More than six years after the historic event of planting 5,000 trees in one day, which made ATTA’s Adventure Travel World Summit carbon neutral in 2016, the forest in Costa Rica is thriving.
Considered one of Costa Rica’s largest single-day tree planting events, more than 350 volunteers planted 5,000 native hardwood tree species on 19 August 2016, at Terciopelo Farm in Bajo Tigre by the Pacuare River. The farm is part of the larger Rios Tropicales Rainforest Reserve. In the first three years when the young trees were the most vulnerable, community members of all ages from the nearby town of Bajos del Tigre worked to care for them by cutting back weeds and controlling insects that would otherwise devour the saplings.
Now, new growth is already happening under the 20-foot-tall canopy, and the mature forest is providing a habitat for a variety of wildlife, including birds, wild peccaries, and ocelots. The 3,000 Mountain Almond trees planted are attracting critically endangered Great Green Macaws that migrate to this area between September and November to feed and nest in these trees. Rivers and Forests Alliance (RAFA) is working with the Macaw Recovery Network to help restore habitat for the Great Green Macaws, and is dedicated to planting Mountain Almond trees in all reforestations. It is estimated there are less than 1,000 of these macaws left in the wild, with only about 300 in Costa Rica, so habitat restoration is vital for their survival.
The colossal event was organized by Rafael Gallo, CEO of the Costa Rican adventure company Rios Tropicales, in partnership with the Costa Rican Network of Private Nature Reserves, the Adventure Travel Trade Association, the Anchorage Convention & Visitors Bureau, Alaska Airlines, the Costa Rica Tourism Board (ICT), EARTH University, and several corporate sponsors. The Adventure Travel World Summit (ATWS) was held in September of that year in Anchorage, Alaska.
Called the International Carbon Neutrality Project Alaska – Costa Rica, the effort was selected as one of the 500 best social and environmental projects in Latin America in 2017 by the Latin American Green Awards (Premios Latinoamerica Verde).
Costa Rica’s EARTH University verified the tree planting, and estimated that it would take about 12 to 14 years for the trees to capture the approximately 1,200 tons of carbon calculated to be produced during the ATWS 2016. Most of the carbon generated was due to the air travel from people traveling to the conference.
“These 5,000 trees significantly impact the ecosystem and restore connectivity in the Barbilla-Destierro Biological Subcorridor in the Pacuare River Basin. And the forest will only keep growing in the years to come,” said Roberto Gallo, son of Rafa Gallo and Board President and Executive Director of Projects and Operations for the Rivers and Forests Alliance (RAFA).
Since Rafa Gallo’s death in March 2021, Roberto has taken over managing all of the Rios Tropicales Rainforest Reserve properties. With the Rivers and Forests Alliance (RAFA), he is continuing his father’s stewardship of the Pacuare River Basin and spreading his conservation message to the world. At RAFA reforestation events, more than 4,500 additional trees have been planted in the Reserve since October 2021.
“Planting trees is the first stepping stone in a conservation mindset. This is a great way to introduce people to sustainability and conservation and what it means to make a change. We are planting baby seedlings and then waiting for several years for them to make a difference in the environment. In the same way, we are planting seeds in the people volunteering with us so they take this conservation mindset wherever they go and apply it in their lives. Small actions now can lead to big results in years to come,” Roberto said.
“For me, carrying on my dad’s legacy is furthering the conservation teachings that he began with me from a young age. I want to share that knowledge and love with others by bringing them to the Pacuare River Basin to be part of conservation events like tree plantings. It means so much to involve and teach others this same conservation mindset. My dad had such a massive impact during his lifetime, and I want to match that and go even further so that, just like his dream, my kids and grandkids can benefit.”
Thanks largely to Rafael “Rafa” Gallo and his whitewater adventure company, Rios Tropicales, the Pacuare River still flows free. Rafa helped stop two hydroelectric dam attempts in 1990 and 2005. Over 35 years, he advocated for the river's permanent protection, fiercely protected the land from illegal logging and hunting, and planted close to 31,000 native hardwood trees in reforestation campaigns that have regenerated the region's biodiversity.
The Pacuare River is currently protected through 2040 by a 25-year Presidential Decree, signed by former Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis in 2015.
In 2020, after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Rafa focused on creating a conservation initiative to protect and regenerate his beloved Pacuare River Valley. His close friends gave the organization the name RAFA – Rivers and Forests Alliance – to represent his nickname. After his sudden passing in March 2021, Rafa’s family and friends united to honor his lifelong work and carry forward the Rivers and Forests Alliance mission. His loss is felt acutely by the river and conservation communities worldwide.
To learn more, please visit: riversandforestsalliance.org
A version of this article was originally published on the RAFA blog. Shannon Farley is the Executive Director, Partnerships & Communications, of the Rivers and Forests Alliance (RAFA).