By Harry Bodaan, President Chamber of Commerce, Industry & Tourism
Ever since the City of Quepos signed a Sister Cities Agreement (SCI) with the City of Fort Lauderdale now more than 7 years ago, the Ocean Rescue Committee of the Chamber has been looking for ways starting our very own Manuel Antonio Beach Ocean Rescue Program. The Quepos Sister Cities Organization together with the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Tourism of the Canton de Aguirre sent several delegations to Fort Lauderdale to compare notes with the Ocean Rescue Unit of the Fort Lauderdale Fire Department. Each participant paid for his own trip and no Chamber membership dues were used during any of these trips.
The result was that several Fort Lauderdale Fire Department officials visited our area and initiated a variety of educational programs. Some of the officers brought Ocean Rescue Warning Signs, Warning Flags and First Aid Equipment to get the program started. From our end we took the position that Ocean Rescue was and still is the responsibility of the Municipality supported by Federal Officers of the local Coast Guard Naval Base. The Chamber and SCI took the position of helping with specific support programs such as finding funds for first aid equipment, medical supplies, logistical support for training programs, etc. and petitioned the Ministry of Tourism (I.C.T.) to provide heavier support equipment such as a Rescue Vessel or Jet Ski and an ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) for our First Responders in view of the importance of Manuel Antonio as a Tourist Destination with more than 300.000 visitors to the National Park annually.
With the structure in place all we needed to do is to convince the three components of this plan (Federal Government, the Municipal Leadership and the Private Sector) to go along with this plan and that is were we continue to fail. The local Coast Guard Station does not have the human recourses available except for peak periods, the Municipality although warming up to the idea does not have the financial resources available to launch an effective Ocean Rescue Program and the private sector (with very few exceptions) thinks “it is not our responsibility”. The Tourism Ministry claims it is underfunded and that it has other priorities.
At the Chamber we keep pushing all three components and continue to suggest innovative ways to the Municipality for raising money such as the construction of Municipal Parking Facilities, granting Beach Concessions, improving methods for Tax Collection and other approaches that would be considered “normal” in other countries. However, this is Costa Rica and for now we depend on one sole “official” life guard and a few volunteers to safeguard our visitors from drowning. For ever the optimists, we are not giving up on our efforts and will continue our Chamber Fundraising efforts so we can more adequately protect our visitors and hope that eventually we will be more successful.