Costa Rica: Nature’s heaven, for now…
Costa Rica is one of the few countries on Earth that has a real policy regarding nature protection, like the ability for any citizen to take defense for endangered ecosystems. After more than 6 weeks in the country, we could tell that this attention towards nature is most of the time true and visible, even if in some cases it gets close to « green-washing » or fake « eco-friendly » businesses…
Costa Rica has numerous natural reserves and parks, more wildlife than most countries have, lots of forests now fairly well protected, close to 95% sustainable energy production for electricity (making it the first country in the world to become « carbon neutral » in the next few years), and a progressive « Earth University » that is looking at the many challenges of ecosystems’ preservation and sustainable development, including carbon sequestration.
Still, many ecological corridors are broken, some areas are suffering some « el Nino » drought that revealed the scale of the too many forest cuttings in the 70’s to favor cattle breeding (sponsored by the government at that time), and the whole country seems « for sale » with lots of semi-controlled « ocean view » real estate programs that are for sure challenging the nature’s protection laws (with apparently a lot of corruption of the authorities by the large land owners and promoters). Furthermore, in many “eco” places, especially along the coast, recycling is an hoax (no recycling capabilities beyond the trash containers), people dump trash all over the place, while Gringos (USA and other western countries’ tourists) turn the aircon at full power the windows opened in their hotels rooms or 4WD, all under the “eco-friendly” label…
Costa Rica and visitors can improve to really live-up to the “eco” promise!
Looking for true Carbon Sequestration… in Costa Rica!
Those were interesting facts and thoughts as we were looking to go further with our Carbon Footprint reduction program, and through our research we found that Costa Rica was probably the right place to live the experience with different public and private initiatives.
As we explained in a previous post, having already compensated 2,5x times our world tour emissions, we were looking at compensating 5 tons of CO2 a year for the next 10 years to get closer to COP21 objectives ahead of time…
We therefore looked for a grass root NGO that would help us to do real Carbon Sequestration. Not just preventing future emissions (like we did with other programs), but really taking C02 from the atmosphere in the form of… trees!
Trees are indeed the only real Carbon Sequestration system that is working for now (even some industrial projects are starting to show some efficiency like CO2 injection into former geologic pockets of oil and gaz). That’s why it’s so important to protect forests wherever possible, but also plant trees and rebuild an ecosystem where it has been destroyed.
As we wanted to do and understand by ourselves, we contacted Jenny from Association Community Carbon Trees (ACCT) here in Costa Rica.
Jenny has been working in non-profit in Costa Rica for 15 years, and launched ACCT in 2008 with the triple ambition to :
1) Help companies and individuals sequestrate Carbon based on their emissions
2) Restore natural ecosystems and corridors through carefully selected tree species (not monoculture) and locations
3) Provide a positive social impact by employing locals and supporting sustainable economic development of rural areas.
We spent 2 days with the kids going through the whole process. Here is the story.
From ecosystem destruction to ecosystem restauration
Jenny took us to one of the association base-camps in a small village. On the way, we crossed several landscape that went from original Rain Forest, fairly humid and fresh, to completely dry and almost desertic pasture that did not retain any water and barely fed the skinny cattle.
The contrast was shocking, but some restored parcels also showed us that what had been destroyed in a few years can also be restored in a few years. Nature is extremely resilient, but it needs the help of humans to return from desert to rain forest.
Reforesting means planting small species first to cast shadow on the ground, bring the temperature down, allow for the soil to regenerate a bit, and then only start replanting carefully selected species that can survive, play a specific role (like holding the ground), and bring back diversity that is needed to grow healthy forest that can sustain and host the wildlife.
Education and local sustainable economy
In this small village, the Association organized a game to let adults and kids learn about the different tree species of the region, the same ones that are being replanted. It was wonderful to see how knowledgeable the kids were !
It was also great to see locals trading products that come from the ecosystem restauration, like certain foods…
OK, should we plant trees ?
Well before doing so, Jenny wanted us to understand the whole process.
At her place, we had a passionate debate about the true efficiency of Carbon Sequestration through trees.
How do you mesure it ?
How do you assess the real impact of each species ?
What is the methodology to get to 100% reliable certification (not green washing) ?
How do you mesure the whole impact beyond carbon sequestration, like ecosystem rehabilitation (something you can not do through monoculture plantations) and positive social impact ?
Many questions that have partial answers for now due to our current state of knowledge, but Jenny had a clear roadmap to get those questions answered with the help of the Earth University (where she got trained) and a certification program robust enough (e.g. statistically significant and accurate) to assess the actual CO2 sequestration of the different reforestation programs.
For now, Community Carbon Trees (ACCT) guarantees 1 ton of CO2 per tree after a guaranteed lifetime of 25 years, the optimal time to reach maximum sequestration potential under the tropics. Which is certainly largely underestimated as it’s a « lower average » not accounting for all the CO2 sequestered in the soil for instance…
First things first : the seeds
Restoring diversity goes through collecting diverse seeds. Jenny did show us a bunch of different seeds that each required a different treatment to imitate the way Nature would do. We had fun breaking dozens of Guava shells that contained « marshmallow like » sweet texture that monkeys love, and of course the precious seeds (that’s why the monkeys swallow those seeds, offering them free transportation across the jungle). To imitate monkeys contribution, we had to soak the seeds overnight…
Once the different kinds of seeds were extracted and prepared, we had to plant them in the nursery in humid and fertilized dirt.
Collecting the baby plants
The next step was to collet the baby trees that were a few weeks old and replant them into plastic containers that had also fertilized dirt and enough space to grow for at least a year. The kids were super-active filling the bags with dirt and compost, digging a hole and replanting the baby tree, organizing the space, and watering it all.
In the nursery, we could see several generations of trees, and after lots of efforts and love (with some mortality though), trees reached the good age of 3 years old, ready for some action.
The real thing : replanting the trees into the wild!
This is the part we could not do ourselves as we were still in the dry season. But this is where the real job starts as it needs science and efforts !
Indeed, as explained earlier, you don’t just plant 3 yo trees randomly in nature, or you are guaranteed to reach 100% mortality within a year.
You need to walk long distance in the jungle (or the « desert »), prepare the ground by planting small species first to bring the temperature down and allow the soil to regenerate, start replanting the selected tree species that can survive, do some control testing a year after together with some cleaning of the lianas to avoid the teenager trees to die…
After 3 years, only then do you know the survival rate of the trees, and that the survivors will grow adult and do their job of sucking CO2 from the air to make beautiful organic construction that retain water, welcome the animals, and makes the air much fresher and breathable for humans…
We committed to « sponsor » 50 of those trees, and some of the seeds we planted will make their way to the mountain in the hands of the volunteers and workers of the villages. Hopefully, they will help to restore an ecological corridor and sequestrate those 50 tons that we want to offset, or even more;-)
The 2 days with ACCT and Jenny were a wonderful experience. Challenging for the mind and the bodies, but delighting for the soul.
We met several likeminded people sharing the same aspiration to think and act differently in our everyday lives, hopefully giving a positive contribution for what it slowly but surely becoming mankind’s biggest collective challenge: Global Warming.
A big thank to Jenny for her contagious energy and for pioneering the « sustainable carbon sequestration » adventure as it will become increasingly important in a near future. We will all need it !
We will follow-up to see how our “Beautiful World Tour” trees are doing!
You can also watch the video here: