Costa Rica is known for it’s pristine beaches and untouched rainforests. In fact, almost 25% of the land is made up of national parks and protected areas!
Discovering Bahia Ballena
This small nation packs a big punch, and offers something for every type of traveler- from the beautiful sights at Corcovado National Forrest to adventurous outdoor activities in Rincon de la Vieja. And, thanks to our increasingly global society, people are discovering this amazing region at an alarming rate!
Unfortunately, the growing popularity of Costa Rica, where tourism has increased 800% since 1988, is a double-edged sword. Native Costa Ricans, or Ticos, are benefitting financially from increased foreign exchange, but the rapid expansion that tourism leads to has put incredible stress on a fragile eco-system. The community of Bahia Ballena, or “Whale Bay,” on the southwest coast, has experienced this struggle first-hand. The growing number of visitors who travel to this sleepy beach town each year has grown exponentially, and it is putting a strain on the protected oceanfront and one of the most well known beaches in Costa Rica.
This is why 12 amazing students from all over the United States have come together as part of GLA’s “Protecting the Pacific” Service Learning Program. They are spending their summer working alongside Stanford University in order to ensure that the beauty of Bahia Ballena is preserved for future generations, both local and otherwise!
Getting Into It
Read what 2 current GLA students in Costa Rica had to say about their experience helping to protect the place National Geographic Magazine named “The Most Biologically Intense Place on Earth”:
“Today we hiked the “whale tale” at Ballena (which is a peninsula on the beach). You can only get out to the whale tail when the tide is low, and as we walked back from the peninsula the rip tides were really strong, coming over the pathway! We also kayaked through the mangroves, which were a series of narrow canals with bordering trees containing wildlife. We had to navigate through the roots of the trees, passing things like crabs, birds, and even a water rabbit. There are many reasons why the mangroves are important to the environment of Costa Rica. It serves as a shelter for many species living together in a very dense area. If the mangroves of an area are healthy, it leads to a healthy, clean ocean with lots of fish and wildlife. There is reason for concern in this particular area because of overfishing, tourism, development, and agrochemicals. We can help protect this habitat by educating the youth, enforcing rules that restrict overfishing and requiring building permits. Costa Rica really relies on their mangroves, because they bring in a lot of money and are extremely beneficial in protecting the produce and wildlife of the town.
Today was also our first day of surfing, and the sun was shinning bright, requiring an abundance of sunscreen! After we got ready, we walked to the beach. The walk was fairly long and after we got there, instructors at the marine park told us how they are working toward the preservation of the environment. They showed us the area of the park where the waves are bigger for surfing, and we met our instructors, including Travis (the husband of Pilar, part of our GLA team). Surfing was hard at first, however, as time progressed, everyone did well! All of us were able to stand up and balance on the surfboard and catch a few waves.
After surfing, Travis led us on a tour and it furthered our understanding of the local culture and community. We went to schools, we went to shops and when we saw photos that showed the changes in the town through the years, we were all astonished. Dirt roads would change into paved roads, natural land would change into supermarkets. The changes in appearance were massive. It really showed us why we’re here, and why this area needs to be closely protected.”
-Sam C. (Duxbury, MA) and Izzy Tiebohl (Reading, PA)
To learn more about Costa Rica, and how you can go on your own surfing safari, schedule an appointment with one of our enrollment advisors today.
Leah Higgins says
I was one of the 12 kids mentioned, who participated in the first ever ‘Protecting the Pacific’ program in Bahia, Costa Rica. This program was a great mix of environmental action and volunteering (such as picking up trash and GPS tracking each piece to figure out where to put new trashcans, decorating the town with environmental messages, cleaning up the beach and building a biogarden), along with education about environmental issues to understand why what we were doing matters. When you go to Costa Rica as a volunteer — interacting with the community instead of just staying inside a resort — you can really see how important the environment is to the people of Costa Rica. I liked how my program stayed at Hotel Canto de Ballenas, an eco-tourism cooperative hotel and toured Cano Island with Bahia Aventuras, the top rated organization for its environmentally responsible practices, because we were supporting local businesses that aligned with the values of the program. Also on my trip, we watched a documentary called ‘Cracking the Golden Egg’, which was all about how tourism has affected Costa Rica, and why ecotourism is a great way to go. It made me proud of where I was staying, and sure that eco-tourism hotels are the way to go when I travel with my family in the future. Here is a picture of me on the beach with my new friends Sam and Isabelle, the ones quoted in this article.