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Costa Rica: A Journey through Nature is a hard cover coffee-table book that is prominently featured in the new motion picture "The Librarian" (to be released in 2013) starring Oscar-winning actress Marcia Gay Harden. It plays a key role in the movie's plot and appears in scenes filmed both in the US and in Costa Rica.
The book is a magnificent illustrated testimony to Costa Rica's fragile beauty and is packed with stunning photographs from Costa Rica that represent 13 years of field work by the author.
This exquisite book, brilliant in color and enchanting in subject, takes readers on a personal journey through the jewelled treasure that is Costa Rica. Images of spacious beaches, muddy river banks, crystal clear waterfalls, and lush jungles adorned with tropical blooms and prehistoric plants will stay in the reader's mind for a long time to come.
The book is organized by region -- the Central Divide, Guanacaste, the Central Pacific, the Osa Peninsula, the North Caribbean and the South Caribbean. It closes with a discussion on conservation and responsible tourism. Like an informed tour guide, the extended captions provide interesting facts and valuable context, all from the perspective of the author / photographer.
Highlights on the journey include Arenal, one of the world's most active volcanoes, Tortuguero National Park, where a lone jaguar trots across the sand, giant tree ferns -- evolutionary relics that predate flowering plants - in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve, a blood-scarlet passion flower emerging through leaf litter, a partially submerged crocodile, its riveting stare fixed on the photographer and poison arrow frogs, vividly painted in deadly reds, blues and greens.
Overflowing with brilliant page-filling photographs and informative text, this book is as close as one can get to Costa Rica without a passport.
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Adrian Hepworth is a British wildlife photographer who has lived and worked in Costa Rica since 1993. He has twice been a winner in the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition and fine art prints of his work can be purchased from his site adrianhepworth.com.
I never imagined that the jaguar would come so close. It had appeared suddenly from the trees to the north, just a hundred yards away, casually trotting in my direction. The sun was barely over the horizon, and I found myself downwind of the cat in a warm and humid Caribbean breeze. I was alone, deep inside Tortuguero National Park, miles from the nearest human habitation. The vultures around me had not yet seen the cat; they were busy feeding on the carcass of a green turtle killed during the night. Judging by the tracks in the sand, two medium-sized jaguars had attacked it just yards from the water. Surrounded by these tracks, I slowly knelt to the ground. I had waited eleven years for this encounter.
With not enough light to use a telephoto lens, I was forced to photograph the newcomer's approach with a standard 50 mm lens. It paused to smell the air before resuming its gait toward me. Some of the vultures noticed the movement and drifted nervously away from the carcass. The jaguar was close now, only twenty five paces from where I sat on the cool sand. It lifted its head one last time and finally saw what it was searching for. The trot became a run, the vultures scattered, and I began to question the sanity of my sitting next to a big cat's breakfast.
The result of this remarkable encounter can be seen on pages 154 and 155. Although coming face-to-face with a jaguar is an extremely rare occurrence, any tourist, researcher, or photographer who visits a national park or other protected wilderness in Costa Rica will return home with stories to tell. There is so much to see, so much to appreciate, and, inevitably, so much to preserve.
Despite its small size, Costa Rica is a remarkably diverse country. It has a total land area of 19,730 square miles (51,100 square kilometers), merely two-thirds the size of Scotland and just half the size of the state of Kentucky. Its land mass covers 0.03 percent of the Earth's terrestrial surface, yet it is home to about 8 percent of the world's recorded bird species, almost 5 percent of its mammals, and 3 percent of its reptiles and amphibians. Estimates suggest that Costa Rica also boasts between 2 and 4 percent of the world's vascular plant species and up to 360,000 species of insects (there are between about 5 and 30 million in the world).
Costa Rica ranks as one of the twenty most biodiverse countries in the world. This wealth of fauna and flora can largely be attributed to the wide variety of habitats and microclimates that exist throughout the country. Both the Pacific and Caribbean beaches are recognized as crucial turtle nesting sites. Where the rivers reach the sea, tidal mangroves provide important nursery sites for marine life and nesting locations for many waterbirds. The extensive network of freshwater canals that make up Tortuguero National Park provide secluded grazing for the endangered West Indian manatee. Birdwatchers flock to the internationally renowned seasonal marshes of Palo Verde and Caño Negro to view huge congregations of waterfowl. Within the borders of this small country, there are tropical dry forests, rainforests, and cloud forests, each with its own distinct flora and fauna. Finally, ascending the slopes of the higher peaks above the tree line is the unique ecosystem known as the paramo. At this elevation there are dwarf trees, shrubs, and bamboos mixed with other low-growing plants, all surviving in a very harsh environment.
A trip to Costa Rica is not complete without visiting at least one of the volcanoes that lie in various states of activity throughout the cordilleras. All manner of volcanic features can be experienced, including the constant eruptions and hot springs of Arenal Volcano, the smoking cone and crater lake of Poás Volcano, and the fumaroles and boiling hot mud pools surrounding Rincón de la Vieja Volcano.
Many of these wild areas lie within the nation's 102 government-managed national parks, biological reserves, and wildlife refuges, which cover an impressive 17 percent, or 3,436 square miles (8,900 square kilometers), of the total land area in Costa Rica. In addition, there are over 140 private natural reserves that have helped to protect another 2 percent, or roughly 386 square miles (1,000 square kilometers), of the national territory.
Costa Rica's world-famous network of national parks and reserves began in 1955 with the creation of small, government-protected areas around the craters of the Irazú and Turrialba Volcanoes. A few years later, in 1963, Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve was established on the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. In 1969, a law was passed to control deforestation and create more protected areas. This law also established a small government department called the National Parks Service; most of today's national parks, reserves, and refuges were created during the decade that followed.
There can be no doubt that the creation and continued administration of what is now called the National System of Conservation Areas (Sistema Nacional de Areas de Conservación, or SINAC) has helped enormously in the preservation of the country's natural habitats. Surveys conducted by the Nature
Conservancy and the Ministry of the Environment and Energy (Ministerio del Ambiente y Energía, or MINAE) demonstrate that Costa Ricans who have visited these areas are now more aware of conservation issues. Ecotourism in and around the parks and reserves creates business opportunities and employment for many local people, thus providing them a financial incentive to care for their natural heritage. Today, Costa Ricans appreciate the importance of nature conservation much more than they did twenty years ago.
Nevertheless, the entire system is now in desperate need of restructuring, and this requires additional resources and finances. Poaching and loss of habitat through deforestation and industrial pollution have already led animals such as the jabiru stork, green macaw, squirrel monkey, jaguar, puma, tapir, and manatee to become endangered or critically endangered species in Costa Rica. Worse still, the harpy eagle and the giant anteater are on the brink of extinction. In addition, global warming may at least partly explain why there have been no official sightings of the golden toad and many other cloud forest amphibian species since the late 1980s.
When the parks and reserves were established in the 1970s and 1980s, the National Parks Service designated protected status only to those areas that could be bought or that were donated. This has resulted in a patchwork of protected areas that in many cases have little or no connection with other protected areas. All too often, huge areas of industrial farmland or indiscriminate property development exacerbate this fragmentation. For many animals, there is a direct correlation between the size of a territory and the resources that territory can provide. Larger animals such as jaguars and pumas require a very large area within which to find food and, on occasion, a mate. If this area is significantly reduced, the inevitable result is declining populations. Territorial fragmentation also isolates populations, reducing genetic diversity and making the animals more vulnerable to disease. According to Randal García, the Director of Conservation at Costa Rica's National Institute of Biodiversity (INBio), up to 75 percent of the country's protected areas need to be enlarged and new biological corridors need to be created to connect the parks with neighboring protected areas. A number of corridors have already been created through both government and privately sponsored initiatives, but much work remains to keep these corridors ecologically viable and to protect them from property developers.
Most protected areas in Costa Rica suffer from a general lack of resources and financing. Many parks lack the necessary funding for equipment and staff. There are not enough rangers to patrol the parks and reserves and thereby effectively combat poaching, logging, wildlife trafficking, a
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