Costa Rica’s First Ever Wetlands Policy Takes Effect

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Costa Rica moves forward with its nature conservation agenda by signing into law a National Wetlands Policy this week.

Luis Guillermo Solís, President of the Republic, attended the launch of this historic public policy together with environmental authorities and representatives of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

Costa Rica has more than two thousand wetlands that fall under the new protections thanks to efforts by the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE) and the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC), which received technical and financial support from the UNDP over the past year and a half to develop the initiative, said the President’s office in a press statement.

The Minister of Environment and Energy Edgar Gutiérrez said the policy is a milestone for conservation for wetlands, which comprise 7 percent of Costa Rica’s territory.

“Wetlands provide food, fresh water, fiber and fuels, biochemicals, and genetic resources. They support soil formation and contribute to the ecosystem nutrient cycle. Wetlands also play a role in climate regulation, water purification, pollination, and mitigation of natural hazards. In addition, they provide recreational, aesthetic, educational and spiritual facets and opportunities that are part of Costa Rican culture,” said the President’s office.

The measure comes not a tad too soon, with several wetlands under threat, said Gutiérrez.

Wetlands include ecosystems that depend on either fresh and salt water sources for their existence, and can be permanent or seasonal, said MINAE officials. These includes moving water ecosystems such as rivers and streams, and standing or slow-moving water ecosystems such as lakes and lagoons.

The new initiative lays out a comprehensive wetlands management plan that includes inter-institutional coordination and citizen participation. The policy outlines five specific areas of work: wetlands conservation; climate adaptation and the rational use of these ecosystems; ecological rehabilitation; institutional strengthening for wetlands management; and inclusive participation for governance of these ecosystems, said MINAE officials.

Alice Shackelford, UNDP country representative, said, “This policy is fundamental to highlight the role of wetlands in sustainable development in Costa Rica. and the urgency to address current and future challenges of this development in a coordinated, integrated way which leaves no one behind,” referring to the fact that many vulnerable populations depend on wetlands for their livelihoods including women, children, Afro-descendants, indigenous peoples, and coastal communities.

There are five types of wetlands identified under the initiative; those include Fluvial Wetlands (permanent and seasonal rivers and streams), Estuarine Wetlands (estuaries, mangroves, nipa marshes, intertidal flood forests, and marshes), Marine Wetlands (coastal areas exposed to ocean water flows, seabeds, rocky seacoasts, bays and straits, sandy or pebble beaches, and coral reefs), Lacustrine Wetlands (lakes and lagoons, both fresh and salt water, seasonal and permanent), and Palustrine or Marsh Wetlands (yolillal palm stands, marshes, estuaries, ponds, peatlands, and freshwater forest wetlands).

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