Day two started with Coral! Tatiana, one of the project managers for the Raising Coral Costa Rica project, took us out to their coral nurseries and explained the whole restoration process that they’d begun in 2016. Not only was she super knowledgeable on reef restoration, she was also super passionate. Her smile lit up whenever people continued to engage the conversation and ask more questions.
Raising Coral was the first project in all of the American Pacific to use underwater nurseries for restoration purposes. When they first started using these different techniques, it wasn’t working. So they ended up taking the time to start integrating this conversation about restoration with the people. This brought the coral reefs back to the table and started developing more of a marine culture that had been lost. Since Costa Rica has ten times more ocean than land this was super important.
So not only was this an environmental process, it was a social and economical one too. They trained local people in open water divers and had a nine day training for coral gardening. Now they employ several local coral gardeners who have become a big part of this restoration process.
One thing that Tatiana made a really good point on was how connected the ocean is with everything you do on land. And that the Golfo Dulce is one of the few places where you will see the forest touching the ocean. So how do we use tools that help us with restoration efforts on land that can also impact the water? Like decreasing erosion and sedimentation. Everything starts on land and finishes in the ocean.
After visiting the Raising Coral project, we hopped over to Playa Esperanza. Playa Esperanza is Lazaro’s, our boat captain, stomping grounds and has been his family home for three generations. Lazaro is one of three families that still owns land by the Piedras Blancas National Park. It is only accessible by boat as there’s no roads leading in, or it’s about a day’s hike from the main road. This means all their supplies are brought in by boat or grown from the land.
Here is where we shared a meal, a delicious array of fried fish, rice, beans, salad, and coconut flan for dessert. The property was filled with enormous fruit trees, some of which I’d never heard of. He showed us the original house that he grew up in and told us how before motorboats, his dad and six brothers would paddle in a sailboat for five hours to get to Puerto Jimènez when there was no wind. Fortunately, the Golfo Dulce is pretty protected from major storms and winds, but Lazaro has had his fair share of difficulties.
We were running pretty behind schedule at this point, a consequence of too many good conversations. So, unfortunately our tour and visit of Ascona wasn’t as long as most of us would have preferred. But, Iffy, the founder of La Nueva Ascona, was able to give us enough information to light a fire in our hearts. She explained the background of Ascona and just how important this organization was, not only for Costa Rica but all of Latin America.
Ascona was formalized in 1972 by a group of students from UCR, the university in San Jose. At this time there was not a huge conversation movement outside of the national park system, especially one that operated within the political system. The organization looked at what the government wanted, while also looking out for the conservation and artistic part. At one point, Ascona had over 5000 members and 12 offices over the country.
Then in 1992, there was a big political uprise due to the construction of a pipeline that connected the Caribbean with the Pacific. Obviously, the concern about drainage and potential leaks into the ground was huge and Ascone was completely against it. At this time, Ascona held enough political influence that their support was very important. Being an open organization, anyone was able to join Ascona and eventually political interest began getting in the way of actual conservation. This caused them to close their doors in 1992.
Iffy is the daughter of the previous president of Ascona and this is how she was connected to the organization. She moved down to the Osa in 2003 in order to get away from the city. The first thing she noticed when she came down was the lack of local organizations, all of the organizations were owned and run by foreigners. So, her mom recommended that she reopen Ascona down south under the name La Nueva Ascona, the New Ascona.
La Nueva Ascona started out with educational programs in the schools. Then transition to a program that supported community based tourism by providing advice and solutions through the UCR and UNA students that would come and volunteer. They would teach people how to use social media, create brochures, drawings, and give ideas to help with these local projects. This conversation brought up the land conflict that’s been a huge issue in the Osa, as most local people don’t have any actual ownership over their land and it can be taken away at any time. This has been going on for over 40 years now.
Another program that they started up was a recycling program, but this also had its challenges. Majority of people don’t know how to recycle, so they ended up having trash all over the place for months until they were able to work with the local municipality. They developed the first art and cultural program in the southern zone of Costa Rica called Peñas Culturales where they host a festival to bring the community together under a specific theme. For example, themes like music, theater, dance, movies, capoeira, and so on.
The last two programs that Iffy was able to tell us about were Monito de Osa, which is a monitoring app for android that allows citizens to monitor wildlife. Then the last program is the community center in the local library. She explained some of the challenges of running the community center as many locals viewed her as a foreigner despite her being from Costa Rica. In order for the space to be received by the locals, she had to remove herself from the face and instead allow a fully local woman to run it. Right now, the center has over 6000 books and is focused on the value of how reading, sharing, learning, painting, and music can help develop a community.
All of their funding is received either by purchasing Ascona merchandise or through donations from some of the surrounding hotels. In order for hotels to maintain a CST (Certificate of Tourism Sustainability) they must support a cultural and art program, which Ascona fits the requirement.
So despite our limited time, Iffy was able to communicate the importance of this organization in the matter of just 15 minutes. We were blown away and also saw how necessary it was for us to continue working with and support this beautiful local art and cultural program.
Local community dinner
The last activity of this day was a community dinner we organized. We invited local people and asked our friend Chiki who has been a local chef for many years to prepare a local special. When our guests arrived, the evening was opened by Sebastian. We had a short presentation of our guests about what brought them here. After the presentation we sat down at different tables and had beautiful table conversations around the opportunities and challenges the community is experiencing, while sharing the meal. Our guests were stoked with their learnings and the the room was vibing from the high level of connection that was made. It was a beautiful gathering of people from different worlds. Sharing and learning from each other about their perspectives and realities while enjoying a local meal prepared with local vegetables. Can you imagine what that looked like? At the end of the evening, we asked everyone to share their most beautiful dream for the Osa while having a seed in their hand. After the dinner these seeds with these dreams were planted in our garden. In this way we grow the dreams into reality like the seeds become the trees. It was a night full of fun, positive energy and mostly connection between people who would’ve otherwise possibly not connected and learned from each other. It appeared to be a night of large impact on both worlds. A night that fertilized the soil and prepared it for many possibilities for collaboration to arise in the future.