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Moving Closer to Sustainability Goals

Tourists on boat watch dolphins

Tourists watch dolphins in Golfo Dulce or Sweet Gulf, a rare tropical fjord estuary inthe Osa-Golfito region of Costa Rica. The inlet opens to the Pacific Ocean.

Jacob Scherr
Mar 14, 2018


Since, 2012, Stanford’s Osa & Golfito Initiative has worked with local residents to articulate a vision for developing environmentally sustainable livelihoods – a conservation model that holds lessons for other countries. INOGO (the acronym for the program’s Spanish name) recently entered a new phase in its works with local partners to help people realize their goals via new skills and access to networks within ecotourism and agriculture. 

Larry Crowder, the Edward Ricketts Provostial Professor of Marine Ecology and Conservation at Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station and former science director of Stanford’s Center for Ocean Solutions, has been named co-director of INOGO. Crowder will help prioritize fisheries management as part of a larger effort to provide useful, science-based decision-making tools and information to regional stakeholders.

“This is an exciting step forward for a program that is producing important conservation lessons for countries around the world,” said Chris Field, the Perry L. McCarty Director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, which manages INOGO. “We look forward to a more comprehensive and well-integrated effort to harmonize human prosperity with the protection of natural resources.”

“Larry’s addition to the INOGO team is great for us, and even better for Costa Rica,” said INOGO co-director William Durham, the Bing Professor in Human Biology, Emeritus. “The marine experience and modeling expertise he and his team bring to the task will be tremendous assets.”

“This crystallizes our long-awaited hope for INOGO to be able to incorporate a critical component,” said INOGO co-director Rodolfo Dirzo, the Bing Professor in Environmental Science. “Now, we can focus on interactions between the marine realm, terrestrial ecosystems and local human communities.” 

Crowder discussed INOGO’s unique approach and evolving priorities.

What has INOGO accomplished so far?

INOGO has helped farmers explore potential innovations for sustainability in oil palm agriculture. It has taught young people about environmental leadership, and prepared them for ecotourism jobs with English language skills. It has also united rural community tourism businesses with a branding effort, a sightseeing trail network called Caminos de Osa and connections to the tourist market.

How has INOGO helped make the Osa and Golfito region more resilient to extreme weather events?

Because of its tropical climate, the region has always been vulnerable to extremes in temperature and rainfall.  Increasingly dramatic El Nino-La Nina variation – periodic phases in which the ocean surface temperature either warms or cools and wind speeds change – has altered wet and dry season schedules people have relied upon for generations. The worst storm anyone alive remembers happened this past fall, and the rainy season has been starting later and later.

INOGO programs have provided local people insights on the significance of such events, organized discussions on how to react and coordinated with government relief efforts. For example, when the region experienced extreme flooding, the Caminos de Osa network was able to identify and communicate with isolated far-flung families allowing them to receive assistance for the first time during that event. The development of networks of leaders around a shared economic incentive proved to also provide a critical communication network to address emergencies.

What can other countries learn from INOGO's work in Costa Rica?

Costa Rica has an enviable track record in science-based conservation and Costa Ricans value their environment as exemplars to the world – that’s a tough act to follow. INOGO’s model of engaging and empowering local people builds on the environmental ethic in Costa Rica. It’s an approach that works, and can be employed by any nation or region.

Why is it important for INOGO to focus on fisheries and ocean management?

Although their country is a model for green growth, Costa Ricans often say they have developed "with our backs to the ocean." On a relative basis, Costa Rica has given less attention to marine issues in policy, conservation and general understanding. It’s unfortunate, because Costa Rica has incredible and vast marine resources that are important drivers for tourism and other economic sectors. For example, Golfo Dulce in the Osa and Golfito region is a uniquely rare tropical fjord estuary surrounded by a relatively undeveloped watershed. Whales and sea turtles go there to give birth, and normally migratory dolphins stay there year-round. There is potential for increasing conflict there because multiple interests – such as tourism and fishing boats are sometimes competing for the same resources.

What are you hoping to accomplish?

We have an incredible foundation to build upon and valued relationships with partners. The new project will build an understanding of the behavior and movement of pelagic fishes like marlins and sailfish. We will identify zones of potential conflict among fisheries – such as when commercial and sport fishing boats work the same areas. We’ll also illuminate the role of climate variation in reducing or exacerbating these conflicts – such as when changes in ocean temperature and currents effect fish populations.

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