Conservación Bosque del Sábalo, or Jungle Tarpon Conservation, is a Costa Rican non-profit organization whose mission is to conserve a globally unique freshwater tarpon habitat in the Caribbean watersheds of Northern Costa Rica by implementing environmental stewardship, community awareness and education, enhanced scientific understanding, and the creation of sustainable economic opportunities.
The Caribbean watersheds of Northern Costa Rica are an aquatic paradise, and not just for tarpon. An array of species depend on these biodiverse lowland rainforest and mangrove habitats, including iconic species like the jaguar, tapir, jabiru stork, freshwater bull sharks, tropical garfish, and various species of sea turtle.
Nowhere else on the planet, however, do tarpon travel so far inland. Over 200 kilometers from the ocean and up to roughly 100 meters above sea level into a fully freshwater river and lagoon system. Each year, seasonal rains flood the area’s immense lagoons to create an inland sea surrounded by volcanoes and forest. The heavy deluge also triggers massive migrations of various baitfish, and the coinciding tarpon migration is here for an annual feeding phenomenon of epic proportion.
Our core project, the Jungle Tarpon Reserve, serves as a model for how a community-based tourism initiative can work to create a sustainable fly fishing destination. To date over 25% of the local community benefits from fly fishing tourism activities related to the program, with many more indirectly seeing benefit, through lodging, guiding, transportation (on and off water), food, and artisanal crafts. Guides have been trained in catch-and-release and fly fishing techniques, and the entire community has been taught the value of an intake ecosystem now and in the future. Plastic bottles are collected while searching for feeding tarpon. Trees are planted to protect riverbank and reforest. Environmental stewards are developed and lives are being changed, both locally and amongst visiting anglers. It’s an ongoing effort, but one we will continue to fight hand-in-hand with the many passionate people involved.
But we can’t do it alone. We understand that the tarpon we aim to protect leave these waters to undertake immense migrations each year, so more complete protection means our efforts need to cross many cultural borders as well as an array of diverse tarpon habitat outside of our fishery. Working one community or fishery at a time, we hope to replicate and scale up the effort. We are confident that opportunities in conservation and tourism brought about by the right collaborations and alliances in other parts of the Central American tarpon migration route will eventually overcome the many challenges this globally unique tarpon migration faces.
Together with a network of passionate people and organizations, we will protect this amazing tarpon migration so that future generations can find the same awe we do in experiencing the tarpon’s prehistoric power and beauty.
We are always appreciative of financial help. This money supports training workshops, field activities like garbage cleanups and tree planting, education and raising awareness, signage and brochures, scientific research to better understand our tarpon and how to protect them, and enforcement of local regulations, amongst other things. Contact us to inquire how to donate.
Besides the conservation and educational work we do, we understand that for a project to be sustainable there must exist a viable economic component to support the people most directly affected by the project. For that reason, we operate our community-based tourism initiative, the Jungle Tarpon Reserve. Anglers help drive conservation by visiting our fishery and interacting with the community, and community members directly benefit from guiding, lodging, food, artisanal craft, and various other activities tied into the program. In fact, one of our strongest beliefs as an organization is that we need to spread the love around as much as possible, and to embody that philosophy we try to involve as many new individuals and families as we can. By seeing the benefits and opportunities such a project brings to the community, both direct and indirect, local people become more engaged and aware of the issues effecting the ecosystem in which they live. They realize that it’s the tarpon bringing people to their backyards, and they want to ensure that resource is protected. One-by-one we are developing environmental stewards, or tarpon ambassadors for the future. The learning is also reciprocal, and we try to culturally immerse our traveling anglers with the many families involved in the project as well as teach them about the challenges and opportunities present in the local community and the ecosystem. People from different walks of life are united over a common goal – experiencing the power of a jungle tarpon and watching its broad tail and silver back swim away strong after release – and slowly a change occurs and the world is a better place for all. It’s an ongoing project, and we are continuously tweaking and tinkering with our program so we can not only improve our adventure tourism product but also the impact it has on a local and global level.
Want to see this incredible fishery for yourself and be a part of a conservation initiative? Click here to learn more.
Along the way you may be part of a scientific study collecting genetic samples. Or you may catch yourself talking to local people and sharing your love and fascination with tarpon. Or you may do something as simple as scoop a plastic bottle floating in the river for recycling. Rest assured that in the end your fly fishing trip will not only be an unforgettable experience but one that will also directly help this community to protect this fishery.
We are always looking for alliances with professionals and organizations that are willing to help share their knowledge or experience to make our work more impactful. From volunteers visiting the community, to individuals and organizations sharing case studies about similar initiatives around the world, to academic professionals supporting our educational or scientific activities, we are always open to support from the outside – no matter the scale big or small. Want to help out in some capacity? Contact us to discuss.