Peninsula Papagayo homeowners Ted and Martha Washington recently returned to Costa Rica to lead an expedition to Palo Verde Biological Station. The research facility has been operated by the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) since the 1970s under an agreement with the Environment Ministry (MINAE). It was something of a homecoming for Ted having done his graduate work at another OTS research facility in Costa Rica.
By Niki Jensen | March 7, 2019 | Guanacaste

What brought you to Costa Rica as a graduate student?

TW: Costa Rica is a magnet for science students interested in tropical ecosystems with its exotic forests, beaches, and volcanoes. OTS has an international reputation as a serious place to study ecology in the wild along side leading scientists in tropical biology. I was fascinated by the stories of the diversity which you could experience in just one day at an OTS field station…and I was certainly never disappointed during my studies.

What brought you back to Costa Rica four decades later?

TW: It was the combination of the raw beauty of Papagayo and the promise of a Four Seasons hotel, served with easy daily nonstops from where we live. Our family fell in love with all of it: the people, the animals, the golf, the surfing, the gym, the beaches, and the nature. By the second trip it was clear that we wanted to spend a lot of time here and explore all of it.

You and Martha recently led an expedition to Palo Verde Biological Station. What was your purpose?

TW: Palo Verde is so wild and its fragile existence so endangered that we wanted to share it now with our friends on the peninsula. Just 90 minutes from our front door at Papagayo is this critical watershed that hosts thousands and thousands of migratory birds from North America and a host of other extraordinary species that hover there for the dry season. If you time it right, you can experience a zillion birds flying at sunset over ponds teeming with fish and crocodiles. I wanted our friends to become aware of the crisis of this important region and meet the scientists who call it home.

When I’m out on the lake in front of the Palo Verde Biological Station and close my eyes, I could be sitting in the middle of the Everglades.

Ted Washington

You serve as a board member of the Everglades Foundation. How do the problems in the Florida Everglades compare to Palo Verde?

TW: When I’m out on the lake in front of the Palo Verde Biological Station and close my eyes, I could be sitting in the middle of the Everglades. The problems are so similar we started calling our idea to restore it “Everglades 2.0.” It is nature trying its best to survive in a watershed where upstream agriculture is a dominant force in the economy. The species and water quality and water quantity issues are so similar to the Everglades that you could almost take all our educational materials and tweak them into Spanish for use in Palo Verde’s neighboring schools.

Are the solutions also similar?

TW: It is very difficult to take Florida’s Everglades with its sheer size and billion dollar budget and say, well, if we just do this and this, we are “done” at Palo Verde. Two things that encourage me about working on this problem at Palo Verde is Costa Rica itself. Part of its DNA is an understanding that ecotourism is good for everyone whatever business you are in. When people work together to solve problems as they do here, it is so much easier to get to bilateral solutions. The second thing that encourages me is that we seem close to a technological shift in how nutrients are removed from agricultural runoff, which will make it cheap enough to clean the upstream water coming into Palo Verde National Park. Everglades Foundation has championed a global competition with a $10 million prize for development of an innovative cleaning of phosphorus from agricultural runoff and within two to three years we expect a breakthrough technology to be announced. If successful, this will greatly reduce the costs of delivering clean water to Palo Verde. The next step is developing a site-specific restoration plan.

Watch Highlights of Palo Verde Expedition