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Osa Peninsula - The most biologically intense place on earth

By Nick St Clair - 29 May 2012 11:27:12 GMT
Osa Peninsula - The most biologically intense place on earth

Scarlet Macaw; Credit: © Shutterstock

Costa Rica has long been renowned for its incredible biodiversity; a small, yet environmentally rich country that is home to over 5% of the entire world's animal and plant species.

Lying along its south-western coast is the Osa Peninsula, a tiny strip of land measuring just 35 miles long and 20 miles wide and covered in magnificent, unspoiled rainforest. The Osa Peninsula is itself home to half of all the species in Costa Rica, that's a staggering 2.5% of the entire biodiversity of the planet, living on a mere 0.00000085% of the earth's total surface area.

Formed geologically by the same faulting system that extends to California, this patch of Costa Rica's last remaining tropical humid rainforest embraces a complex system of freshwater and marine systems; there are 13 major ecosystems, ranging from sea level to 745 metres and encompassing mangroves, sandy beaches and elevated primary forests.

As a result, the Osa Peninsula is home to over 700 species of trees, which is more than all the North temperate regions of the world combined. Trees that are comparable in grandeur to the best that the Amazon Basin and the South East Asian forests have to offer, with 80 endemic species and the largest tree in Central America, a giant Silk Cotton tree some 77 metres tall.

There are 117 species of reptiles and amphibians, 365 species of birds and over 120 species of mammals, (all with varying degrees of endemism). Its forests are home to endangered species such as Baird's tapir, the white-lipped peccary, the American crocodile, the harpy eagle and the Central American squirrel monkey.

It's a place where jaguars still roam the jungles, scarlet macaws fly freely about the town and the enormous humpbacked whales swim close to its shores. The Osa Peninsula holds possibly the highest natural diversity on the planet, inspiring The National Geographic magazine to describe it as "the most biologically intense place on earth".

harpy eagle

Endangered central american harpy eagle; Credit: © Shutterstock

Protecting this unspoilt wilderness

At least half of its rainforest and swamps are protected by Corcovado National Park and numerous private reserves, yet sadly, like the majority of the world's most delicate ecosystems it is under threat.

In addition to the challenges posed by climate change on delicate bio-systems, there are also the added threats of poaching and unregulated construction in an area that lacks adequate infrastructure to deal with the resultant rubbish, wastewater and sewage.

The good news for its future is that it also home to an active and committed community who work tirelessly to counter the negative effects of human impact. In addition to the establishment of recycling programmes and supporting the role of local producers, the Osa community also provides strong opposition to any proposals that might cause further damage to this fragile ecosystem.

It is with some irony that tourism is also playing a major role in the protection of the Osa Peninsular. Many hotels and businesses are adhering to the standards set out by the Certificate for Sustainable Tourism and have even bought tracts of land with the sole aim of increasing the protected forest lands.

As a result, there is genuine hope that the Osa Peninsular will remain a beautifully wild and unspoilt wilderness; a unique and quite beautiful oasis in an increasingly over populated planet, a place where animals can roam freely with little or no fear of their human neighbours.

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Topics: Biodiversity / Wildlife / Rainforest