Located on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, the Térraba-Sierpe National Wetlands is the largest mangrove wetlands in Central America.  This reserve area is also a Ramsar site, a designation that recognizes the international importance of a wetlands area and signifies commitment to ensuring the ecological character of a wetlands (see the Ramsar Convention for more information). The Térraba-Sierpe encompasses diverse natural landscapes - estuaries, lagoons, beaches, cliffs, and mangrove forests. Mangroves in particular provide a valuable suite of critical ecosystem services that includes storm surge protection, healthy fisheries, and carbon sequestration.

Our world’s most important ecosystems are under increasing pressure from climate change and threats from development and other human influences, and the Térraba-Sierpe mangroves are no exception. For some time, there has been a growing interest in developing near the mangroves.  Talk of constructing an international airport, rapidly encroaching real estate development, and a proposed hydroelectric station and dam that would obstruct flow to the wetlands were only a few of the concerns in 2010.[1]  

In response to these growing concerns, Earth Economics contributed to a project in partnership with the University of Vermont, conducting a valuation of the ecosystem services of mangroves within the wetlands. The project resulted in the most comprehensive database of habitat, water quality, and fisheries for the area to date[2], and the analysis found that the Térraba-Sierpe National Wetlands provides a stunning annual value between $302 million and $1.9 billion. The value of the reserve comes from a broad list of ecosystem goods and services that includes storm protection, natural drought mitigation, nutrient flows, biodiversity, mussel habitat, and aesthetic value, among others. The vast majority of these valuable services are public, benefitting all.

The values identified in the study provided a powerful argument for wetland protection, and one that was used to achieve a key success: the development and adoption of a management plan for the Térraba-Sierpe wetlands. The ecosystem services framework identified in the analysis was presented to local communities in Puntarenas in close partnership with one of Costa Rica’s oldest NGOs, Fundación Neotrópica. Gaining local buy-in was crucial to the ultimate result: the adoption of the Humedal Nacional Térraba-Sierpe management plan, a legally binding document that is an anchor for the community in land-use decisions.  The management plan is the first ever for the region – a landmark change for a crucial natural reserve.

Kocian, M., et al. 2010. Nature’s Value in the T.rraba‐Sierpe National Wetlands: The Essential Economics of Ecosystem Services. Earth Economics, Tacoma, WA.

This study was conducted under a contract with the University of Vermont with support from a Bluemoon Grant.

Key Words: Ecosystem Service Valuation, Habitat, Mangrove, Wetland, Natural Reserve, Térraba-Sierpe

Reference [1, 2]