Center for Ecological Research in Wetlands inaugurated

(17 June 1997)

As the 7th Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties draws nearer, Costa Rica will become a focus of attention increasingly, and in that spirit, here is a reprint of a article published in the bilingual Costa Rica Today on 15 May 1997. Written by Marvin Amador, the article chronicles the inauguration of a new wetland center in the Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge.

In Los Chiles, province of Alajuela

Center for Ecological Research in Wetlands inaugurated

- Will provide services to local communities
- First of its kind in Central America


On April 25, in the Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge in Los Chiles, province of Alajuela, the Center for Ecological Research in Wetlands "Friends of the Earth" was inaugurated. It will be utilized for researching the sustainable production needs of local communities. The Research Center was built thanks to a joint project between the Costa Rican Ecological Association (AECOAT), the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE) and a Spanish organization "Friends of Spain." The infrastructure and construction of the center were financed by the "Board of Andalucía" of Spain and the European Union.

Unique laboratory in Central America

The "Friends of the Earth" Center will be outfitted with equipment and instruments for conducting wetlands research. Wetlands are an ecosystem of incalculable biological and economical value (see box). The Center is located in the Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge, which includes one of the few wetlands in Central Arherica declared to be of international importance. It was included in the Ramsar Convention and because of its enormous biological importance, international measures can be implemented in protected areas to ensure its conservation.

In general, the Center will utilize "wet" laboratories (fish tanks, containers, running water) as well as dormitories and general laboratory equipment.

Because of its scientific nature and its emphasis in research, the Center is the first of its kind in Central America and represents an important research instrument for the entire region.

Although research will be concentrated in the Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge and the Arenal Conservation Area in the Huertar Norte region, the "Friends of the Earth" Center will enable applied research in an area called "Yes to Peace," a binational conservation project that includes 150,000 hectares of great ecological importance and of extreme biological fragility, located in the San Juan River Basin in both Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Action for the Communities

Among the beneficiaries of the Research Center are 200 families in the Caño Negro area, including groups from the lowest socio-economical level in the country. In general, these are peasant families with many limitations for developing sustainably productive activities, principally because of lack of governmental support. A large number of scientists will also benefit. Until now, they lacked the necessary infrastructure to develop research projects.

The Center was constructed to support sustainable development projects in the region by different entities. The objectives of the research, for example, for the use and reproduction of different plant and animal species, is implementing productive projects for the sustainable use of the resources in the area, which are characterized by enormous and fragile biological diversity. The infrastructure of the Center is also available to local organizations.

The importance of wetlands

Wetlands are one of the world's most productive ecosystems and also the most threatened. They shelter enormous quantities of unique plant and animal species, which in many cases, are in danger of extinction. Wetlands are essential for hydrological and ecological processes and play an important part in the subsistence of a large number of communities. Despite their importance, approximately one-third of the world's wetland areas have been drained during this century.

What are wetlands?

Wetlands are lakes, swamps, ponds, torrents, rivers, marshes, shores, estuaries, and mangrove areas. They can be natural or artificial bodies, permanent or temporary, stagnant or running, fresh, brackish or salty, including shallow marine areas. Included are many habitat types, including coastal areas and even coral reefs.

Functions of wetlands

      • Water regulation (storage and flood control)
      • Water purification (especially organic contamination control)
      • Natural protection barrier for coastal areas
      • Reduction of shore erosion and control of sediment movement
      • High biological production
      • Unique vegetation
      • Key areas for a large quantity of animal species
      • Subsistence of communities
      • Genetic reserve and protection of endangered species
      • Scientific, educational and recreational values
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