Part three of an eight-part series that examines how Bodhi Surf School ranks as an ecotourism destination, read part two here
Now that we have seen the beauty and natural importance of Bahia Ballena – Uvita, let’s look at how the folks at Bodhi Surf School strive to make that beauty and abundance last. Do they minimize their environmental impact? This is the next characteristic that Martha Honey lists as a requirement of real ecotourism. The Bodhi Surf team has recognized that every decision that they make individually and as a business directly impacts the environment, and have thus committed to consciously minimize their impact. They are proactive in treading lightly on the earth and in the sea, and encourage others to follow them. How successful have they been in this mission?
The “6 Rs” inspiration
Bodhi Surf School believes in and practices the “6 Rs”: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Rethink, Reinvent, Recycle. Colorful signs can be seen throughout the Bodhi Lodge to remind themselves as well as encourage guests to be conscientious and reduce their impact on the globe. Bodhi Surf also provides concrete examples for individuals who want to reduce their influence, but simply don’t know where to start. These include the following:
- Making a point of making less impact
- Using less plastic
- Choosing safe and sustainable seafood
- Refraining from purchasing or consuming products that exploit marine life
- Engaging in responsible ocean tourism
- Not disturbing the coastal environment
- Investing time or capital in marine protection organizations
- Becoming an ocean spokesperson
- Affecting change in one’s circle and community
On-the-ground impact reduction
The Bodhi Lodge itself serves as a beautiful reminder of Bodhi Surf School’s commitment to reducing impact and increasing sustainability. Check out this blog to see the full description of reduction measures taken during the construction and utilization of Bodhi Lodge. The design of Bodhi Surf School is based on simplicity and natural living, so reduction measures are simply woven into the Bodhi way of life. To list a few:
- The wood used in the building and repair of the lodge came from renewable resources, either from plantation pine or from another local source
- There is plenty of natural lighting in the lodge, which reduces the need for and use of electricity
- Construction is designed to maximize airflow, eliminating the need for air conditioning
- All toilets are low-flow and have the option to flush liquid or solid waste
- All lightbulbs are LED
They recycle and compost on site, using the compost as a fertilizer. Waste is immediately separated between organic, plastic, fiber, glass, paper, and aluminum. This alone greatly reduces the amount of trash that would go into a landfill. Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), natural disinfectant, and natural laundry soap (all of which are biodegradable) are used to clean on a typical day, and whenever possible, laundry is sun-dried as opposed to using the dryer.
The majority of extra things acquired, including paper, wood, and building materials, are reused in other, creative ways. Around 80% of the food purchased for Bodhi guests is of Costa Rican origin, with over 50% coming from the region itself (within 40km). Many yoga and surf materials, such as mats, blocks, and wax, are sustainably sourced. Bike rentals from local contributors are recommended to guests as minimal-impact transportation options as opposed to car rentals.
Room for improvement
Although Bodhi Surf is certainly aiming high to keep their impact low, there are certain areas that could improve. There are everyday efforts to reduce the use of electricity, but they are still tied to the electricity giant, ICE, for their power needs. Additionally, the Bodhi Surf property is not yet equipped to collect rainwater. They still use bleach for cleaning bathrooms between guests’ stays, but are seeking an alternative that works well to disinfect. Plastic is often refused or avoided, however, plastic bags still line their trash cans, and some plastic tupperware, cups, and spice containers are used in the kitchen. This month, Travis and I will be performing a thorough plastic audit of the entire campus, recording every piece of plastic still being utilized. The goal of the audit is to use the information found to construct a budget, and explore ways to replace these uses with products from Life Without Plastic or elsewhere.
Environmental work off-site
Off-site regionally, Bodhi Surf School is working with CSWEA, the Central States Water Environment Association, on the Global Water Stewardship program, which began in 2013 to help mitigate environmental issues around the world, including water treatment issues. The program’s first project is in the small village of Piedras Blancas, Costa Rica, at the entrance to the Osa Peninsula, which does not have a wastewater system.
By creating a student design competition to solve this problem, CSWEA and their collaborators have created “a way for our membership to utilize their tremendous talent as water treatment and environmental professionals to improve the health and lives of people who lack the resources to do it on their own”, (“CSWEA”). Following in these footsteps, a water treatment plan has been proposed for Bahia Ballena, following the same student design model. The goal is to produce a more effective and properly maintainable centralized wastewater treatment facility.
Furthermore, Bodhi Surf School has teamed up with local non-profit, Geoporter, to implement the “Clean Streets, Clean Water” program. Community members gather to collect trash in Bahia Ballena, and then map the location and type of trash found using GPS/GIS technology. The goal of this project is to raise awareness around excess trash in the area, in hopes of changing the community sentiment around the issue of pollution. Geoporter says, “With the trash maps created, the community is taking steps to make a difference: new trash and recycling centers have been installed in “hotspot” areas, which previously had no disposal facilities.”
Bodhi Surf is aiming to expand the model of these current projects (the water treatment plant, plastic audit, and reduction measures) to the 45+ entrepreneurs that are part of the Caminos de Osa project in the Osa Peninsula. Through a partnership of the private, public, academic, and non-profit sectors, Caminos de Osa is a series of three trails connecting five villages in the Osa Peninsula, with the intention of improving the socio-economic situation of individuals living there. Caminos de Osa “an opportunity to promote the comprehensive and sustainable development of the Osa communities, through a model that improves the quality of life of the population without compromising the integrity of the surrounding marine and terrestrial ecosystems.”
Environmental education with guests
This process is done not only by teaching, but also leading by example. Pre-trip, Bodhi Surf encourages guests to bring reusable water bottles, in order to avoid buying and contributing more plastic to the environment. This measure, and others like it, are then reinforced during the trip by the actions that Bodhi Surf and its community partners are taking, as well as positive experiences in nature (such as surfing!). Post-trip, the Bodhi Surf team invites all their guests to join them in taking the Ocean Guardian Pledge — a voluntary commitment to help reduce their impact on the planet and protect the ocean. This is the part of the Ocean Guardian Journey that calls us all to action, beginning with our thoughts and words. It goes like this:
- I pledge to do do my part to help protect the world’s oceans and will implement one or more of the actions above.
- I understand that I can make a difference—that no act is too small, and that even small actions made by individuals can have major impacts.
- One small impact that I can have on the world today is to love and appreciate the world’s oceans and their entire splendor.
When an individual signs the Ocean Guardian Pledge, they also agree to receive our Ocean Guardian Digest — a monthly email with information and concrete, easy-to-incorporate actions to reduce their impact on the ocean and on the planet. The OGD consists of an introductory email followed by 10 thematic emails, each including “small” actions that the individual can participate in along their journey of being an Ocean Guardian. With the OGD, Bodhi Surf School’s model and vision of minimal impact spreads beyond the local and regional communities and into the rest of the world.
So how does Bodhi Surf rank for environmental impact minimization?
One definition of sustainability is “conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources.” According to this definition, Bodhi Surf School is not a completely sustainable business. They have not yet made every possible change to nullify their environmental impact. They are, however, willing to explore the truth of their situation, and make changes, little by little, to minimize their effect on the environment. And this is clearly a commitment that they do not take lightly or “sweep under the rug”! By setting aside time to perform the plastic audit, for example, they are moving in the right direction: toward a more sustainable future.
In the next ecotourism blog, we will explore the ways in which Bodhi Surf impacts their social environment by providing direct financial benefits for conservation.
Read part four of the series here
Written by Sam Rose
“CSWEA.” Global Water Stewardship. n.p, n.d. Web. 15 Mar. 2016.