Area de Conservación Guanacaste
Costa Rica, Inscribed in  1999
Criteria : ix, x

Area de Conservación Guanacaste

Learn more about the state of conservation of this natural World Heritage site by scrolling down to read assessment summaries.More details can be found by navigating to the "Full references" tab, where conservation issues, benefits and projects are cited alongside values, threats, and protection and management.Sources of information are listed under references.

Finalised on 15 Nov 2014
Conservation Outlook

Significant Concern

The physical diversity of the Property from deep sea to mountain tops; the variation of terrestrial ecosystems with respect to elevation, soils, and climate; and the considerable success in managing and protecting the Property, especially with respect to restoration of dry forest habitats, are all important positive factors. Unfortunately, at the same time, climate change is having a negative impact on both marine and terrestrial ecosystems, especially with respect to wetlands, cloud forests, and rain forests, and the key species associated with them. A number of other current and potential threats can also have significant impacts on the site's values.

Values

High Concern Trend: Deteriorating
Current state and Trend of values
High Concern

While the current state of World Heritage values is relatively positive, the trend is negative. The important successes in restoration of the dry forest are, unfortunately, being offset by the increasingly apparent impacts of climate change, especially with respect to wetland, cloud forest, and Atlantic rainforest species.

Threats

High Threat
Overall Threats
High Threat

While the overall number of threats is low, the effects of climate change are serious; the warming of ocean waters threaten the marine environment, and warming and drying of terrestrial environments is causing habitat shifts and increasing susceptibility to fire in moist forests; overfishing and pollution in the marine environment are also of concern. Climate change could have significant impacts on the site's values. A new geothermal energy project could potentially affect one of the componet protected areas of this serial site - Rincon de la Vieja National Park.

Protection and Management

Effective
Overall Protection and management
Effective

Protection and management are carried out with relative effectiveness, well above national and regional standards, though concerns exist with respect to management planning and staff training. The Trust Fund for management of the Area has been in place since the late ‘80s, and provides the Area with long-term finance.

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Assessment Information
Finalised on 15 Nov 2014

Values

While the current state of World Heritage values is relatively positive, the trend is negative. The important successes in restoration of the dry forest are, unfortunately, being offset by the increasingly apparent impacts of climate change, especially with respect to wetland, cloud forest, and Atlantic rainforest species.

High Concern

World Heritage Values
High Concern Trend: Deteriorating

Globally important site for conservation of the tropical biodiversity
High Concern Stable

The Site is globally important for in situ conservation of the tropical biological diversity as it constitutes the only example in the Neotropics of a climatic and altitudinal transect, continuous and well protected, through a series of marine and terrestrial ecosystems which include the dry, cloud and rain forests. In addition it allows the restoration and conservation of the largest, best preserved and most representative sample of species characteristic of the neotropical dry forest, a highly vulnerable ecosystem and currently endangered to disappear. The variations in elevation, soils, and present climatic conditions favor the existence of a high diversity of habitats with approximately 335,000 land species, which represent a 67% of the species described for Costa Rica and a 2.6% of the world biodiversity, in an area of only 147,000 ha. This outstanding variety of coastal-marine and land species, both residents as migratory, include some rare, endemic or endangered to extinction. Thus, in the Property coexist more than 7,000 species of plants, among which outstand mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla), royal guayacan (Guaiacum sanctum), several species of agaves and cactus with the best conserved populations of Central America. Likewise, a remarkable diversity of Lepidoptera (more than 10,000 species) and 942 vertebrate species, many of these vulnerable or endangered to extinction such as the jaguar (Panthera onca), the wild pig (Tayassu pecari), the yellow-naped parrot (Amazona auropalliata), the spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi) and the olive Ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea), which find in the Site suitable and viable habitats for their conservation in perpetuity. Charismatic representatives of reptiles include the vulnerable American Crocodile and the Spectacled Caiman. Several species of sea turtles occur in the property, with the critically endangered Leatherback nesting and a massive breeding population of the vulnerable Olive Ridley. Invertebrate diversity is extraordinary with an estimated 20,000 species of beetles, 13,000 species of ants, bees and wasps and 8,000 species of butterflies and moths (SoOUV, 2013).

Complex ecological processes and interactions at all levels of biodiversity
High Concern Deteriorating

A striking feature of Area de Conservación Guanacaste is the wealth of ecosystem and habitat diversity, all connected through an uninterrupted gradient from the Pacific Ocean across the highest peaks to the lowlands on the Caribbean side. Beyond the distinction into land and sea, the many landscape and forest types comprise mangroves, lowland rainforest, premontane and montane humid forest, cloud forest, as well as oak forests and savannahs with evergreen gallery forests along the many water courses. Along the extraordinary transect the property allows migration, genetic exchange and complex ecological processes and interactions at all levels of biodiversity, including between land and sea. The vast dry forest is a rare feature of enormous conservation value, as most dry forests elsewhere in the region are fragmented remnants only. Conservation has permitted the natural restoration of the previously degraded forest ecosystem, today serving again as a safe haven for the many species depending on this acutely threatened ecosystem. Major nutrient-rich cold upwelling currents offshore result in a high marine productivity and are the foundation of a diverse coastal-marine ecosystem containing important coral reefs, algal beds, estuaries, mangroves, sandy and cobble beaches, shore dunes and wetlands. (SoOUV, 2013).

Other Biodiversity values
NA Trend: NA

Other international designations
NA Trend: NA

Threats

While the overall number of threats is low, the effects of climate change are serious; the warming of ocean waters threaten the marine environment, and warming and drying of terrestrial environments is causing habitat shifts and increasing susceptibility to fire in moist forests; overfishing and pollution in the marine environment are also of concern. Climate change could have significant impacts on the site's values. A new geothermal energy project could potentially affect one of the componet protected areas of this serial site - Rincon de la Vieja National Park.

High Threat

Current Threats
High Threat

While the overall number of threats is low, the effects of climate change are serious; the warming of ocean waters threaten the marine environment, and warming and drying of terrestrial environments is causing habitat shifts and increasing susceptibility to fire in moist forests; overfishing is an on-going, though treatable problem in the marine environment.

Temperature extremes
High Threat

On-going climate change results in a warmer and drier climate and has increased fire potential, not only in the dry forest, but now increasingly in moist forests. Habitat shifts to higher elevations are now being detected in terrestrial areas, and corals are experiencing disease and dieback in the marine section of the Area. Warmer temperatures are also affecting crocodiles. Sex ratios are determined by egg temperatures while in the nest, and with higher temperatures fewer females are being born (Science Daily, 07.17.08; Global Post, 10.01.10; Colette, 2007)

Water Pollution
High Threat

Issues with pollution brought to the area by marine currents is of important concern (IUCN Consultation, 2014).

Fishing / Harvesting Aquatic Resources
High Threat

Commercial fishing for shrimp and artisanal fishing for snappers and crabs combine to alter the very rich marine ecosystems. (WCMC Data Sheet, 2011)

Potential Threats
Low Concern

Climate change could have significant impacts on the site's values. A new geothermal energy project could potentially affect one of the componet protected areas of this serial site - Rincon de la Vieja National Park.

Renewable Energy
High Threat

A new geothermal energy project has recently been approved with geothermal generation installations to be located at the Rincon de la Vieja volcano and potentially impacting on one of the components of this serial site (Various news sources, 2014).

Temperature extremes
High Threat

As the rate of climate change increases, habitat shifts will be accelerated, a number of cloud forest species will die out, the chances of fire in moist and wet forests will increase dramatically, and fire incursions from private properties in the buffer zone will increase. (Science Daily, 07.17.08; Global Post, 10.01.10)

Protection and management

Protection and management are carried out with relative effectiveness, well above national and regional standards, though concerns exist with respect to management planning and staff training. The Trust Fund for management of the Area has been in place since the late ‘80s, and provides the Area with long-term finance.

Effective

Protection and management

Sustainable finance
Effective

A Trust Fund for management of the Area has been in place since the late ‘80s, and provides the Area with long-term finance that is complemented by government finance, and user fees. (WCMC, 2011) the Guanacaste Dry Forest Conservation Fund (http://www.gdfcf.org) that invests about $1 m annually in supporting 26% of the 150 ACG staff members (IUCN Consultation, 2013).

Research
Highly Effective

There are 5 research stations distributed throughout the Conservation Area, and about 100 new scientific papers on the area are published each year. Research programs include, among others, forest ecology, the local fauna, savanna succession, the effects of fire and the behavior and ecology of vertebrate fauna, notably the olive ridley turtle. The inventory of vertebrates, insects and aquatic biota in the area has been ongoing since 1973 although the biota of the serpentine barrens is yet to be thoroughly studied. More than two million labeled insects from the area are deposited in the collections of the National Institute of Biodiversity (WCMC Data Sheet, 2011; Confidential consultation, 2010; Molina, 1999)

Monitoring
Highly Effective

Monitoring of native flora and fauna is on-going and is supported by the Area’s 5 research stations. (WCMC, Data Sheet, 2011; Confidential consultation, 2010)

Tourism and visitation management
Effective

Tourism is a minor activity in the Conservation Area. A visitor center at the Casona Historic Site within Santa Rosa National Park provides information to visitors on restoration of the dry forest ecosystem, biodiversity in general, potential visitor activities, and the historic significance of the Casona (WCMC Data Sheet, 2011)

Education and interpretation programs
Highly Effective

On-going education and interpretation programs for local communities and schools are given high priority and are seen as key elements of resource management programs. These programs have been key to changing local community attitudes towards conservation (WCMC data Sheet, 2011)

Sustainable use
Highly Effective

The major uses permitted in the Conservation Area are tourism and research, and both are carried out on a sustainable basis. (WCMC Data Sheet, 2011).

Staff training and development
Some Concern

About 80% of staff are locals, so training and development is important. The Trust Fund finances staff participation in local, regional, and national training events, but an evaluation of management effectiveness indicates that more work needs to be done to systematize and maintain training efforts year by year. (WCMC Data Sheet, 2011; Confidential consultation, 2010; Bermudez Acuña, 2006).

Boundaries
Some Concern

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Implementation of Committee decisions and recommendations
Highly Effective

There are no recent Committee decisions regarding this site.

Management effectiveness
Effective

The Santa Rosa and Rincon de la Vieja National Parks, major components of the Guanacaste Conservation Area, are some of the best managed in Costa Rica according to studies of management effectiveness. The success of dry forest restoration efforts is particularly noteworthy (WCMC Data Sheet, 2011; Bermudez Acuña, 2006).

Management system (for transboundary/serial properties, integrated management system should also be described/evaluated)
Effective

.

Integration into regional and national planning systems (including sea/landscape connectivity)
Some Concern

The Guanacaste Conservation Area is a regional system, but as of 2006, no planning system was in place at the regional level, and overall strategic plans at the national level were heavily criticized (Bermuda Acuña, 2006)

Legal framework
Highly Effective

The legal framework is based on comprehensive national legislation and enforcement within the Conservation Area is considered among the best within the National Protected Area System.(Bermuda Acuña, 2006)

Relationships with local people (including stakeholder relationships, participatory management, rights, and access to benefits and equity)
Effective

Decades of work with local communities, hiring of local workers, inclusion of local people on the Area’s Management Committee, and long-term environmental education efforts, have resulted in relatively good relationships with most local people (WCMC Data Sheet, 2011; Confidential Consultation, 2010).

Overall assessment of protection and management

Assessment of the effectiveness of protection and management in addressing threats outside the site
Data Deficient

Data deficient

Overall assessment of protection and management
Effective

Protection and management are carried out with relative effectiveness, well above national and regional standards, though concerns exist with respect to management planning and staff training. The Trust Fund for management of the Area has been in place since the late ‘80s, and provides the Area with long-term finance.

Best Practice Examples

Additional Information

Key Conservation Issues

Issues

Climate change
Global

By far the most important negative conservation issue for this Property is climate change. While altitudinal diversity of the Property will be a positive factor in allowing habitats to shift in response to climate change, it will not be able to ameliorate negative effects on wetlands, cloud forests, and rain forests and associated species. (Science Daily, 07.17.08; Global Post, 10.01.10; Colette, 2007)

Benefits

Knowledge

Research work at the 5 research stations, distributed throughout the Conservation Area, generate about 100 new scientific papers on the area which are published each year. Research programs include, among others, forest ecology, the local fauna, savanna succession, the effects of fire and the behavior and ecology of vertebrate fauna, notably the olive ridley turtle. The inventory of vertebrates, insects and aquatic biota in the area has been ongoing since 1973 although the biota of the serpentine barrens is yet to be thoroughly studied. More than two million labeled insects from the area are deposited in the collections of the National Institute of Biodiversity (WCMC Data Sheet, 2011; Personal Communication, 2010; Molina, 1999)

Nature conservation values

The Site is globally important for in situ conservation of the tropical biological diversity as it constitutes the only example in the Neotropics of a climatic and altitudinal transect, continuous and well protected, through a series of marine and terrestrial ecosystems which include the dry, cloud and rain forests. In addition it allows the restoration and conservation of the largest, best preserved and most representative sample of species characteristic of the neotropical dry forest, a highly vulnerable ecosystem and currently endangered. The variations in elevation, soils, and present climatic conditions favor the existence of a high diversity of habitats with approximately 335,000 land species, which represent a 67% of the species described for Costa Rica and a 2.6% of the world biodiversity, in an area of only 147,000 ha. This outstanding variety of coastal-marine and land species, both residents as migratory, include some rare, endemic or endangered to extinction. Thus, in the Property coexist more than 6,000 species of plants. (SOUV)

Projects

Active Conservation Projects

N0 Organization/ individuals Brief description of Active Projects Contact Details
1 National Parks Foundation Trust Fund for management of the Conservation Area
2 Guanacaste Dry Forest Conservation Fund http://www.gdfcf.org

Compilation of potential project needs

N.O0 Organization/ individuals Brief description of Active Projects Contact Details
Data is not available
Rn0 References
1 http://www.acguanacaste.ac.cr/1997/manejo_admin/estr_adming.html
2 UNEP-WCMC Data Sheet, 2011
3 Moline, Angie. 1999. Tropical dry forest restoration in teh Guanacaste Conservation Area, Costa Rica. Restoration and Reclamation Review. Student on-line journal. 4.4.99. Univ. of Minn.
4 Bermudez Acuna, Fernando. 2006. Resultados de la evaluacion de la efectividad de manejo de 25 areas silvestres protegidas de Costa Rica. Centro Cientifico Tropical. http://www.sinac.go.cr/libreria/efectividad_%20de_%20manejo_%20asp.pdf
5 Science Daily, 17.07.08. Could Climate Change Impact Costa Rica. New Study says “Yes”. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080710200232.htm
6 Eco-index. Projects in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. Rainforest Alliance. http://www.eco-index.org/search/results.cfm?ProjectID=658
7 Colette, Agustin. 2007. Case studies on Climate Change and World Heritage. World Heritage Center.

Site Description

The Area de Conservación Guanacaste (inscribed in 1999), was extended with the addition of a 15,000 ha private property, St Elena. It contains important natural habitats for the conservation of biological diversity, including the best dry forest habitats from Central America to northern Mexico and key habitats for endangered or rare plant and animal species. The site demonstrates significant ecological processes in both its terrestrial and marine-coastal environments.

ⓒ UNESCO