Almonds and Corals mission is to provide top quality accommodations while being close to nature, enjoying its wonders at its fullest while disturbing nature as less as possible. This is why all the activities and tours in and around the hotel are oriented to the same goal and are guided by the staff of the hotel, which has been trained on the values and policies that the hotel has regarding the strong protection of the environment. At Almonds and Corals Hotel we strive to reach the highest levels of sustainable tourism.
What is Sustainable Development?
In order to understand what sustainable tourism is we first need to explain the reference frame from which this term originates, which is sustainable development.
These are some of quotes from international conservation organizations that together best describe what sustainable development is:
-"Improving the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of supporting ecosystems" (Caring for the Earth, IUCN/WWF/UNEP, 1991)
-“The use of components of biological diversity in a way that does not interfere with the natural functioning of ecological process and life-support systems.” www.thegreenguide.org/definitions.php
-Development that ensures that the use of resources and the environment today does not damage prospects for use by future generations.
What is Sustainable Tourism?
“Refers to a level of tourism activity that can be maintained over the long term because it results in a net benefit for the social, economic, natural and cultural environments of the area in which it takes place.” (ICOMOS, ICTC, 2002)
The Making of an Environmental Hotel
The area where Almonds and Corals hotel is built is a private property but belongs to the National Wildlife Refuge of Gandoca-Manzanillo in the southern Caribbean coast, Limon Province. Costa Rican laws for the protection and regulation of the wildlife refuges, national parks, forest and biological reserves, and even private natural reserves, all of which contain 25% of the total area of Costa Rica have been very strict since the National Park system was established in 1960's. Hence, the construction in or around and the use of these areas is similarly strict and in some areas totally banned for construction. The project to build a hotel that was going to be placed amidst the borders of a wildlife refuge took a lot of planning and constant interactions with the governmental ministry that sternly protects fauna and flora in Costa Rica, which is the MINAE (Ministry of Environment and Energy).
After long planning, re-designing, and a lot of hard work from the owners Aurora Gámez, Marco Odio, and everybody else involved in the construction of this 100% sustainable tourism complying hotel, it was finally open for business in December of 1993. Certainly, the journey to build this beautiful exemplary hotel was long and hard. Initially, when the legal paperwork was handed to the MINAE, there was a lot of skepticism from their part regarding the possibility of a hotel being built inside a refuge that will not damage the fauna or flora. But after a lot of commitments were made by the owners and experts were brought in to check and supervise the construction, a perfect environmentally safe hotel inside a wildlife refuge was finalized.
The final product resulted in a hotel that occupies, 17% of the total area, less than the allowed 40% for construction that the government grants, built with environmentally safe materials, and using the local architectural style of the Afro-Caribbean.
The whole structure of the hotel is built with treated pine wood and some hard wood that was legally purchased in the surrounding areas outside of the refuge. The style of each bungalow is built so that there is a maximization of the ventilation, isolation from the heat, protection from the humid climate, and enhancement of the natural elements of the rainforest such as view, sounds, and breeze.
The layout of the bungalows, the reception, and the restaurant was established accordingly with the oldest trees from the rainforest, as the MINAE's building regulation instructs. Each and every of these trees were left untouched so that the buildings were designed to fit within the spaces between each tree.
The extensive use of open structures and open windows with screens are used to maximize the ventilation. The shape of the roofs and the materials provide isolation in each bungalow, all of which minimize considerably the need for electrical appliances to cool them inside. The rest of the electrical appliances inside of the bungalows are also minimized so that there is enough comfort inside of them provided by the appliances, without these producing an undesirable level of noise that could disturb the natural surroundings.
All of the buildings at Almonds and Corals hotel are lifted on stilts. This feature is multifunctional serving as an enhancer of the ventilation and the view of the rainforest; it also helps to keep away the humidity from the structures and to avoid interrupting in any way the natural drainage patterns of the pluvial water of the land.
The colors used for the buildings have also been carefully picked as to avoid disrupting the natural scenery in any way. The roofs have been chosen a natural green if they are canvas, light brown if the roofs are made of dry palm leaves, and the natural brown color of the wood has been kept on the rest of the structures.
Conservation of the Natural Surroundings of the Hotel
The entire hotel is embraced by the rainforest. Grooming of plants and trees is only made when these start to intrude into the walkways or buildings. The rest of the rainforest has been totally left untouched. Absolutely no exotic species of fauna or flora have been introduced into the rainforest to avoid alterations to the ecosystem. The gardens of the hotel consist of the natural gardens that have been rampantly created by the rainforest.
The extraction of any species of plants, animals, or any other natural element from the rainforest is banned.
The owners of Almonds and Corals hotel have worked with ecotourism most of their lives. Their experience along with their strong values about the preservation of nature have made them important advocates of the protection of the environment and has given them knowledge on how to maintain a safe and healthy natural environment while establishing an eco-tourist destination; specifically in the Costa Rican Caribbean where they have spent most of their time. Hence, Almonds and Corals Lodge has a strong policy regarding pollution of any kind in or outside the wildlife reserve. Inside the hotel biodegradable soap, detergents, shampoo, and conditioner are the only type allowed within any area of the hotel. No chemical fertilizers or weed killers are allowed within any range of the hotel. Garbage is separated into organic matter, recyclable, reusable, and non recyclable or reusable. Each is properly collect and disposed.
A special custom made sewage treatment system was designed by a sanitation engineer for the hotel. And a strict control of the treatment of the residual water is kept by the hotel and monitored by a sanitation engineer periodically.
Promoting Sustainable Community Development
The owners of Almonds and Corals have always been interested in the well being and development of the community surrounding the hotel, and so the involvement with the community has been strong. When the hotel was established in 1993 there was no garbage collection system available. The owners along with some friends from the community decided to organize and finance a garbage collection system that is still currently used.
Most of the personnel from the hotel come from the Manzanillo community.
Almonds and Corals have made a lot of efforts to provide proper training to the local personnel, organizing the petition to bring representatives from the National Learning Institute of Costa Rica (INA) to give waiting, cooking, and other hotel management courses. The entire personnel have been trained to be proficient at all the positions in order for them to be able to rotate when needed; increasing in this way the curriculum, and therefore the development, of a lot of people of the Manzanillo community.
Almonds and Corals owners have also been involved, along with other tourism representatives of the area and hotel managers, in the establishment of better police surveillance patrolling on bicycles which enable them to move around the area more freely. Therefore, providing a more secure environment for the local community and to its' visitors.
Currently Almonds and Corals is involved in the Blue Flag Program that consists of keeping the beach shores clean and unpolluted. Almonds and Corals invite guests to help cleaning the beach like this beutiful group during February 2010. Over the years they have been working with the schools of the community organizing activities with the children to clean the beach shores periodically. They also go to the surrounding schools and give speeches on the importance of having a clean environment, thus promoting an environmental conscience from an early age.
Almonds and Corals owners have also been pioneers in the national and international promotion of the Costa Rican Caribbean as an eco-tourist destination.
Promotion of Sustainable Tourism to Almonds and Corals Guests
Almonds and Corals as an eco-friendly hotel that not only presently protects the environment around it, but it also promotes an alternative way of life and a way of construction that is comfortable, energy efficient, safe, and aesthetically in harmony with the environment. At Almonds and Corals we do our best to permeate our guests with the environmental conscience needed in this era where so much destruction is made to our magnificent and unique planet. By showing our guest all the wonders of nature and providing them with the close encounter with the rainforest we expect to be training them to be future active advocates of the protection of nature.
STRATEGIC PRESERVATION OF THE ENVIRONMENT IMPLEMENTED BY ALMONDS AND CORALS HOTEL
PHYSICAL BIOLOGICAL SURROUNDINGS:
The area in which ALMONDS AND CORALS is located did not have public garbage collection service before Aurora Gámez arrived.
In 1991, 2 years before she started ALMONDS AND CORALS project, Aurora decided to build 18 stations for recycle materials at the side of the road inside the Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge where the hotel is now. She wrote a letter to her friends and asked help for its construction. After she built the station she was surprised that people were sending the materials to the stations. She was paying a truck to pick it up every 2 weeks to send it to San Jose for recycling.
At the end of 1998, three people from the community, Julio Muñoz, from a local private organization, Edwin Patterson from the Development Association of Puerto Viejo and Aurora Gámez from ALMONDS AND CORALS, founded a company named: “EMPRESA DE SERVICIOS BASICOS DEL CARIBE SUR”.
These people started collecting garbage in Manzanillo, Puerto Viejo, Cahuita, Bribri, and Bordon; using a truck of their property that was donated by Dade County, USA. An International Organization sent Aurora to Florida to receive training about garbage, recyclable materials recollection, and on how to make a business with it.
A couple of months after this trip, Aurora Gámez decided to start teaching the nearby towns how to separate the recyclable materials. At that time she had the wood to build the dinning room at Almonds and Corals, but the construction had not yet started. She decided to instead donate that wood to build the Recyclable Material Center. She wrote the project and received the money to finish it from an International Organization. It took her 3 more years to buy the new wood for Almonds and Corals dinning room.
The 3 friends were having also a project which includes the production of compost by picking up all the leftovers of the restaurant. They also worked in the land fill project for all the Southern Caribbean and Talamanca areas. There is no land fill at the present time and garbage is deposited at the municipal garbage open air collection centre.
In 2003 our friend Julio died and the recyclable center is now homed led by volunteers. ALMONDS AND CORALS is still participating with donations to the project.
On June 2006 Aurora started writing an Educational Project for the entire Costa Rica about Recyclable materials. It is not published yet.
Almonds and Corals Hotel Waste Disposal Practices
At ALMONDS AND CORALS we have private treatment systems for our waste disposal.
SOLIDS: One of our preventive measures at ALMONDS AND CORALS is that we refrain from selling pop or beer in disposable bottles or cans. We ask our clients not to bring these types of containers into the rooms.
1. Organic garbage is deposited in a plastic can with its lid, which is picked up twice a day by a neighbor. This garbage is used to feed the neighbor’s dogs and pigs.
2. Plastic garbage such as water recipients, oil and sauce gallon containers are washed and packed in bags to be sent to the Recyclable Material Centre, where we seal them and hand them to the interested people. The same gallons are cut sometimes and used as ice recipients for the freezer or for kitchen use.
3. Non recyclable garbage is kept in plastic gabs and is picked up, at least twice a week to the Bribri Municipal garbage pit, which is located 40 kilometers away from the hotel.
INDOORS TRASH CANS: Solid garbage from the lodge is stored until its final collection, in a closed warehouse which has enough ventilation to avoid presence of domestic and wild animals, bad odors, and insects.
PASTY LIQUIDS: Water containing soap from the kitchen goes to a grease trap. Here grease is stabilized and once a week the trap is unloaded. This grease can be used as fertilizer in a root of any tree, or it can be sent in plastic boxes to the garbage pit. The water from the kitchen, once it is free from grease and residues that can be filtered through the kitchen pipe line, it is taken to a double stone and sand filter to continue the water cleaning process. This filter has a wrench which is opened to unload the mud kept.
Finally, treated water from the kitchen is poured to the beach sand, where it is naturally filtered into the ocean.
Soapy water from the laundry is taken first to a double stone and sand filter to sop soap residues. This filter has a wrench which is opened to unload the mud kept.
Almonds and Corals Hotel Environmental Plan
Ways in which Almonds & Corals Protects the Rainforest
1- Use and Treatment of Water
A small well was built inside the property of Almonds & Corals to provide a water supply to the entire hotel. It was built with a lot of caution and environmental planning so the disruption to the rainforest was minimal. The size and environmental design of the well keeps the water pressure low minimizing the waste of water but still proving a sufficient water supply for the entire hotel. All of the personnel of the hotel are carefully instructed into using the water supply wisely.
A specially designed water treatment system was built by an expert in environmental construction so that sewage waters were treated and disposed properly.
Only biodegradable soap, shampoo, conditioners, and detergents are used throughout the hotel so that no chemicals reach the rainforest.
2- Managing of Solid Wastes
Almonds and Corals strives to minimize the production of solid waste that ends up in the sanitary fills by recycling, reusing, and by minimizing the purchase of waste producing products.
At Almonds & Corals we separate all the trash that is produced by the hotel so that recyclable materials can be sent to a recycling center. The organic waste such as left over food and vegetables is sent to a local farm and used to feed pigs. The remaining waste which can neither be recycled nor reused is collected by the community’s trash collector.
3- Minimizing Energy Consumption
Only low intensity and energy efficient light bulbs are used in Almonds & Corals to avoid excessive energy consumption. Other measures such as turning off lights when not used, reducing the amount of times our refrigerators are opened, using only a minimal amount of electric appliances, are other ways in which the hotel works on minimizing energy consumption.
4- Use of Recycled Paper
Currently the hotel uses only recycled paper and reuses it whenever possible.
5- Alternative Energy Source
Currently plans are being made to implement an environmentally safe alternative energy source system using the methane gas from our 9 septic tanks that could supply energy to some areas of the hotel.
Almonds & Corals Septic System
Almonds & Corals primary objective is to protect the environment. When the hotel was built there were no water treatment systems close to the area. A specialized engineer was brought to construct a custom made septic system that would treat the waste water of the hotel and will not have a negative impact at all on the surrounding wildlife.
A septic system is an on site, small scale sewage treatment system. The word septic refers to the anaerobic bacterial environment (bacteria that can live in the absence of oxygen) that develops in the tank and decomposes and mineralizes waste discharge. Supplement bacterial agents can be added to the tanks to accelerate the digestion process.
The septic system at Almonds & Corals consists of 2 aerial tanks connected by a hose made out of recycled plastic, cement, and rock.
1) The 1st tank captures solid waste separating it from liquid components. The liquid components from the 1st tank are transported to the bottom of the 2nd tank thanks to gravity through a hose.
2) Once in the 2nd tank the lower chamber traps keep filtering the water. The settled solids are anaerobically digested by the bacteria that builds over broken rocks placed in layers along the tank reducing the volume of the solids. Water flows upwards inside the 2nd tank and is filtered through many layers of rock. When the water reaches the summit of this tank it is almost entirely filtered and all the sludge ends up in the bottom of the tank.
3) The water that comes out of the filters passes through hoses and travels 200 meters underground to reach a final rock and sand filter that is close to the sea. Finally the filtered clean water keeps traveling underground and reaches the sea.
The Problem with Garbage & Some Guidelines for a Cleaner Environment
What does biodegradable mean?
Biodegradable means that the matter can decompose by the work of microorganisms, bacteria, fungi, etc. The problem with garbage is that some materials take a very long time to decompose and contaminate the environment in the process of decomposing.
Alternatives to Reduce Waste:
1) REJECT materials that cannot be recycled or that are toxic to the environment, such as asbestos, PVC, and stereofoam. Buy rechargable batteries instead of disposable.
2) REDUCE paper use by using paper on both sides. Take your own plastic or cloth bags to the grocery store.
3) REUSE plastic bags and plastic containers such as butter containers a maximum use. Give away whatever you are not using that could be of use to someone else instead of throwing it away.
4) RECUPERATE materials that can be recycled and reused. Classify the garbage in your home and office and make sure to send it to your nearest recycling center. Use organic garbage to make organic compost to use in your garden.
Be part of our plan to safe the rainforests by just following these simple steps:
-Turn off the power in your room every time you leave by turning the key outside of the room.
- Use water wisely and don’t leave the water running unnecessarily.
- May your footsteps be the only thing you leave behind when you visit the rainforest or beach. Please do not leave any trash behind.
- May your good memories and photos be the only things you take from the beach and rainforest. Do not collect plants, animals, insects, sea shells or sand please.
- Do not feed or touch the animals from the wildlife as it can be really damaging to them.
- The rainforest does not appreciate excessive human noise. Please try not to be loud so that the wildlife is not disturbed.