Costa Rica’s earthquake hits environment hard

The full impact of the 6.2 earthquake that hit Costa Rica earlier this month is still coming into focus. Officially, 23 people are confirmed dead, but there are another seven people missing, presumed dead and likely are not going to be found any time soon (more on that next week).

Meanwhile, the environmental consequences are just beginning to emerge:

Thousands of fish in the Sarapiquí River were killed when mudslides choked the waterway, turning it into a continuous trough of sludge. Researchers fear that the river’s entire fish population may have been wiped out.

“For the Rio Sarapiquí, the earthquake was a catastrophe,” said Ron Coleman, a researcher from Sacramento State University in California. “As far as we can tell, the mud that went into the river choked all the oxygen out of the water and killed all of the fish and likely much of the other aquatic life.”

The Sarapiquí is a vital river for the region surrounding it, as well as one of the major rivers for whitewater rafting in Costa Rica. Ron Coleman later wrote me:

“The consequences are definitely serious to the region and certainly important to the country. This is not just a little thing. This is a big thing.” 

He said that it is not a major food source, but it has critical ecosystem importance, not to mention the tourism brought by whitewater rafting.

“Equally important, people are closely connected to the rivers of Costa Rica in many complex psychological ways,” he wrote. “It was clear to me that the death of the river was deeply disturbing to people who have grown up around it. It is a personal injury that will take time to heal and hopefully the river will recover fast enough to help that process.” 

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