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Sensors in place to measure next big Nicoya quake
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A system is in place to document seismic activity on the Nicoya Peninsula where experts expect a major earthquake soon, according to Marino Protti of the Universidad Nacional’s seismology institute.

The network consists of 19 GPS monitoring stations and 18 seismographs. Protti emphasized that it is not intended to predict the expected quake, just gather data for long-term analysis.

The seismographs record the usual sort of earth tremors that are part of any earthquake, while the
GPS monitors measure the movement of the

 Quake expert Marino Protti welds the legs on
Cocos tectonic plate which is sliding under the Caribbean plate at a rate of about 90 mm (3.5 inches) per year. This movement has produced major earthquakes in Guanacaste in 1853, 1900, and 1950. By that measure one is somewhat overdue, and Protti said its anticipated magnitude is about 7.7 to 7.9.

The fault in question is about 100 kilometers  (62 miles) long by 60 (37 miles) wide, and runs roughly up the Río Tempisque valley and then the northernmost coast of Guanacaste into Nicaragua. No tsunami is likely in Costa Rica since the fault is mostly under land. To generate a tidal wave requires significant displacement of the sea floor itself.

The development of GPS technology has revealed a previously unknown phenomenon which shows slow slip behavior along faults of this type. This is as if there was an earthquake but the energy is released over a period of days or weeks instead of minutes. The large Cascadia fault off Oregon and Washington has given researchers a demonstration of this behavior. It is also happening here in Costa Rica, Protti said.

The previous Guanacaste earthquakes were all in the 7.0 range. The strongest in living memory anywhere for most Costa Ricans was in 1991 which was about 7.5 magnitude. That had its epicenter in a lightly-populated area in the Talamanca mountains near the Caribbean coast, but still caused heavy damage to bridges and roads in the area, and resulted in about 120 deaths in the southernmost coastal area and adjacent Panamá. Protti said the anticipated Guanacaste quake is likely to be about twice as powerful as the 1991 event.

Protti mentioned a similar fault lies on the Peninsula de Osa, which also has a fast-moving subduction fault. This one produced earthquakes in 1904, 1941, and 1983. The fault is much shorter and produces smaller quakes than the Nicoya zone.

Protti is with the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico at the university.

Morning quake rattles much of the country's center
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Posted at 1:55 p.m.
A 4.7 magnitude quake took place Tuesday morning in the center of the country.

The Laboratorio de Ingenieria Sismica estimated the location of the epicenter at about 2.8 kilometers east southeast of Buenavista de San Carlos and about 10.4 kilometers north northwest of Zarcero. The
quake sent moderate tremors from Puntarenas to Cartago and from Sarapiquí south to San Isidro de El General, said the Laboratorio, which is based at the Universidad de Costa Rica.

Sensors registered the quake at 10:11 a.m.

The Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico  at Univrsidad Nacional estimated the magnitude at 5.0.

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Caldera flood victims
being moved to Esparza

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The 70 families evicted from their homes by high seas in Caldera will be resettled in Esparza, according to a statement from Agnes Gómez Franceschi, a legislator representing that area. 

High seas and a storm in the Pacific generated waves higher than normal over the weekend, and many homes were flooded. The national emergency commission said no one was missing,

Many agencies joined in helping the families who were flooded out. The flooding also put a spotlight on the spit of sand called Puntarenas where officials have known for years that rising seas would inundate the coast and create an island.

A.M. Costa Rica first published a report by the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional nine years ago that showed rising sea levels would reduce the Puntarenas land area. The institute has even created a map that shows how the sea will encroach on the land.

The seas have been rising for the last 10,000 years, and scientists only argue over how high it might go. The situation has implications for other coastal areas.

Starting a business here
is subject of new course

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica, the public university in Cartago, is offering a course in entrepreneurship. The course is in Spanish at the Escuela de Administración de Empresas.

The 13-week course is being offered in two groups. One meets from 6 to 9 p.m. Mondays, and one meets Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon. The courses begin next week and will be offered in San Pedro. The tuition is 118,000 colons or about $236. The school said that the course is directed at persons who may already have an idea of a type of business they wish to begin.

The course covers creating a business plan and the legal obstacles for going into business. More information is available by emailing

Guest to conduct municipal band

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano is presenting the Orquestra Sinfónica Municipal de Heredia Sunday at 11 a.m. in the Teatro Eugene O'Neill at the facility in Los Yoses. The invited director is Manuel de Elías of México, who will present his own sonata as well as works by Schubert and Cuba composer Carlos Farinas. Admission is 5,000 colons, about $10, with a discount for seniors and students.

Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him
From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
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Ben and Jerry better watch out for mamón chino ice cream
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An experiment is under way to see if those prickly mamón chinos can become the flavor for ice cream and yogurt. A handful of experts are betting the fruit can and hope that this will lead to commercial export.

The fruit is called rambután or mamón chino in Spanish. The Latin name is Nephelium lappaceum.

They are available in season, and they are hand fruit. A person bites off part of the red or yellow outer skin and sucks out the interior pulp to eat, being careful not to ingest the large pit in the center.

Costa Rica produces tons of the fruit, and there has been a continual effort to find a way to export the product. Some officials in the United States had fears that the fruit will carry the Oriental fruit fly.

If processed into ice cream or yogurt, that will not be a problem.

Agricultural experts at the Instituto Tecnológico Costa Rica, the Universidad de Costa Rica and the Asociación de Productores y Comercializadores de Frutas Tropicales de Corredores are involved in the ice cream experiment.

About 150 kilos of the fruit are being processed at a pilot plant run by the institute. Wednesday the processed pulp will be delivered to a commercial firm for a taste test.
mamón chino
A.M. Costa Rica file photo
These are the mamón chinos before processing.

Executive branch will suport legal status for same-sex couples
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The executive branch has declined to seek a change in the family code that would allow same-sex marriage, but it will support a cohabitation agreement bill. Casa Presidencial announced this Monday afternoon.

 Called sociedades de convivencia in Spanish, the agreement, if created by law, would provide basic legal rights for same-sex partners who choose to live together. The proposal for such an agreement came after the executive branch studied five measures that already are before the legislature that 
provided certain rights to same-sex couples.

Representatives of diversity organization met with officials Monday at Casa Presidencial. August is a time in which the legislature meets in extraordinary session, called that because it is not a regular month to meet as specified in the Costa Rican Constitution. So the executive branch controls the agenda.

The legislature's human rights committee rejected a concept of a cohabitation agreement in June, and this brought criticism of the head of the committee,  Justo Orozco, who represented a religious political party in the Asamblea Legislativa.

Only weak influences predicted from Tropical Storm Ernesto
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Weather forecasters are predicting a weak influence, if any, from Tropical Storm Ernesto. The storm at midnight was some 265 miles or 425 kilometers east of Roatan in Honduras.

A U.S. Air Force Reserve reconnaissance aircraft reported late Monday that the storm had not strengthened, said the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida. Wind intensity was 65 mph or 100 kph, said the center.

Forecasters had expected the storm to become a Class 1 hurricane within 48 hours.

Costa Rica's Instituto Meteorológico Nacional storm experts have been keeping an eye on Ernesto and issuing bulletins. By 7 p.m. the prediction was for weak influences, mostly in the
 form of increased rain in parched Guanacaste and the Pacific coast.

Elsewhere, the hurricane center predicted three to five inches of rain along the northern coast of Honduras and the northeast coast of Nicaragua. With rainfall as much as a foot in the mountains, the forecasters said there is the possibility of dangerous flash floods and mud slides. Belize and the Yucatan peninsula are in the path of the storm.

There also is the likelihood of a storm surge along the coasts.

For Costa Rica's Pacific coast, there is another weather system that might bring rain. It is a low pressure area in the Pacific that is developing. Although more north than Costa Rica and well west in the ocean, the system does have the possibility to bring rain here.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 156
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Government says hotel demolition sites are now cleaned up
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The site of two demolished hotels in Punta Uva on the Caribbean coast are no longer attractive nuisances.

The Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía and a newspaper correspondent report that the demolition sites have been cleaned up.

Residents became concerned when material from the demolition was left in the area for months.

The demolition, based on a court order, was in July 2011. The ministry reports that workers ran into problems when they demolished the Las Palmas hotel, correctly called the Centro Turistica Punta Uva S.A. The ministry said that the owner,  Jan Kalina, had installed 195 meters of a concrete drain under the hotel to control water from the wetlands on which it was located.

The 640 feet of drain line had to be removed under another contract. And workers had to compensate for the lack of the drain by rechanneling water.

Las Palmas and the nearby Hotel Suerre battled officialdom for years, but the government finally prevailed. Kalina was accused of violating the mangroves and the wetland when he landscaped the area around the hotel.

At one point in the Abel Pacheco administration, officials said they would simply confiscate the hotel and turn it into a working hotel to train tourism employees. That idea fell through.

Kaline died unexpectedly about a week after workers began tearing down the concrete walls of the hotel.

President Laura Chinchilla now says she supports a bill in the legislature that would freeze coastal demolitions. She said she is concerned by the many residents who live in the public maritime zone similar to the two hotels. She has not said anything about businesses located in these zones. Businesses also have been demolished on the Pacific coast.

The problem with the Las Palmas was that originally Kalina obtained permission to build in the maritime zone but then the permission was withdrawn after the hotel was built.

Now that the two hotels have been demolished and the materials removed to Limón for recycling, the local  Sistema Nacional de Áreas de Conservación has the job of restoring the site.

In addition to building in the public zone, Kalina was accused of cutting trees, building the drain lines to dry parts of the wetland and altering the ecosystem of the area. Officials also said he blocked ditches and destroyed coral. So complete
Ministerio de Ambient y Energía photo
File photo shows demolition work

las palmas sign
A.M. Costa Rica/Connie Foss
Sign proclaims that this is a demolition site.

restoration will be a big job.

A.M. Costa Rica employees visited the hotel site before demolition and while Kalina still was fighting the central government in court. They were impressed by the landscaping and the quality of the hotel structure.

Demolition cost 173.5 million colons, about $350,000.

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Medical vacations in Costa Rica

new bird
Cornell University photo
This is the Sira barbet

New tropical bird species
found in Peruvian Andes

By the Cornell University news service

A colorful, fruit-eating bird with a black mask, pale belly and scarlet breast – never before described by science – has been discovered and named by Cornell University graduates following an expedition to the remote Peruvian Andes.

The Sira barbet (Capito fitzpatricki) is described in a paper published in the July issue of The Auk, the official publication of the American Ornithologists’ Union.

The new species was discovered during a 2008 expedition led by Michael G. Harvey, Glenn Seeholzer and Ben Winger, young ornithologists who had recently graduated from Cornell. They were accompanied by co-author Daniel Cáceres, a graduate of the Universidad Nacional de San Agustín in Arequipa, Peru, and local Ashéninka guides. The team discovered the barbet on a ridge of montane cloud forest in the Cerros del Sira range in the eastern Andes. Steep ridges and deep river gorges in the Andes produce many isolated habitats and microclimates that give rise to uniquely evolved species.

Though clearly a sister species of the scarlet-banded barbet, the Sira barbet is readily distinguished by differences in color on the bird’s flanks, lower back and thighs, and a wider, darker scarlet breast band. By comparing mitochondrial DNA sequences of the new barbet to DNA sequences of its close relatives in the genus Capito, the team secured genetic evidence that this is a new species in the barbet family. The genetic work was done by co-author Jason Weckstein at The Field Museum in Chicago.

The team chose the scientific name of the new species Capito fitzpatricki in honor of Cornell Lab of Ornithology executive director John W. Fitzpatrick, who discovered and named seven new bird species in Peru during the 1970s and ’80s.

“Fitz has inspired generations of young ornithologists in scientific discovery and conservation,” said Winger. “He was behind us all the way when we presented our plan for this expedition.”

sponge damage
Wildlife Conservation Society/M. Carreiro-Silva
This is a coral sample that shows a large borehole created by a sponge. Sponges proliferate in reefs with high levels of pollution, according to a new study.

Pollution degrades coral
and spurs other creatures
By the Wildlife conservation Society news service           

Microbes, sponges, and worms — the side effects of pollution and heavy fishing — are adding insult to injury in Kenya's imperiled reef systems, according to a recent study by the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Azores.

The authors of the study have found that pollution and overfishing on reef systems have an ecological cascading effect — the proliferation of microbes, sponges, and worms —that further degrade corals, a discovery that underlines the complexity of reefs and possible solutions.

The study appears in the online edition of Marine Ecology Progress Series. The authors include Marina  Carreiro-Silva of the Center of Instituto do Mar of the University of Azores and Tim McClanahan of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

The paper examines how human activities can create unexpected complications in coral reef recovery and management. For instance, recent experimental studies by Ms. Carreiro-Silva and colleagues in Belize and Kenya demonstrated that a higher nutrient content in coral reefs associated with growing agriculture activity and urbanization increased the rate at which reefs eroded from microbes such as bacteria, fungi, and algae, as well as larger animals like sponges and worms. While the study cites previous work suggesting a faster erosion of reef calcium carbonate with high pollution levels, the experimental manipulations and use of reefs experiencing different levels of fishing and pollution strongly supports those previous conclusions.

An entirely new finding from this research is that worms are major eroders of reefs where fishing is heavy, while sponges play this same role in unfished reefs of the kind found in marine parks. This suggests that it is not only nutrients and pollution that are eroding the reef substratum. Marine consumers like fish and sea-urchins also appear to be influencing species that erode the reef substratum.

In heavily fished reefs, sea-urchins are the dominant grazers, and their grazing activity is so intense that only fast-growing early colonist species such as worms are able to grow inside the reef substratum. The lack of fish may also make these holes a safe haven for worms. In this scenario, worms then take over the role that sponges usually play.

"This change in the roles of worms and sponges shows how the affects of fishing can cascade down even into the hidden crevices of coral reefs," said Ms. Carreiro-Silva, the lead author of the study.

In areas impacted with high levels of runoff and drainage from land, such as some of the oldest marine parks in Kenya, researchers have found the highest levels of reef decay; in these instances, the increased pollution produces an abundance of sponges that live in and erode reef cavities.

McClanahan, senior conservationist for the Wildlife Conservation Society and co-author of the study added: "This problem is outside of the usual control of park managers and shows the importance of maintaining clean waters if reefs are to grow and keep up with the rise in sea levels."

The study authors are concerned about the cascading effects of pollution and overfishing on already stressed coral reef systems. Intensive erosion of carbonates has the potential to undermine reef growth and diminish reef structure over time, an increasing challenge as ocean temperatures and sea levels rise. The authors point out that reducing pollution, the influence of run-off, drainage of highlands and wetlands, and other sources of non-point pollution and land development in coastal areas are critical in conserving the ecological services provided by coral reefs.

Ms. Carreiro-Silva speculates that one unstudied but looming problem is the increased acidification of the ocean that will add to the growing intensity of impacts. Acidification created by increased emissions of carbon dioxide weakens coral skeletons and creates opportunities for species that like to live in hidden crevices and further dissolve the reef structure.

"Ultimately, the synergy between these different impacts may lead to the deterioration and eventual collapse of the reefs unless greater efforts are made to reduce the many sources of pollution and excessive use of coral reefs as fisheries," she added.

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bridge woes
Consejo Nacional de Vialidad photo
This is why the road is being reduced to one lane

Another bridge is ready
to collapse into river

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The spot on the General Cañas highway where the traffic lanes have been undermined is not the only one.

A bridge over the Río Torres that carries Ruta 218 from San José to Guadalupe also has problems. The Consejo Nacional de Vialidad said that workers would need 14 to 18 days to remedy the problem. Until then, they said, the route will be down to one lane because one of the lanes is seriously undermined.

Workers are expected to put in steel reinforcements that will take the place of corroded beams that are there now.

Union says old hospital
in Heredia to be sold

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The union that represents the nation's public health workers wants to know if the former Hospital San Vicente de Paul is on the block.

The Unión Nacional de Empleados de la Caja y la Seguridad Social said in a news release Monday that members had heard of the possible sale of the structure. Medical services are now in a new hospital, but not all of the support services have been moved.

The union said that Mario Zamora, the minister of security had outlined a plan to turn the site into a bus terminal, public offices and commercial rentals. Empresa de Servicios Públicos de Heredia was to finance the project, the union said.

Considering the shaky financial status of the Caja, the union said it would like more information before a deal is struck.

Raids net seven suspects
in Heredia robbery gang

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial agents raided six homes in La Milpa de Guarari de Heredia early Monday to detain seven men who are suspects of being members of a violent robbery gang that preyed on residents of the area.

The men are between 19 and 25 years of age.

The area has been plagued since June by armed men who have robbed passers-by and in many cases sent them to the hospital for treatment. In addition, agents said that the gang later threatened their victims to prevent them from filing police complaints.

The gang also is suspected of holding up at least one store.

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