Eco-Tourism Overflow: local implications of restrictive conservation management

Sarah Durose1, David Jones1 and Rebeca Chaverri1 1Global Vision International Costa Rica, Apartado Postal 78-7209, Cariari de Pococí, Limón, Costa Rica. Email:

Peculiarities of Caño Palma
The Caño Palma (CP) waterway in Costa Rica is in a peculiar situation. Located inside the southern extent of Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge (REBACO) but just eight kilometers north of Tortuguero National Park (PNT), it is affected more by the ecotourism of its neighbour than the managerial issues associated with the northern majority of REBACO. The waterway itself functions as an access to two tourist lodges, several fincas, a biological station and the small village of San Francisco. As a narrow blackwater canal typical of the local Raphia taedigera swamp forests, its richness of biodiversity is appealing to the local tourist industry for the ease of spotting iconic fauna such as monkeys, toucans, and even, on occasion, wildcats. Despite not belonging to PNT it was included in the Plan de Manejo de Visitantes PNT (PMV) produced by the regional and national environmental and conservation government agencies. The year end figures for visitors to PNT for 1983 were just over 1300 people, by 2003 that figure had reached just under 68,000. From a brief study in March 2004 they estimated that of the five legally accessible waterways for PNT and the immediate area, CP received over 38% of the boat traffic (MINAET, 2004).

Overflow of boats onto Caño Palma from restrictive management of PNT?
Even though total daily limits may not be exceeded, there is an apparent bias of activity during times that wildlife is more active and at times when people are going to and from the lodges for work purposes. Tortuguero has visitors all year round; however it is apparent from the data collected that there are main tourist peaks between December to March and July to August, thus increasing boat traffic. Although CP is not within the boundaries of PNT it has been regarded by the PMV as an area of overflow when demand for PNT canals exceeds the limits set by MINAET. The data presented here appears to confirm that CP is heavily utilized for tourism purposes. Both MINAET figures and data collected by GVICR indicate that boat-traffic and tourism are consistently increasing. Such increases have the potential for environmental impacts, both through direct and indirect actions of the ecotourism industry Possible early indications of change are beginning to emerge through other studies conducted by GVICR. Diversity of aquatic avifauna surveyed on CP is lower than corresponding surveys on PNT canals. Types of species are also known to be different. For example, Nyctanassa violacea, a species known to nest in residential areas (Liguori, 2003), has been regularly recorded on CP (251 records) between 200709, but not in PNT (16 records) (GVICR, unpublished). In 2009 GVICR also first recorded the presence of Quiscalus mexicanus - a species common to urbanized and degraded areas - at the station ( Jones et al, 2009). Whilst inconclusive, bird species are known to be good indicator species and this area warrants further investigation, especially in light of the fact that the major difference between PNT and CP is human presence and utilization. Such differences make the control of these areas a cause for concern. It is imperative to continue monitoring the number of boats associated with tourism utilizing Caño Palma, in order to gauge the effectiveness of the current management strategies. However the conflict between the need to protect the area and the need for tourism – which generates revenue - will be a constant issue. The number of visitors is on the increase, and no matter how many legal restrictions are placed on the area, there has to be practical control and implementation of the restrictions. Interestingly, restrictions imposed to provide relief and protection to the area of PNT appears here to have a wider spread impact as demand continues to increase. The overarching implication of this study appears to be the need for a holistic approach management and enforcement in the area. Positively, both protected areas are managed and considered together by MINAET and so it is hoped that increased knowledge of the area, can help to inform management decisions to prevent the increasing popularity of PNT irreversibly impacting the surrounding area.
References Jones, D., Verissimo, D. & Chaverri, R (2009). Priceless monitoring without cost: the significance of incidental detection of species to conservation efforts. Poster, XIII Congreso de la SMBC Belize, 2009. Liguori, S. (2003) Yellow-crowned night-heron Nyctanassa violacea. In B.E Beans& L Niles (Eds.) Endangered and Threatened Wildlife of New Jersey (pp. 40-45) Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press. MINAET-SINAC. (2004). Plan de manejo del Parque Nacional Tortuguero – Costa Rica. F.Bermúdez & C.Hernández. (Eds.) Guápiles, Limón. Retrieved from

Eco Tourism on the increase
In January 2006 Global Vision International Costa Rica (GVICR) began an ongoing longterm study of boat traffic along CP. The number of visitors to PNT has seen a near 100% increase since those figures in 2003 (Table 1). Unlike the PNT waterways, the traffic stresses on CP are not strictly controlled by PNT Rangers, nor are they limited to the slow moving traffic tour boats and canoes, as in the National Park. Year 2006 2007 2008 Total Visitors to PNT 103,121 117,661 134,690
Table 1 (MINAET)

personnel conduct the survey, each taking a six hour shift, and record information on number of passengers, engine size and type, passage time, boat name and associated lodge or company, each time a boat passes the station. Since the survey started in January 2006 there have been a total of 5,781 records of boats passing Caño Palma. No. of Records by year: 2006* 895 2008 1845 2007 1424 2009 1617

month duration. Figure1 represents the year on year estimated number of boats passing Caño Palma per month over the period 2007-2009. The PMV designates time category restrictions for CP to distribute the stresses evenly over the day, with 10 boats permitted per time category. These data are displayed in Fig. 2. In contrast to PNT, Caño Palma has a level of private traffic which the data reflects: between 2007-2009 67% of boats using the canal were tourist related, and 33% were private boats. Data collated over the three years shows that the number of boats passing Caño Palma exceeds these limits during the hours of 06:00– 08:00, 08:00-12:00 and again from 16:0018:00. The increase in the number of boats utilizing the canal appear to follow tourism recorded in Tortuguero (see Figures 3-5).

*Data for 2006 is presented for illustrative purposes for total records, but is not used in further analysis due to a high variation in effort.

The study is conducted from the biological station, approximately 2km north of the CP rivermouth. Surveys are conducted on a weekly basis between 06:00 and 18:00 and the days surveyed are varied as much as possible. Two

Monthly estimates were determined by averaging the total activity recorded during the surveys over the months in which they were conducted. The PMV figures for usage of CP (max. 60 boats per day) are adjusted for variations in

Figure 1: Year on year estimated number of boats passing Caño Palma per month, over the period 2007-2009.

Figure 3: Comparison of number of boats on Caño Palma with number of visitors to Tortuguero National Park, 2007
2500 Estimated number of boats 2000 1500 1000 500 0 20000 18000 16000 12000 10000 8000 6000 4000 2000 Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec 0 Total visitors Total visitors Total visitors 14000




Estimated number of boats






Figure 4: Comparison of number of boats on Caño Palma with number of visitors to Tortuguero National Park, 2008
2500 20000 18000 Estimated number of boats 2000 1500 1000 500 0 Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec 16000 14000 12000 10000 8000 6000 4000 2000 0














Figure 2: Boat traffic during set time categories stipulated in the PNT management plan, over 85 surveys.
1000 Time Category




Figure 5: Comparison of number of boats on Caño Palma with number of visitors to Tortuguero National Park, 2009
4000 3500 Estimated number of boats 18000 16000 14000 12000 10000 2000 1500 1000 500 0 Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug 8000 6000 4000 2000 0



3000 2500

Author Contacts: GVI Costa Rica

The GVI Costa Rica Caño Palma Human Impact Study is carried out in partnership with the Costa Rican Ministry of Environment, Energy and Telecommunications (MINAET).


GVI Costa Rica wish to thank all the staff and volunteers who have contributed to the collection of data. Poster design: Theropod Design

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