Strengthening St. Croix – Costa Rica Connections

National Park Service team visits sister parks to build international conservation collaboration.




3 minute read

Ted Gostomski is a Science Writer/Biologist with the Great Lakes Inventory and Monitoring Network.

The National Park Service team in Costa Rica
The National Park Service team in Costa Rica

In 2013, thirteen parks in the upper Midwest plus the Great Lakes Inventory and Monitoring Network formed a Sister Park relationship with seven parks and protected areas in Costa Rica’s Osa Conservation Region (ACOSA). One year later, after a visit to the U.S. by ACOSA biologist, Guido Saborio, SINAC Executive Director Rafael Gutiérrez Rojas requested technical assistance from the NPS in the areas of inventory and monitoring, science education and outreach, and interpretive media. To that end, a five-member team from the U.S. National Park Service traveled to Costa Rica to meet with park officials and managers, discuss issues faced by both agencies, and to exchange technical information on monitoring natural resources and interpreting natural and cultural features in protected areas.

Collaboration between the United States and Costa Rica to protect the environment dates back to the 1960s when two students––Alvaro Ugalde and Mario Boza––travelled to the U.S. to work with and study the U.S. National Park Service. Ugalde and Boza were so inspired by the U.S. national parks that they returned to Costa Rica to develop one of the most famous park systems in the world––the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC). In August 2012, NPS Director Jon Jarvis and SINAC Executive Director Rafael Gutiérrez Rojas, signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the U.S. and Costa Rica to work together to protect the environment. One of the first tangible products of the MOU was this Sister Park arrangement. There are currently 49 Sister Park relationships with 20 countries involving 50 U.S. national parks. This relationship with Costa Rica is the first to include multiple units in both countries and a non-park participant (the Great Lakes I&M Network).

The five-person team spent 11 days in late July meeting researchers and park officials in San José, then touring parks and meeting managers and collaborators on the Osa Peninsula on the country’s southern Pacific coast. Jonathan Moore, Community Outreach and Partnership Coordinator at St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, served as the liaison for the team, coordinating all activities with the Costa Rican park officials. Bill Route, Program Manager/Ecologist with the Great Lakes Inventory and Monitoring Network, served as team leader and gave presentations on the NPS’ successful implementation of the Vital Signs monitoring program. Jean Van Tatenhove, Visual Information Specialist at St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, and Margie Ortiz, Interpretive Lead Specialist with the Office of Interpretation, Education, and Volunteers in Washington, D.C., gave presentations and shared expertise on communications, outreach, volunteerism, and reaching key audiences through education and interpretive media. Ted Gostomski, Science Writer/Biologist with the Great Lakes Inventory and Monitoring Network, shared his expertise in science communication and monitoring of migratory birds.

Among the trip highlights were:

  • The enthusiasm, devotion, and professionalism of SINAC’s employees and the many partners with whom they work including INBio, Osa Conservation, the University of Costa Rica, Osa Birds, and Cedes Don Bosco School. Everyone was generous with their time and hospitality, and they helped us to understand their issues and to explore common problems shared by the two countries.
  • The emphasis on fostering economic sustainability for communities located adjacent to and within the protected areas, and on education of the next generation of conservation stewards. These were themes that were repeated throughout meetings and informal discussions with government representatives, partners, and local people.
  • A visit to Cedes Don Bosco School, a high-caliber school in a low-income neighborhood of the capital city, San José. Cedes Don Bosco is nurturing well-educated and very talented students. The U.S. team watched four presentations by student groups that are designing educational and informational materials for the Costa Rican national parks, including guide books and a smart phone app.
  • Meetings with the “father of the Costa Rican park system” (and its second Executive Director), Alvaro Ugalde, as well as the new SINAC Executive Director, Julio Jurado. It was as if we were re-living the history of the U.S. NPS from Stephen Mather to present. This gave us a unique depth of understanding to the current issues facing Costa Rican parks.
  • Our tour of parks and refuges in and around the Osa Peninsula helped solidify our conviction to work with SINAC and ACOSA to protect the rich biodiversity of the Osa Peninsula. We observed many plant and animal species and learned first-hand some of the many issues that face park managers, including illegal logging within the protected areas and farming of non-native African Palm on private lands adjacent to the parks.

The team worked with Costa Rican park officials to begin drafting an Action Plan that will guide future collaborative activities between the U.S. and Costa Rican parks. Already there are tangible products and learning experiences being shared between park officials from the two countries.

All travel costs for this trip were paid for by a grant from the St. Croix Valley Foundation and an anonymous private donor.


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Strengthening St. Croix – Costa Rica Connections