Although it may seem counter-intuitive to some, we at Osa Tropical Properties feel that in our growing real estate market, it is important to promote regenerative real estate practices through reforestation to counter-balance our human effects.

Environmental awareness and preservation have been cornerstones of Costa Rica’s development since the 1970s. Powered almost entirely by renewable sources, Costa Rica aims to be the world’s first carbon-neutral country, with the additional goal of protecting 30 percent of its forests and marine resources.

The pandemic caused people from around the world to reflect on their living situations, creating rising demand from foreign buyers wanting to live in Costa Rica’s eco-paradise. Our real estate office has been sharing the message of clean, green Costa Rica for years. It is the reason that we all chose to move here and we know that it is a big motivating factor for many of the clients we work with.

But Costa Rica’s rising popularity is creating problems for the environment. “Covid escapees” are arriving in droves and property prices have nearly doubled in some circumstances. Properties that had been unsold for years have sold and sold again.

Unfortunately, some of this development is less conscientious than Costa Rica’s reputation would have us believe. Although there are strict building codes in Costa Rica, there are clear breaches of the environmental rules, such as dumping raw sewage into the ocean, building without permits, or burning the forest.

The original expats in Costa Rica were “greener” types of people, like yogis and surfers. But more recently, all types have been arriving, including those who like big cars and air-conditioned homes. There is nothing wrong with liking nice things. But some luxuries come with more environmental sacrifices, which are visibly taking their toll on our environment. Rivers and aquifers are drying up and animal sightings are becoming less and less frequent. It is high time that we consider giving back to the environment that drew us here in the first place.

One of the biggest culprits in environmental degradation due to real estate is the cutting down of big trees. Native trees create more rain, give shade to the earth, offer homes and food for animal life, and their roots protect the soil from being washed away while also infusing it with nutrients. In order to keep our real estate practice in integrity with the environment that we love, we want to share the message of how important it is that we strive to reforest where we can and regenerate the environment around us.

Costa Rica’s Delicate Environment

The country of Costa Rica understands the importance of preserving its natural resources. Over 25% of the landmass is protected in National Parks and public/private land reserves. Natural features such as trees and rivers are given constitutional protection. In Article 50 of Costa Rica’s constitution, there are laws to protect trees from the indiscriminate cutting of native trees.

Costa Rica is home to a web of interconnected life that makes this country a wildlife corridor for a vast swath of biology, from mammals to insects to mycelium. Unbroken, natural spaces are important to the world at large because their habitats of plants and water cannot exist without animal life, and vice versa. If we like to eat, breathe, and drink water, we need these places to exist.

Although tropical forests only occupy 7% of the total landmass on Earth, they are home to more than 2/3 of all the world’s plant and animal species. Deforestation in tropical forests is the greatest threat to the extinction of species. Some estimates put the annual loss of both plants and animals at 50,000 species each year. One of the top causes of species extinction is habitat destruction or degradation. Decimating the ecosystem of plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria invites invasive species to flourish.

On the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, in this area, known as Costa Ballena (Whale Coast), humpback whales come to breed. In addition, large sea turtles like the Olive Ridley, dolphins, countless species of fish, and amazing coral reefs are protected by responsibly reforesting the watershed in the mountains above.

How Planting Trees Helps

Tropical trees pull in and store 95% of all tree-based CO2 sequestration on the planet. Tropical trees deposit a huge amount of biomass into the soil in the form of leaves, seeds, branches, and other organic materials. Animals and birds, microbes and fungus, epiphytes, and bromeliads living in trees add even more organic material to the soil. Once newly planted trees grow over the surrounding vegetation, usually dense cattle grasses, the soil temperature lowers and organic material can begin to deposit into the soil thereby also sequestering carbon. Healthy microbes grow, fungus ferments, and soil fertility is regenerated to become capable of sustaining life.

The top six inches of rainforest soil contain countless nutrients and living systems to support life. The types of vegetation planted will impact the nutrient quality of the soil. If a site has very poor soil, small weeds, grasses, and plants must be planted to mend soil quality before trees can survive to maturity. This is a natural process called secession.

Shaded soils absorb much more rainwater into underground aquifers. When rainwater hits the soil, especially tropical soils that are baking under the equatorial sun, it evaporates quickly. Providing protective tree shade means lower temperatures, allowing the water to settle on the ground and be absorbed into the underground reservoir.

The slow evaporation process performed by trees is called “evo-transpiration” and it balances our hydrological cycle of rain and snow, preventing the extreme flooding and drought cycles. Every tree transpires (recycles) over 200 gallons of rainwater each year. By the time the trees reach 20 years old, they have formed a canopy that transpires 20,000 gallons of water per acre per year.

Deforestation Solutions

The Association Community Carbon Trees (ACCT) is a nonprofit, community-based reforestation project operating in the Southern Zone of Costa Rica. They sprout over 100 diverse tropical rainforest trees in two rainforest nurseries. Saplings are carefully transported and planted on degraded farmland owned by local farmers. Each site is strategically designed as a natural forest matrix, replicating the flow of nature. Their crew maintains the young rainforest trees for four years, after which the trees are well established and tended to by the landowners. 

The ACCT has been planting towards the goal of uniting natural habitats along the southern Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, while also uniting this region with the larger Mesoamerican Biological Corridor that originates in Mexico. This would establish an extensive, unified natural habitat of tropical primary rainforests, mangroves, secondary rainforests (in varying stages of regeneration) – all stretching towards the protected area of the Osa Peninsula. This extensive, connected habitat would encourage the regeneration of species like the tapir and other endangered species to thrive again in this region. 

The ACCT model for reforestation focuses on planting diverse tropical trees on farms. They pay fair wages to the farmers to plant and maintain biodiversity on their land. Vulnerable rainforest communities struggling to survive with degraded soils often have no other option but to cut down remaining forests for resources. This is why it is important that people living where rainforests exist to get paid a fair wage to plant and maintain biodiverse trees planted on their own land with long-term forest growth management included. 

Diagram courtesy of ACCT

What We Can Do to Help

We all love real estate in Costa Rica — us more than most since we have chosen this as a career path. But because we also love this environment dearly and all of the peace and wonder that it brings to our daily lives, we feel that it is important to give back by promoting to our clients the importance of planting native trees rather than keeping an acreage entirely manicured.

Planting native trees on bare land is a huge step towards giving back to this country that offers us so much. The ACCT plants at least 50 different species in each of their locations, ensuring a diverse polyculture food and medicinal forest. Native trees are chosen for their unique adaptations to the local environment and they are less susceptible to stress, disease, and pests.

According to the ACCT, some of the best species to plant for regenerative real estate are:

  • Spathodea Campanulata; Llama Del Bosque; Flame of the Forest
  • Lagerstroemia Speciosa (L. Flos-reginae); Orgullo de la India; Pride of India Queen’s Crepe Myrtle
  • Delonix Regia (Poinciana regia); Malinche; Flame; Royal Poinciana
  • Artocarpus Altilis; Fruta de pan; Breadfruit
  • Ceiba pentandra; Kapok; Silk cotton tree 
  • Anacardium occidentale; Cashew; Maranon
  • Eugenia malaccensis; Manzana de Agua; Mountain Water Apple
  • Hymenaea courbaril; Guapinol; Stinking Toe

Getting Involved

Photo courtesy of ACCT

There are many ways to get more involved with reforestation and the regeneration of the environment. One big way is to support organizations like the ACCT in their efforts to educate and take action by bringing the forest closer to home. You can donate your time or money to them via their website:

Community Carbon Trees hosts regular Kids Nature Day events in their tree nurseries for those who want to participate and get their hands in the dirt to actively help save the rainforest and absorb carbon dioxide by planting tropical trees.

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