Biodiversity in Costa Rica

Biodiversity is a resource with enormous potential, both for intellectual and economic purposes and as an instrument for a country’s development.

The tropical zones of the American continent (Neotropics), where Costa Rica is located, contain a greater diversity of species and ecosystems, as well as a broader range of interactions, compared with other tropical regions of the world. Obviously, this diversity is also much greater than that of temperate and cold regions.

With a land area of only 51.100 km2 (0.03% of the planet’s surface) and 589.000 km2 of territorial waters, Costa Rica is considered to be one of the 20 countries with greatest biodiversity in the world. Its geographic position, its two coasts and its mountainous system, which provides numerous and varied microclimates, are some of the reasons that explain this natural wealth, both in terms of species and ecosystems. The more than 500,000 species that are found in this small country represent nearly 4% of the total species estimated worldwide. Of these 500,000 species, just over 300,000 are insects.

The institution charged with the task of administering Costa Rica’s biodiversity is the Ministry of the Environment and Energy (MINAE), and more specifically to the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC), which is responsible for the conservation and sustainable use of the country’s biodiversity. SINAC has 11 Conservation Areas distributed throughout the country and is headed by a Directorate that provides technical support.

The 11 Conservation Areas are the different regions established by MINAE to undertake a decentralized management of biodiversity, with the active participation of the communities surrounding the protected wildland areas. This participation is of vital importance for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity at the local, national and global level. INBio has worked very closely with SINAC since its foundation, and especially from 1998 onwards, through the INBio-SINAC Joint Program.

A little over 25% of the country’s territory is under some category of protection, and this percentage is increasing thanks to the support of the private sector, which has created many private reserves dedicated mainly to ecotourism and research. This is a conservation effort that few countries in the world have undertaken and in which Costa Rica has invested substantial resources for the well-being of present and future generations.

The knowledge obtained through inventories and scientific studies and their appreciation by society, plays an essential role in ensuring the long-term conservation of the country’s protected areas and natural resources. Studies have been conducted to provide both basic and applied information on the country’s biological riches (what exists, where, what it can be used for, conservation status, etc.), prepared by numerous public and private institutions, as well as by NGOs.

During the past 5 years in particular, greater emphasis has been placed on implementing studies that include methodologies for the evaluation of benefits provided by the protected areas and the resources they protect; ecological tourism (ecotourism), fishing, medicinal plants, bioprospecting and environmental service payments (ESPs) are just some examples of the issues that have been analyzed in these terms (link to uses of biodiversity and “Documents of interest”). Parallel to the economic appraisal of biodiversity that is being carried out in Costa Rica and elsewhere in the world, public and private institutions and organizations are supporting environmental education and public awareness programs to contribute to a change of attitude towards Nature in society.

Costa Rica has a very comprehensive legal framework for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. This has been strengthened with the enactment of the Biodiversity Law, approved in 1998, and the formulation of the National Strategy for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biodiversity, using a highly participatory process at the local and national levels. The National Strategy was completed and officially adopted in 1999. The Biodiversity Law establishes that the National Commission for Biodiversity Management (CONAGEBIO), together with SINAC, is responsible for the administration of the country’s natural resources.

To complement national efforts to create a legal framework for biodiversity conservation, Costa Rica has also signed and ratified various international and regional agreements, including the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the CITES agreement that regulates the trade in endangered species, and the Wetlands or RAMSAR Convention, among many others.


Copidocephala guttata
Photo: Guillermo Vargas

Guzmania scherzerian
Ilust. Anita Cooper
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