the future was beginning to take shape. The beauty of the Corcovado National Park and the waters of Caño Island started catching the attention of travelers from around the world. Small lodges were being carefully built, and families were learning that they could make good living working for them. Hunters were retraining as guides. The “gold rush” of tourism had arrived – with corresponding excesses. The electricity and roads were badly needed for the local economy, yet at what cost and with what oversight?
One morning in 1998, residents of Drake Bay woke up to chainsaws ripping into the flesh of old growth trees. An investigation launched by three existing hotel owners and Costa Rican environmental lawyers discovered that 112 logging permits out of 128 total were obtained fraudulently. With these findings and a lot of persistence, they convinced the Osa environmental department, MINAE, to stop issuing more permits and step up the enforcement. Drake Bay now had electricity and a road to immediately benefit local residents – yet also some oversight to prevent indiscriminate mass logging and accidental destruction of the wildlife cradle and its very source of long-term prosperity.
In 2001, Alejandra Monge became CF’s executive director. Born in San Jose, passionate and capable, she collaborated with the Ministry of Tourism and other experts to design the first version of the Sustainable Tourism Certificate in the mid-90s. Under her leadership, Corcovado Foundation earned the reputation and funding for multiple large and small projects throughout the years. In 2018, the German television network Deutsche Welle named Alejandra as one of the 40 women leaders in Latin America, transforming the region in tireless pursuit of sustainable social development and environmental conservation.
Achievements and Impact
Like many individuals and organizations on the ground, the people of Corcovado Foundation [CF] are trying to do everything they can with very limited resources. Touting your own horn often falls by the wayside. Let us tell you about a small selection of their accomplishments!
National Parks: Infrastructure and Sustainable Tourism
CF has been working with national park officials and local community organizations on maintaining park infrastructure and managing plans for sustainable tourism development. Some of the largest projects included working with La Amistad International Park and managing infrastructure improvements funded by JUDESUR (i.e., the Southern Zone Regional Development Board). Examples include:
Developing 39 architectural designs for infrastructure upgrades in five Protected Wildlife Areas of the Southern Region and arranging their implementation, as part of the JUDESUR funding. Currently, 80-90% of the infrastructure upgrades are on track, expected to be completed by the end of 2022.
For the La Amistad International Park, CF facilitated the creation of General Management Plan in 2019, requiring notable coordination between the Pacific and the Caribbean sectors, as well as with local indigenous communities. In 2018, CF prepared 12 business plans for community rural tourism companies and trained 40 people from the surrounding communities in business administration, accounting, labor code, social networks and other topics related to business development. As well, CF engaged the Colorado State University to train 20 MINAE (environmental agency) employees and 10 members of the communities of the La Amistad Pacifico Conservation Area in the design, construction, and management of trails. Throughout the years, CF continued to assist communities and park management in trail management and repairs as needed.
In 2021, CF became the leading contractor for the mangrove restoration project "Manglares Costa Rica-Benín", where 12 hectares of mangroves forests are being restored, in the Térraba Sierpe and Bahía de Santo Tomas National Wetlands in Cuajiniquil, Guanacaste.
CF sees environmental education as a core program for long-term systemic change. This is why it is one of the longest programs, started in 2003. In practice, CF’s vision for environmental education combines classroom instruction with extracurricular activities. Often, these are the only extracurricular activities available to children in their remote rural communities. Together, children organize beach clean ups and recycling collections, learn about arts and stage their own plays. Through these activities they also learn crucial social, teamwork, and leadership skills: Allowing them to build confidence and find their own voice in their community and beyond.
Specific accomplishments include:
Since 2003, CF worked with local schools to coordinate and provide environmental education to students in the communities of Terraba, Puerto Jiménez, El Tigre, Ballena Bay and Drake Bay; as well as to empower and support local youth in organizing environmental groups to carry out activities in their communities. The number of schools involved has ranged from 6 (due to the Ministry of Education’s 5-month-long general strike in 2018) to 22. The total number of students reached through the environmental education program is 4,500.
In 2017, CF helped to train 137 teachers in the Education Guidelines for Sustainable Development in Terraba and designed a toolkit for environmental education for high schools across the Osa Peninsula. To assist in curriculum delivery, CF makes environmental education manuals available, both electronically and by printing and delivering them to civil society organizations and teachers. Over the years, CF distributed 1,200 such physical manuals.
Socio-Economic Community Development
The Corcovado Foundation has been promoting rural community tourism in the Osa Peninsula since 2009. Some of the projects included:
Training 550 community members in building sustainable tourism and small business initiatives (e.g., handicrafts) in the communities of Drake, Golfito, Puerto Jiménez, Dominical and the Central Pacific.
In 2017, fundraising for and organizing the construction of a pedestrian bridge for the Drake Bay River between Progreso and Drake Bay, so that community and students have safer access to schools and other services.
In 2017 and 2018, CF worked with the Osa Chamber of Tourism and the Single Use Plastic Committee on developing and implementing the Campaign against Single Use Plastics in Osa. As a result, the municipal regulations in Drake Bay now require companies to commit to eliminating single use plastic to obtain their permits; and twenty-six companies in Drake Bay were trained in practical ways to do so.
Sea Turtle Conservation
CF has been working with biologists, conservation officials, and volunteers to protect and relocate sea turtle nests in four beach sites: Progreso, Rincon, Rio Oro and Playa Hermosa – Punta Mala Wildlife Refuge. The specific activities included protecting sea turtle nests from poaching by relocation, releasing baby turtles into sea, and tagging turtles for research. Since 2006, 450 turtles have been tagged; over 10,600 nests have been identified and protected; and more than 113,000 hatchings have been released into the sea.
Additionally, these conservation activities required managing a network of local and international volunteers. Local communities were able to earn income from hosting them. Since 2010, the El Progreso network of Homestays generated more than $90,000 USD for local families who welcomed volunteers into their homes. In total, the program raised over $125,000 in income for the community.