At the beginning of this year, I boarded Research Vessel Falkor for my 19th expedition with Schmidt Ocean Institute. To be fair, once you lose sight of land, the oceans seem relatively the same: water. Yet for me, the expedition back in January was different. This time, I was sailing in Costa Rican waters, which suddenly made the blue ripples around the ship become even more special. I was taking a close look at the Costa Rican maritime area, working in completely unexplored areas and being amongst the first people ever to discover new species and ecosystems, in my own country!
Every national identity relies on images, symbols and stories to create a sense of belonging in the citizens. These kinds of symbols are extremely powerful and connect us as a group. In the broadest of terms, the Mexicans have their food and the mariachis, the British have their navy and their Queen, the Argentinians tango and football, for instance. Costa Ricans have built a narrative around peace and nature. Every national identity construct has flaws and absurd inconsistencies, but they must also stand on some level of truth, or they wouldn’t hold.
Oscar Arias, our Nobel Peace Prize laureate has been accused by several women of sexual misconduct and rape, and I’m going to take the smallest chance in history and state that I believe them. Some of our national parks are poorly managed and as for ocean conservation, our efforts have been woefully inadequate. Yet there is no denying that Costa Rica remains a beacon of economical and social stability and the tip of the arrow globally, when it comes to conservation policy.
Falling in love again
For the past week I’ve been driving around my country, showing it to my new British family and reconnecting with my land. There are so many things I truly love about Costa Rica. I could never get used to the beauty of its mountains, the fun of driving its windy gravel roads, the feeling of the warm breeze on my skin, the friendliness of its people or the lullaby of the heavy rain at night. My country makes me happy, and there are many things about it that make me immensely proud. Nature is by far one of them.
In the first part of the Costa Rican holiday with the Brits, we visited the Northern part of the country: Guanacaste. Every time I’d park the car, I would swiftly change the gear, pull the hand brake, take the key and get out of the car… only to wait for up to 10 minutes for them (apart from my delightful new husband) to apply and re-apply sunscreen, bathe themselves in bug repellent and discuss all sorts of water and backpack strategies. So many things about the Tropics are completely foreign to them, and that got me thinking about exposure. If I had not been exposed to bugs, earthquakes and schizophrenic weather all my life, maybe it’d be scary for me, too.
Just because it’s not obvious, doesn’t mean it’s not true
Reconciling economic growth and nature conservation is also very foreign to many people, but we all need to get familiar with it and stop being afraid of either one. The irony is, they need no reconciling at all. In the coming years, there will be no way to attain long-term social and economic stability without adding the value of nature to the equation. Our mistake has been to create business models that don’t account for the true costs of exploiting a resource, such as destroying ecosystems and therefore losing their services, or polluting a water source and having to deal with disease afterwards. Nature is often an overlooked asset and we need to fix that mistake, and fix it fast. Especially in face of climate change.
It is not difficult. We can calculate the economic value of ecosystem services; it is being done as we speak. We simply need to add those numbers to our strategies, and use nature as a source of jobs, economic growth and social security. These are not wishful words, it is maddening that we have not been doing so since the beginning of economics.
With my fingers firmly closed
As my 19th expedition drew to a close and I visited Cocos Island for the 5th time in my life, I felt my chest might be too small to contain my love for this country. Cocos Island is incredibly unique and important, and both UNESCO and RAMSAR agree. In the coming years, the knowledge we gained during the #CostaRicaDeep expedition will hopefully spearhead the expansion of this marine protected area. Costa Rica will continue to make its citizens proud to grow around such a novel national identity concept as Conservation.
Last Sunday I showed my British family a fundamental ingredient of the Costa Rica they have enjoyed so much during their holidays. An ingredient without which the breathtaking landscapes they’ve visited would not exist: political will. The Costa Rican government announced its National Decarbonization Plan 2018-2050. My nation announced its public commitment to “go beyond the usual” in global efforts and become a modern, green, emission-free, resilient and inclusive economy, where human rights and gender equity are respected.
If a country can do it, I know it’s Costa Rica.