Thousands of tourists make their way to Costa Rica every year primarily seeking the country’s natural beauty and for many of them the Monteverde Cloud Forrest is a key stop.
The reserve stretches through much of Costa Rica and spreads out over nearly 40,000 acres.
“This forest has been growing since the mountains emerged from the ocean,” said Oscar Fennell, a naturalist guide for the reserve. “Millions of years.”
The ancient forest now sees around 75,000 visitors every year, but it hasn’t always had that much traffic. Fennell said that when the forest first began its life as a tourist attraction in 1972 it only had 500 visitors a year.
Some of that may have had to do with the conditions in the surrounding area.
|Patricia Jiménez in a studio at the cooperative she helped to found.
Patricia Jiménez, a local artist who has lived in the area since that time, said there wasn’t much infrastructure then and today’s tourist friendly Monteverde didn’t exist yet.
“In those days, everybody was going either by foot or on horseback, so it was really difficult for many people to travel around,” Jiménez said.
While tourists mean big business, the forest is first and foremost a protected home for thousands of diverse species of plant and animal life, including 500 different types of orchids.
That means research is a continuous process in the forest.
“There’s a lot of research going on, different topics, somebody studying birds, somebody studying monkeys, somebody studying plants,” Fennell said. “There will be somebody doing this out here all the time.”
This research is also a vital part of keeping the cloud forest alive, healthy and open, he said.
“And we need research, if we only have ecotourism in here that’s just one of the aspects, we need conservation, environmental education and research,” Fennell said.
But like all environmental attractions around the world, Monteverde is under threat from climate change.
Even now, Fennell said, many of the forest’s species are struggling to survive as their habitats shrink.
“The climate is changing in Monteverde, everything is warming up, and we’re having less and less precipitation in this area, I’m thinking of species… some of them are declining because of the lack of rain,” he said.
Still Fennell said he is hopeful that the forest can continue to thrive, pointing to recent heavy rainfall.
“I’m happy about this, that we have more rain,” Fennell said. “I hope the rest of the year is like this.”
In the end, he said, he is happy doing what he does, and that, ecology, and the education it offers, are important lessons he is glad to help teach.
|Fennell waits as a group of students stops to take a few photos.
“Ecology is, to use my language, understanding nature and understanding the role of human beings in nature,” Fennell said. “Not only understanding the species here but also seeing what the best role of humans, of my kind, is in that context”