Located in Costa Rica, Corcovado Foundation provides environmental education, sustainable tourism and supports national parks – especially the conservation of sea turtles – in order to protect the country’s natural heritage for generations to come.
“They found many of the loggers were not following their permits. Instead of cutting down 200 trees, they were cutting 2,000 trees,” Alejandre Monge, Executive Director of Corcovado Foundation said.
The foundation swiftly ensured there would be park rangers to protect the national parks of Costa Rica. While they were able to decrease the amount of deforestation, they quickly realized that park rangers alone would not be effective in protecting the environment.
“We started working on environmental education to create awareness about the importance of the protected area and how nature was such a great opportunity for them, for tourism amongst many other things,” Monge said.
“Our environmental education program is celebrating 20 years. The most amazing part is the kids that worked with us back then are now local leaders. They are promoting sustainable tourism, some are even presidents of local associations.”
One of the most important aspects of numerous foundations similar to Corcovado is sustainability. Not only making sustainable choices to enhance the environment but also ensuring the organization’s impact can continue for years to come. Corcovado has been running successfully for decades due to its education, tourism and conservation programs that allow natives and travelers alike to contribute to their work. The coastal areas of Costa Rica have come a long way since 2001, when Monge began working at Corcovado.
“Women were so isolated and abused. I remember coming to these communities and wanting to talk to women. Before I even asked a question, they would say ‘Oh, I don’t know, talk to my husband.’ I would think to myself, ‘How do they know what they don’t know, if I haven’t even asked any questions?’
“Now, years later, I see all these young women thriving, leading projects, leading their own enterprises. It is something that is very close to my heart because I see the results of our program and how it has changed their mindset,” Monge said.
The program has also impacted the lives of many children, who decide to continue on the path to further their education after loving their learning experiences with Corcovado. These children grow to become professionals in their chosen fields and most will come back to coastal areas, so as to guarantee they will leave their home better than they found it.
In expanding their education programs, the foundation realized it was just as important to address economic issues as it was environmental challenges.
“In one of our classes we were talking about how important wildlife is. A child raised his hand and said his family had just eaten the animal we were discussing and it was the first time they’d eaten in a month,” Monge said.
This is when aspects of ecotourism gradually became prevalent in Corcovado Foundation’s ethos. It needed a sustainable way to build the economy, so that families could live without destroying ecosystems. The people living there did not realize how much Costa Rica had (and has) to offer. Their national parks are main attractions due to the vast biodiversity and beautiful sights of nature. When COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated, the foundation realized that it could not simply rely on tourism.
“We started working on regenerative agriculture. There was no cash. People were trading oranges for fish. The economy was completely dead. We taught families how to make organic fertilizers and started bringing volunteers to the bio hostel to help families implement our practices,” Monge said.
Regenerative agriculture is a system of farming which nurtures and restores the health of the soil, therefore eliminating the need for biochemicals and increasing rich biodiversity. This was Corcovado’s way of ensuring that families could survive by having food and creating sustainable economics. With a team of determined volunteers, families were beginning to see the positive outcome of its education, regenerative agriculture, and – when the world opened up again – eco-tourism. Corcovado Foundation’s bio hostel also happens to be an environmental center in which it holds workshops, hosts consultants to teach classes, gather volunteers to educate them and more. It is imperative that volunteers reach as many people as they can through the means of education, as this area is not densely populated and needs as much help as it can receive.
“The population of the local community surrounding the bio hostel is around 2,000 people, however, they are very scattered. Some villages have 200 people. Our main village has 800-900 people,” Monge said.
That means in order to properly educate everyone in the peninsula, the foundation must travel from village to village spreading their knowledge. It is not an easy task, however, they manage to make a tremendous difference for the environment and people living in the South Pacific region of Costa Rica.
“When you think about Costa Rica having 6% of the biodiversity and 0.03% of the world mass, the destruction can cause enormous impact,” Monge said.
“Although it is easy to get caught up in bad news, we focus on promoting the good news. We tell people what we’re doing, the good things that are happening. We stress that the conditions in these areas are completely different from those in the rest of the world, even those in the same country.”
Monge believes that since Corcovado has begun working in the South Pacific region of Costa Rica, things have taken a turn for the better. Of the 60% of land that is rainforest territory in Costa Rica, 25% is under protection. Corcovado does not stop its work at rainforests and the population living nearby. It has branched out into other sects of nature by starting a sea turtle conservation program.
In 2003, one of the local leaders of the community came to Corcovado and mentioned a beach where 80% of the sea turtle nests were lost. They were devastated. There was a mass reduction in the amount of sea turtles that were able to live full, healthy lives. The foundation teamed up with an organization better equipped to rescue animals. In the process, it also began to work with volunteers and biologists to ramp up its sea turtle conservation program. Even to this day, the sea turtle issue is included in every aspect of environmental education efforts as well.
“About 10 years later, we were able to hand this project off to the local community. We created an association and showed people how they could run a project like this and how they could find volunteers,” Monge said. “It created awareness about the value of sea turtles and ways to protect their nests. In turn, having more sea turtles could also make for more visitation. Therefore boosting tourism and making the economy grow.”
It is evident that Corcovado Foundation elevates the biodiverse environment on the coast of Costa Rica, as well as creates a sustainable practice of economic growth for the local population.
“When someone says ‘Here’s $20 for your environmental education program,’ or ‘Here’s some money to go toward your sea turtle conservation program,’ or whatever it is, it feels like a pat on the back. They see us. They see the work that we’re doing. For us, it is so valuable to get support,” Monge said.
There are many ways to support the Corcovado Foundation. Visit its website to learn more about how you can help today.