Some of the protected lands are held publicly, some privately. The government also holds the coastline in the public domain to prevent private development. Within the borders of some protected areas, the government does allow a range of private activities, from farming to eco-lodgings. Costa Rica can count among its assets, twelve RAMSAR wetlands and two UNESCO-designated biospheres.
In 1998, Costa Rica divided the country into eleven conservation areas to oversee some 160 protected areas, covering over three million acres. About half of these protected lands have been designated as national parks in addition to eight biological reserves, thirty-two protected zones, eleven forest reserves, fifty-eight wildlife refuges, fifteen wetland areas and twelve other areas protected in one way or another.
Among Costa Rica’s many reserves, some are popular destinations in their own right. Some are located adjacent to national parks such as the Tamarindo Wildlife Refuge that borders Las Baulas Marine National Park. Others stand alone such as the Ostional Wildlife Refuge, on the Nicoya Peninsula, one of the prime nesting spots for the olive ridley turtles. Another, the Isla del Cano Biological Reserve, located off Costa Rica’s southern Pacific coast, protects the fragile coral and marine species the reefs attract, making it a magnet for visitors who travel to Costa Rica for the scuba diving.
Under the Tropical Forest Conservation Act, passed by the U.S.
Congress in 1998, Costa Rica has taken advantage of the opportunity to pay down a portion of its debt to the United States government in return for investing in its own reforestation and preservation of the country’s tropical forests, including those located on its Pacific and Caribbean coasts. Ten percent of the cost of the program has been borne by the environmental organizations, The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International.