After two visits in 2019 I wrote a quick note about the Osa Peninsula, and afterwards I found the map above on National Geographic’s website. A couple years have passed since those visits and National Geographic published this article that I somehow missed until now. Jamie Shreeve shares a history I was well aware of due to our four years managing Lapa Rios, and back then I heard versions of it many times in the first person; but here it is told better than by anyone else in my experience, plus accompanied by the kind of photography you expect from National Geographic (not included here out of respect for the copyrights of those images). The title notes the challenge facing the peninsula, and my bet is on the peninsula’s having the support it needs to survive:
The Osa Peninsula is a biodiverse wonder and a model for conservation. But its preservation programs have been devastated by COVID-19.
Celedonia Tellez doesn’t recall the year she moved to the Osa Peninsula, or exactly how old she was, but she remembers well why she came: free land. At the time, the peninsula, a 700-square-mile crook on the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica, was a forest frontier, separated from the mainland by a neck of near-impenetrable mangroves and accessible mainly by boat. Celedonia was pregnant when she arrived with her five children, six chickens, a dog, and 700 colones, about one dollar. She also brought her boyfriend, but he “hated nature, and would run away from insects,” she remembers. So she took an ax and cleared the land herself.
“When I was cutting down the trees, I would think how they must have taken so long to grow, and I cut them down in an instant,” she says. “That’s what we did. We cut down the forest to live.”
Some 40 years later, Doña Celedonia, as she is respectfully called by everyone, still lives on that same tract, in a town called La Palma. When I met her on a June day in 2019, she was wearing jeans and a blue and white floral print blouse. She showed me around her garden and house, and from her confident stride there was no telling that she is nearly blind.
For Doña Celedonia, it was a day of redemption: Instead of clearing the forest, she was bringing a bit of it back. At her invitation, a nonprofit called Osa Conservation had organized a network of local and government groups to plant 1,700 native tree saplings on her 22-acre farm, most along a stream defining one border of her property. On Costa Rica’s annual Arbor Day, many of her six children, 16 grandchildren, and 14 great-grandchildren had gathered to celebrate, along with much of the rest of the surrounding community. There were displays, speeches, games, and dances by the children in brightly colored traditional dress.
Toward noon, everyone ambled out to the stream to watch Doña Celedonia plant the symbolic last tree. Her grandson Pablo dug a hole. Seeming embarrassed by all the attention, Doña Celedonia bent from the waist and lowered the root ball into the ground.
“Maybe I’ll turn my whole farm back into forest,” she said, wiping the dirt from her hands…
Read the whole article here.