Costa Rica – Literature Review and Social Issues

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  • Christian Birkel (University of Costa Rica)
  • Ingo Wehrtmann (University of Costa Rica)
  • Tayler Clarke (University of Costa Rica)
  • Astrid Sánchez (University of Costa Rica)

Costa Rica is known as a peaceful nation. As stated in Hakai magazine[1], since after a civil war in 1948, the country was doing well with tourism, protecting its biodiversity and investing in renewable energy. Costa Rica has also been an active member of the United Nations and strives to protect its biodiversity, human rights and democracy[2].

However, due to fisheries mis-management, problems related to the fishing industry have arisen in recent years especially in the Gulf of Nicoya. Foreign vessels such as purse seiners have been casting nets, some up to two kilometers long in length, that capture entire schools of fish (according to Hakai magazine). This depletes fish availability for local fishermen, of which their numbers have grown in recent years to 11,000[3],[4]

One first-hand account recalls the impact on local fishermen, “Umaña tallied the proceeds from his day’s work: about $40 worth of fish. After paying for ice and gas, he was left with $20 for a day of work that netted 13.5 kilograms of fish. Yet in the picture in front of him, the poachers stood with their haul: 1,000 kilograms of corvina.” This quote from Hakai explains how illegal poaching is impacting the local fishermen and their ability to survive.

Unfortunately, this devastating outlook has led some local fishermen to turn to the illegal drug trade as a means of earning money. As explained in Hakai magazine, “years of overfishing have wreaked havoc with the economy in the coastal city of Puntarenas. Drug cartels are now exploiting the situation, leading to a surge in homicides.” According to Jose Rodolfo Mora (the former federal prosecutor for organized crime in the city of Puntarenas), the increase in drug trafficking comes hand-in-hand with poverty and unemployment.

Another aspect of this complex web of factors, is the downstream effects from early Spanish colonization in this and surrounding areas. One book that narrates a story surrounding these impacts in the Florida coastal area, is Moore’s Account by Laila Lalami[5]. This book also explores the impact on the original Indigenous populations, in at least the Florida area (north of Costa Rica, but within the vicinity and shares a connected body of water).

Solving FCB researchers are currently studying how social issues such as poverty and unemployment are impacting the ocean environment, using the Gulf of Nicoya as an example[6]. Researchers such as postdoctoral researcher Astrid Sánchez, plan to address these issues and others by exploring how social issues are related to fisheries management in Costa Rica.

In summary, there are a plethora of issues coming together such as poverty, unemployment, depleting fish stocks, water pollution and climate change. Climate change is acting to exacerbate these social issues and the lack of fisheries management already present, that have caused overfishing. These factors make the situation on the ground even more complex and thereby harder to disentangle the overall effects of climate change.