Wednesday, August 25, 2010

National Park Day in Costa Rica, a cause for Celebration!

Did you know that August 24th is National Park Day in Costa Rica? Just another great reason to celebrate the beauty that surrounds us in this small Central American country, known as the land of Pura Vida! Many Costa Rica hotels hold special tree planting ceremonies, as well as area restaurants often feature special dishes on their menus commemorating this important occasion, by focusing on all that is green and the abundance of natural ingredients that can be found throughout the country. School children take the day from school to learn more about protecting Costa Rica’s natural resources, and national flags, as well as the special Blue Flags representing ecologically awarded beaches and areas, fly proudly. After all, without the parks, where would Costa Rica be on the World’s sustainable tourism totem pole?

A National Park in Costa Rica is defined as a protected area that has been legally declared a National Treasure in order to protect and conserve the biodiversity it contains. These areas generally include diverse eco-systems deemed to be of National significance, generally showing minimal evidence of human impact, while offering important attractions for National and International visitors, as well as learning centers for some of the best scientists in their fields.

In 1888, with the founding of the National Weather Service (now referred to as the National Weather Institute), a century long genesis began of multiple governmental departments culminating in at least a dozen name changes over the years. Duties of protecting the natural resources of Costa Rica gradually expanded to include many diverse functions including specializations in water, hydrocarbons, gender, environmental education, citizen participation, biodiversity, wetlands, climate change, joint implementation, conservation, rational use of energy, environmental quality compliance, as well as the continued control of existing natural resources as previously mentioned. Eventually the morphing entities formed the current government segment referred to as the Ministry of Environment, Energy and Telecommunications, better known in Costa Rica as MINAET.

Costa Rica’s system of Protected Areas consists of an impressive 9 different categories: 1) National Parks 2) Biological Reserves 3) Natural Reserves 4) National Monuments 5) Protected Zones 6) Forest Reserves 7) Wildlife Refuges 8) Wetlands & 9) Indigenous Territories. These wildlife and rainforest areas have been declared as such due to their unique eco-systems, the existence of endangered species and for their significant historical and cultural value as well. The total of these diverse 169 Protected Areas equals approximately 26% of Costa Rica’s territory, protecting an amazing 5% of the World’s biodiversity! This sacrifice of often some of the most valuable land is an incredible example of this country’s dedication to protecting the environment not only within its borders, but the entire continent, since Costa Rica serves as a land bridge between South and North America.

There are an impressive 28 National Parks in Costa Rica, with each park having its own unique features, making every and every one of them worth an in-depth visit. An excellent example is perhaps one of the most famous Costa Rican parks, Isla del Coco, an internationally recognized treasure. Located approximately 340 miles off the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica on an uninhabited island (except for the Park Guard Station), this island has been declared a World Heritage Site, included on the List of “Wetlands of International Importance”, as well as nominated for the short list of 7 New Wonders of Nature, by the 7 Wonders of the World organization. Declared a National Park in 1978, Isla del Coco alone has identified some 235 plant species, 400 insect species (65 endemic), 100 bird species (13 resident, 3 endemic and multiple endangered). Its protected marine territory is home to a wide range of species of Shark, parrot fish, manta rays, among numerous other marine species. This particular park is considered one of the richest diving spots in the World, as declared by the famous Jacques Cousteau. Please see the list below, for an extensive list of Costa Rica’s National Parks, as to detail each one would be too long for one blog post.

List of Costa Rica’s National Parks:
1. Santa Rosa National Park
2. Rincón de la Vieja National Park
3. Guanacaste National Park
4. Las Baulas Marine National Park
5. Diriá National Park
6. Barra Honda National Park
7. Braulio Carrillo National Park
8. Turrialba Volcano National Park
9. Poás Volcano National Park
10. Irazú Volcano National Park
11. Tortuguero National Park
12. Cahuita National Park
13. Barbilla National Park
14. Chirripó National Park
15. Tapantí-Macizo de la Muerte National Park
16. Internacional de La Amistad National Park
17. Corcovado National Park
18. Ballena Marine National Park
19. Piedras Blancas National Park
20. Manuel Antonio National Park
21. Tenorio National Park
22. Carara National Park
23. Los Quetzales National Park
24. Palo Verde National Park
25. Arenal National Park
26. Del Agua Juan Castro Blanco National Park
27. La Cangreja National Park
28. Isla del Coco National Park

Map of Costa Rica’s National Park & Protected Areas
Flickr Photo Galleries of Costa Rica & it’s National Parks

The protected areas of Costa Rica generate extensive economic resources to support its dynamic eco-systems, as well as building centers for further ecological studies, stimulating scientific investigation to learn the proper handling of these delicate zones. Over the last 20 plus years, these Protected Areas have brought in some $1.92 billion dollars per year by promoting sustainable tourism to this country, meaning Costa Rica stands as the most visited nation in the Central American. Tourism now earns more foreign exchange than bananas and coffee combined, a previously unthought of statistic from this coffee and banana republic. Commerce, tourism and associated services now contribute some 68% of the country's GDP and represent more than 13.3% of direct and indirect employment. Not only have the National Parks served as a major economic factor for this developing country, but these important areas continue to serve as healthy and natural alternatives of entertainment, bringing a better quality of life to its citizens, as well as everyone that comes in contact with their unparalelled beauty.

Now isn’t that reason enough to raise a cold Imperial Beer and celebrate Costa Rica’s National Parks, as well as the laidback lifestyle we all call “Pura Vida”?

Author: Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and Hotel Makanda by the Sea.

Sources: (Park Map & Photos Courtesy of (Photo Credit) (Photo Credit)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Costa Rica better start prepping for Friday the 13th……2029 that is!

If scientists and astronomers have it calculated correctly, Friday the 13th, 2029 or possibly Easter Sunday, Friday the 13th in 2036, could be a very unlucky days for Costa Rica if the asteroid Apophis continues on its current projected path toward Earth.

“Apophis” was the name of the ancient Egyptian god of darkness and destruction. Therefore, astronomers could not have chosen a more appropriate moniker to assign to a 25 million ton asteroid that is expected to slice across the orbit of the moon, possibly impacting Earth at more than 28,000 miles per hour on April, Friday the 13th, 2029.

Scientists are 99.7% certain that Apophis, a huge pockmarked rock that carries the energy of 65,000 Hiroshima bombs, and measures more than 1000 feet accross, will pass the Earth at a distance of only 18,800 to 20,800 miles in the year 2029, not actually impacting Earth at that time. To put that distance into perspective though, that is actually shorter than a round-trip flight from Melbourne, Australia, to New York City. Either way, just after dusk on April 13th of 2029, people in Europe, Africa, and parts of Asia will be able to see what looks like a star slowly making its way westward through the sky. Apophis will be the first asteroid in human history to be clearly visible to the naked eye.

The asteroid will be packing enough power to wipe out a small country or churn up a devestating 800-ft. high tsunami. Previous projections showed the asteroid’s trajectory to pass somewhere along a 30-mile-wide path stretching from Russia across the Pacific Ocean into Central America and then across the Atlantic. Although San Jose, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Venezuela would all have been potential targets for total destruction, scientists believe the most likely target would have been several thousand miles off the West Coast of the United States, where the impact would create a 5-mile wide crater in the ocean floor. The impact would trigger tsunamis that would pound the coast of California with 50-foot waves, literally wiping out everything in its path.

Updated projections now have scientists believing that if Apophis passes the Earth at a distance of exactly 18,893 miles in 2029, it will pass through a "gravitational keyhole," where the Earth’s gravity could pull Apophis off track just enough to cause it to enter an orbit that is seven-sixths as long as the Earth’s orbit. If that happens, then exactly seven years later in the year 2036, as Apophis comes back around, the planet would be in an even more precarious path of this lethal asteroid. Fortunately, current tracking estimates put the odds of that happening at about 45,000 to 1, though one should keep in mind that that is considerably less than the chance of someone being in a plane crash!

Former astronaut Rusty Schweickart, now 71, who served on the Apollo 9 mission in 1969, feels that even a tiny risk cannot be ignored. Through his B612 Foundation, which he co-founded in 2001, Schweickart has been urging NASA to start now making preparations to do something about the asteroid. "We need to act," he said. "If we blow this, it’ll be criminal."

Despite Hollywood’s imaginative cinematic escapades, current technology does not provide any way for Apophis to be deflected to miss the Earth in either 2029 or 2036. For that reason, in 2005, Schweickart began urging NASA administrator Michael Griffin to start planning a mission to land a radio transponder on Apophis, in an effort to track the asteroid’s path to confirm that it will not hit the gravitational keyhole. If that data shows that the path will bring it into the keyhole, there would still be time to do something about it and launch a deflection mission. Using current technology, we could attempt to nudge it slightly off course by hitting it with a simple 1-ton "kinetic energy impactor" spacecraft. An alternative solution would be to use a "gravity tractor" spacecraft to hover above the asteroid and gently pull it slightly off course using its own gravity. Both of those corrective methods and their chances of success would be highly speculative.

For now, NASA has decided to wait and see what’s going to happen. According to an analysis by Steven Chesley of the Near Earth Object program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA, there is no cause for alarm yet. Apophis will be swinging by the Earth in 2013, when it will be in perfect position to be tracked by the 1000-ft. diameter radio telescope in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. The data obtained during that pass could rule out the asteroid hitting the keyhole in 2029. But if it isn’t able to rule out the possibility, there will still be enough time to launch a deflection mission. Schweickart estimates that such a mission could take as long as 12 years to complete. But for now, most scientists are content to wait until we get a better idea of exactly what the risks are.

"There’s no rush right now," says Chesley. "But if it’s still serious by 2014, we need to start designing real missions."

Will Costa Rica homes and businesses be ready for this phoenomenon? Will the World be ready for Apophis? Are you ready? Do you believe this could truly happen? I’d love to hear your feedback!

Author: Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and Hotel Makanda by the Sea.

Edited from an original article written by:
Linda Orlando of Buzzle Staff and Agencies
Originally Published: 1/8/2007