III. The ecological importance of Hacienda Baru

Along the Pacific coast between the Terraba River and the Savegre River there are 16 mangrove estuaries. There are only three places, all being wildlife refuges, where the natural vegetation forms a corridor permitting the wildlife to pass freely between the mangrove in the river mouths, the small patches of lowland forest, and the wet forests of the coastal mountain range. On Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge there are five internal biological corridors between the beach and the highland jungle. It is one of the few places in Costa Rica where it is possible to see a paca from your car, observe a troop of white fronted capuchin monkeys jumping from branch to branch to cross over the road, or find white collared peccary near the beach.

Hacienda Barú is an essential link in the Path of the Tapir Biological Corridor. When completed this natural pathway will connect the vast mangrove system of the Terraba River with the Savegre River basin by way of a wide belt of protected forest thus permitting the natural passage of wildlife the same as in years past.

Hacienda Barú is a well conserved nucleus which serves as a seed bank and a breeding ground for wildlife which will repopulate the secondary forests that form the missing links in the corridor.

Hacienda Barú provides a healthy ecosystem with many uncommon predators like the ocelot, marguay cat, jaguarundi, tyra, and grison among others. The existence of these carnivores is a sign of natural balance. They form the upper echelon of the food chain and cannot continue to exist if the system is not complete. These predators are missing from many well known protected areas such as Manuel Antonio National Park, for example, due to its isolation from other wild areas.

The scarlet macaw disappeared from this area in the late 1960’s as a result of overhunting, deforestation of old growth forests that provide nesting sites and a marked decrease of the Indian almond tree from the beaches. Wherever people move to the seashore one of the first things they seem to do is destroy the almond trees and plant coconut palms. On shorelines where there is a thick natural stand of almonds with a healthy volunteer nursery of young trees underneath, the beach always remains intact. The thick tangle of roots holds the sand in place forming a natural barrier to the heavy wave action during stormy periods. There is a minimum of erosion of the line between beach and land. In contrast, where coconut palms have been planted the waves wash away the sand between trees and underneath the ball of palm roots causing them to fall over.

This is the case on many of the developed beaches in this zone. Each year the sea eats away a little more of the beach line. Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge is one of the few areas along the coast between the Terraba and Savegre rivers where large extensions of Indian almond may still be found. The seeds from this tree, although too small to be of commercial value, form an important part of the diet of the scarlet macaw as well as squirrels, capuchin monkeys, and several species of parrots and parakeets.

Hacienda Barú has provided total protection to a 50 acre mangrove estuary located in the mouth of the Barú River. In the mid 1980’s when the area was zoned the hacienda was granted the first contract in the history of Costa Rica where the government leased a mangrove swamp to a private company for the purpose of conserving it. No construction has been permitted on the strip of land between the mangrove and the beach.

The 50 acre estuary is made up of six species of mangrove, two species of cane and a number of smaller wetland plants. Included in these is a bush like plant known locally as barbasco (Philantus acuminatus) which shows great promise as a possible cure for cancer.

Hacienda Barú has kept a record of the daily rainfall since 1981. In 1990 the National Meteorological Institute recognized it as an official weather station and installed a more sophisticated rain gauge as well as thermometers for recording the daily highs and lows in temperature. The wettest year during that time was 1988 with 6018 mm of rainfall. The driest with less than half that amount was 1997 with only 2621 mm. The average annual precipitation during the 25 year period was 4344 mm. (14 ft.) The lowest temperature recorded since 1990 was 69.8 degrees Fahrenheit and the highest was 95.9 degrees. The coldest month is usually December and March is the hottest.

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