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The Osa Peninsula makes up the extreme southwestern corner of Costa Rica. It is located in Puntarenas Province; surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, the Golfo Dulce, and the Costa Rican mainland to the northeast. The area of our study encompasses 1,573 km2 and it, along with the adjacent coastal areas, contains many distinct ecosystems. Remoteness and inaccessibility kept the Osa Peninsula difficult to reach from the rest of Costa Rica until the early 20th century when banana plantations were established there. Even though the plantations were eventually abandoned because of banana diseases, roads left behind allowed loggers, miners, hunters, ranchers, and farmers access to old growth forests. The first significant attempt to protect natural habitats of the Osa Peninsula began with the creation of the Corcovado National Park in 1975 (Corcovado Foundation, 2010) to conserve a large expanse of forest from threats posed by agricultural settlers, timber companies, and miners.

Although the Costa Rican government has established protected areas for forest conservation, forests are still cut down for timber. To address this issue, tax incentives were introduced in 1979 to encourage businesses and large landowners to reforest degraded areas. This program evolved into the Payments for Environmental Services (PES) program in which the Costa Rican government pays rural landowners for retaining and restoring forests (Camino, et al., 2000). Today, Costa Rica is renowned for its biological wealth and progressive conservation policies.

Costa Rica protected the biodiversity of the Osa because it recognized the critical role of forests in sustaining human welfare. Human societies derive many goods and services from natural ecosystems called ecosystem services. Ecosystem services include the production of ecosystem goods, such as game animals, seafood, fossil fuels, timber, essential ingredients in pharmaceutical products, and fundamental life-supporting processes including water and air purification, carbon storage, pollination, soil preservation, pest control, and climate regulation. Over the past 50 years, humans have disrupted natural ecosystems more rapidly and severely than at any other period in history. This destruction incurs tremendous costs caused by the loss of ecosystem services; for example, the costs associated with destroying forests in watersheds that supply and purify water used by humans. However, for the past decade increasing deforestation and excessive agricultural runoff have limited the availability of potable water and future supplies of water have become a concern in Costa Rica. Currently, Costa Rica pays 12 million dollars annually in water purification [The World Bank Group, 2010] and an additional six million in payments for watershed protection. Although this may seem expensive, studies in Oregon, Maine, and Washington show that for every dollar invested in watershed protection, up to 200 dollars can be saved in costs for building new filtration systems and water treatment facilities (Postel & Tompson, 2005).

Assigning monetary values to these services allows humans to better understand the value of ecosystem services and, thereby, more effectively develop environmental policies. In 1997, a team of researchers from the United States, Argentina, and the Netherlands calculated that the combined value of all ecosystem services is worth at least 33 trillion dollars annually to mankind, this was approximately double the global gross national product (GNP) of 18 trillion dollars at the time (Costanza, et al., 1997)!

Some ecosystem services cannot be valued in terms of their monetary value; for example, ecosystems provide aesthetic beauty to fulfill people’s cultural, intellectual, and spiritual needs. Humans enjoy these services when they participate in outdoor activities and travel to other areas to enjoy bird watching, see interesting plants, experience other cultures, appreciate the beauty of undisturbed nature, etc. These kinds of experiences are based on low visitor impact and, thus, a successful ecotourism industry requires the protection of natural habitats from disturbances caused by agriculture, logging, mining, hunting, and even tourism itself.

The Osa Peninsula, with its natural wonders, is among one of the most popular ecotourism destinations in all of Mesoamerica. Travelers to the Osa can enjoy activities such as bird watching, walking along pristine beaches, kayaking through mangrove swamps, hiking during the day and even after dark to discover the diurnal and nocturnal creatures of the rain forest, as well as learning about tropical rain forests from expert Costa Rican guides. Unfortunately, the intact lowland rainforest of the Osa is the last of its kind on the Pacific slope of Mesoamerica, which makes it even more important to protect.

The goal of this website is to raise awareness of the dire consequences of destroying ecosystem services in general and, specifically, for pointing out the negative impact that this can have on ecotourism on the Osa. Included on this page are a database of literature on ecosystem services and sustainable ecotourism, and links to websites that provide more information about these topics.