By Carolina Chavarría Pozuelo, Nicoya Peninsula Waterkeeper
Nicoya Peninsula Waterkeeper is based out of Santa Teresa, a small and highly touristic surf town on Costa Rica‘s Pacific Coast. Over the past decade, the beautiful beach and laid-back lifestyle have attracted an increasing number of tourists from all over the world. This trend has accelerated since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, as visitors have greater flexibility to work remotely. Lack of basic infrastructure, reduced law enforcement capacities, low levels of education, and environmental awareness make it almost impossible to hold this growth while keeping pollution levels under control. There is no government-led water treatment facility, leaving water treatment in the hands of households and businesses. The municipal waste collection and disposal system is not efficient. With inadequate systems, an increasing number of tourists means increasing amounts of poorly treated wastewater and solid waste polluting the water.
Nicoya Peninsula Waterkeeper works together with the local community to reduce water pollution deriving from human activities. We aim to orient the town‘s development and urbanization by building the foundations of a sustainable and regenerative town. To do this, we have implemented several projects that will have lasting impact and transform the relationship between humans and the natural resources that host us.
In 2019 in alliance with Bionic®, an engineering company that transforms plastics into durable materials, we managed to create a new recycling culture in town by building and running a recycling center with weekly collection routes. In 2021, we collected 200+ tons of recyclable materials. Also, our efforts regarding improving organic waste management in 2021 have prevented 250 tons of organic waste from ending up in a landfill.
Together with other organized groups, we organize beach cleanups, special campaigns to collect and recycle electronic waste and used medications, and host environmental education festivals. In 2021, we collected 40 tons of waste from the beach and took 16 tons of electronic waste to be recycled or properly disposed of.
Additionally, we have established a solid education program making people aware of the impact of solid waste on the environment and encouraging people to question consumption habits, reduce single-use plastics, compost organic waste, and treat wastewater appropriately. In 2021, we carried out 122 training sessions reaching 800+ people.
Furthermore, through our Ocean Friendly Business® project, we support businesses in their transformation process towards implementing sustainable practices that contribute to ocean health. We provide restaurants, hotels, and rental houses with a framework that outlines how they can reduce their ocean pollution through simple, practical actions. To become an Ocean Friendly Business® they need to: stop using single-use plastics, recycle, compost, treat their wastewater appropriately, use biodegradable cleaning products, and participate in our free training sessions regarding wastewater and solid waste management. Just as an example, in 2021, our 14 Ocean Friendly Businesses have prevented over 33,000 plastic bottles from being consumed and discarded.
We base our activities on data and evidence, that is why we do monthly water quality monitoring of the area‘s rivers, as well as biannual ocean water monitoring. Even if this gives us good enough trend indications, we urgently need support to consolidate our water quality monitoring project to make it more accurate so we can have a better notion on how human activities are impacting the water.
Regarding law enforcement and capacity building, we are founding members of the Wastewater Management Commission which focuses on structuring an action plan to solve issues regarding our use and disposal of wastewater. It allows us to work together with government authorities (Municipality and Ministry of Health) to efficiently monitor wastewater discharges, id and approach polluters, and promote law compliance.
Our main goal is to create and strengthen solutions preventing water pollution, we do this through critical and creative thinking and teamwork. We believe in creating strong alliances locally and internationally so that the network of aware individuals becomes bigger and stronger, creating a space of shared experiences that sets an example.
In order to achieve our goal of clean water in this tiny piece of paradise, we need your support. Please consider donating to Nicoya Peninsula Waterkeeper! And, if you ever find yourself visiting the Southern Nicoya Peninsula, make sure to recycle your waste, compost your food, and stay at an Ocean Friendly Business that treats their wastewater appropriately. The local community and the ocean will appreciate it.