Costa Rican President Announces Country’s First Shark Sanctuary

Alyssa Wiltse-Ahmad

May 14, 2018

NewsProtected AreasSpecies

Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís announced at the beginning of May the designation of more than 10,000 acres of critical nursery habitat for the Scalloped Hammerhead, a shark that is listed as Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. This Shark Sanctuary designation is the first of its kind in Costa Rica, and it establishes a new strict protection level and governance model that requires community commitment.

  • Golfo Dulce wetlands near the Rio Tigre; important shark nursery habitat. Photo courtesy of Misión Tiburón.

Rainforest Trust worked with its local partner Misión Tiburón to create the Scalloped Hammerhead Shark Sanctuary of Golfo Dulce, a unique ecosystem that is one of only four tropical fjords in the world. It is also a smaller, yet critical, portion of the larger 172,974-acre Marine Management Area and Shark Sanctuary that is planned for the entire Golfo Dulce ecosystem and supported by the conservation organizations.

“The announcement by the Costa Rican government designating a Shark Sanctuary in Golfo Dulce is a critical step in protecting this nursery for Scalloped Hammerheads as well as other endangered species,”

said Rainforest Trust CEO Dr. Paul Salaman. “We congratulate President Solís for making this designation.”

Golfo Dulce is home to several species of sharks, including Endangered Scalloped Hammerheads, which are coastal and semi-oceanic sharks found in warm temperate and tropical seas. Neonates and juveniles live in nursery areas located in the coastal waters of estuaries, bays and mangroves, where nutrient-rich waters provide food and protection from predators.

  • Up close and personal with an Endangered Scalloped Hammerhead. Photo courtesy of David Garcia/Misión Tiburón.

Other sharks that will benefit from the sanctuary include Tiger Sharks, Bull Sharks, Blacktip Sharks and Whitetip Reef Sharks. Apart from the seasonal aggregations of Whale Sharks, many of the sharks that inhabit the gulf are juveniles, which further demonstrates Golfo Dulce’s importance as a shark nursery. In addition to sharks, the biological diversity of Golfo Dulce includes 276 species of fish, 296 species of mollusks, 71 species of macrocrustaceans, eight species of whales and dolphins and numerous rays. Sea turtles also feed here, including the Critically Endangered Hawksbill Turtle, Endangered Green Turtle and Vulnerable Olive Ridley.

“When we started in 2010 to study the population of Scalloped Hammerhead shark in Golfo Dulce, we never thought it would become the first Marine Sanctuary for Costa Rica,” said Andrés López, researcher and co-founder of Misión Tiburón. “Now, this new governance model gives us hope for the future, as we believe this is the first step to develop conservation initiatives which will benefit not only endangered species but also the local communities.”

  • A Golfito Educational Activity conducted by Misión Tiburón. Photo courtesy of Misión Tiburón.

This Shark Sanctuary designation will establish no-take zones in the most critical nursery habitat for the sharks, the wetlands of Coto River, among other important areas. It bans the catch, capture, transportation and retention of hammerheads, as well as halts all exploitation of marine resources until a proper management plan is established to regulate wildlife harvesting from within the protected area. The management plan is also expected to include a strategy for patrols conducted by the local partner’s team in collaboration with the government coast guard.

Rainforest Trust would like to thank the Goodstone Inn & Restaurant and Playa Cativo Lodge for their generous support of this project.

Please enjoy this video from our partner.