Barriguiones: restoring Nosara’s ecosystems

Visitors stepping onto the sands of Playa Guiones for the very first time are likely oblivious to it. However those returning year after year can’t fail to have noticed that the Guiones topography is changing. In recent years many young trees that have taken root and are growing taller by the season. Although this new swathe of greenery is attractive and great for the environment,  it’s important to remember that this was no accident. It was down to design, dedication, and hard work. However, before we get into the specifics here’s a brief history lesson.

For thousands of years, the terrain around the coast of Guiones beach was pure, untouched jungle. The only creatures present were the intense array of wildlife that had, for time immemorial, called it home. Sure, humans may have journeyed through the area once in a while, but human impact was essentially zero. All this began to change rapidly sometime in the early 1940s. Agricultural workers began carving inroads into the virgin forests to create grazing areas for cattle and livestock. This acted as a death sentence for huge areas of the surrounding jungle and it’s inhabitants.

By the late 1940s the jungle that only a few years previously had been a sanctuary for thousands of species of flora and fauna was reduced to flatland. The local area was deforested and made suitable only for grazing farm animals.  This is the way it remained for nearly 30 years. Until a North American property developer arrived, purchased the entire local region, and re-branded it “The American Project”. Although the deforestation ended the damage was already there.

With the exception of some of the older Guanacaste trees, the area is now stripped from the verdant plant life that it had hosted for years. The deforestation process had encompassed huge parts of the area from Esperanza to Pelada, and the Guiones Beach shoreline. However, in such a fertile country, it’s no surprise that when the deforestation ended, the natural processes resumed. This is evidenced by the presence of intense new growth in all areas except for one – the beach!

The reasons the outer shoreline of Playa Guiones failed to follow the same path of rapid recovery as  it’s neighboring inland terrain are varied, complex, and are largely outside the scope of this article, so, here’s the short version: Combine the complex organic makeup of an area so close to the ocean (little organic matter, sandy soil, sparse vegetation) with the ferocity of the environment (intensely hot, extended dry seasons, and strong, saline winds) then the net result is a habitat in which once the flora and plant matter that evolved over thousands of years has been torn away, it will take a long time, if ever, to return. If we want the sand dunes of Guiones to get back their lush former glory, we need a major reforestation project. Here is were the team from Costas Verdes enters!

In 2009, a passionate young group of well educated surfers, discouraged by coastal  deforestation decided to band together to restore the natural splendor of some of Costa Rica’s best loved surfing beaches. They named themselves “Costas Verdes” and focused first on Hermosa Beach – which after suffering a similar fate to Guiones  had remained barren for decades. By 2011 their mission was complete and it was time to extend their operation further afield. They arrived in Nosara and the project known as Barriguiones was born. Since they began their reforestation project 5 years ago their efforts have changed not only the shoreline, but also the local community.

Nowadays, the success of the Barriguiones campaign is clear from the moment one sets foot on the sand. In addition to the canopy wildlife that could return, we expect that the Barriguiones project acts as a prime site for nesting turtles. Sand temperatures determine the sex of hatching turtles (females are born in hotter temperatures). The shade provided by the new trees will act to promote the birth of opposite sexes in more even numbers.

Since beginning work at Guiones half a decade ago Barriguiones has planted 1000’s of trees. Although the project is managed and directed by the organization, much of the human sweat necessary to achieve these successes has come from local residents, volunteers, and schoolchildren. In addition the project has created economic, social, and environmental benefits for the local community.

Costas Verdes

Nationally, Costas Verdes is now leading the way in the recovery of native coastal forest systems. And hopefully it’s work in restoring the countries shorelines back to their natural state will continue. To conclude, only time will tell if the dream of a local coastal ecosystem restored to its full splendor will ever come to true. Although it will be some years before the wildlife begins to return, at present the vital signs are strong. A decade from now, if you are walking from the town to the beach, and you witness a troop of howler monkeys, at least you’ll know where to focus your gratitude.

Learn more about Nosara an it’s nature: Nosara’s bird species.

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