The main socio-economic activity in Costa Rica is eco-tourism, followed by agricultural exports of coffee and bananas to markets in North America and Europe.
Costa Rica is known worldwide as promoting conservation and sustainable use of natural resources. Every year millions of tourists visit the country for its natural beauty, its beaches, its biodiversity and protected areas. In 2009, tourist arrivals meant an income of 950 000 million per country. Much of this money comes from tourist 168 Protected Wild Areas in the country.
Manuel Antonio National Park , Poas and Irazu Volcano are protected areas that receive greater visitation and therefore more income for tickets . However, this money is not in protected areas but goes into state coffers . Costa Rica being a country developing , this money should be distributed in the various needs and projects of social education , housing, health and road infrastructure the country has . So the remittances on account of environment and improvements to Protected Areas is greatly reduced.
This limitation of economic resources makes the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC ) of Costa Rica does not have the budget necessary or appropriate to hire the staff necessary to protect the National Parks, Wildlife Refuges , Reserves , etc., plus that prevents development and infrastructure improvements are made to strengthen the system . It is from here that is born volunteering as a means to fill that lack of personnel to work for the protection and maintenance. The volunteer fills that space is needed personnel. The assistance regarding Voluntary work is very valuable , so the volunteers are unconditional support needed to develop many jobs that are needed and that if it were not that wa , does not take place.
Why are volunteers necessary in protected areas?
Creating awareness about the importance of preserving natural resources for our future generations is important, but it is just the beginning of the solution. Once we educate a group of people who are conscious of these problems, what should we do with them?
Its very common for us to visit a community, and the inhabitants tell us they want to help to protect their environment, and ask what they can do to achieve this. Cooperation with National Parks and protected areas is one answer we can give them on the spot – and in this way, our program gives people the option to be able to do this. Therefore volunteering is not about the quantity of official workers required in a protected areas to ensure its operation, nor is it about the individual needs of a National Park, it is not about cheap or free labor. It represents a collective awareness, from each individual volunteer, that manifests itself in positive , concrete actions.
Why is it important to maintain and improve?
Volunteering in these areas has 4 different aspects relative to transforming not just the system of National Parks, but of the country in general:
- It is necessary:
Costa Rica is going through many changes in which the internal structure of the state is being reduced, and diminishing its operational capacity. This means that National Parks are not exempt from this process, and have been affected by the reduction of qualified Park Rangers. This means that it is becoming more and more important for the participation of citizens in projects that have been excluded from government care.
- It is an activity that creates social awareness:
It is interesting to note that there is a growing wave of consciousness amongst the Costa Rican population regarding the preservation of their heritage. So apart from facilitating an option where citizens can collaborate, this program creates a special direct bond between themselves, and the truth about protected areas – which maybe would be very difficult for them to achieve in other circumstances. This bond propagates a sense of respect and loyalty and converts the participant into a potential conservationist and protector of resources. This is how our program becomes an effective and practical tool for environmental education.
- It’s productive:
In spite of its limitations, ASVO has made a valiant effort to continue to develop the program. This effort produces an important input, through the projects and programs, to the service of protected areas.
One example of this, is that annually around 1800 people invest their time in environmental education, protection; visitors centers; surveillance operations, maintenance, design and construction of infrastructures, trails and viewpoints, amongst other activities that directly benefit MINAET and SINAC. The work provided by ASVO volunteers amounts to approximately 20 thousand hours of labor – producing a significant saving to the Costa Rican state.
- It's profitable:
If the Ministry of Environment (MINAET) had to cover the cost of such important labor over the same amount of time, their outgoings would be close to $350,000. This would be possible with an annual investment of 35 million colones – the approximate cost of running the central office. This means that the program, in financial terms, has a profitability of 80%.