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Sanctuary for the Scalloped Hammerheads of Golfo Dulce in Costa Rica

Costa Rica

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  • Endangered Scalloped Hammerhead. Photo by David Garcia/ Mision Tiburon

One of four tropical fjords in the world, the unique ecosystem of Golfo Dulce in Costa Rica provides critical nursery habitat for Scalloped Hammerheads. These coastal waters support a wide diversity of fish, which in turn provide sustenance for newborn sharks. This area is also home to Endangered Whale Sharks and Critically Endangered Hawksbill Turtles.

Endangered Scalloped Hammerheads are subject to intense fishing pressure and are prone to entanglement in nets. Juvenile hammerheads do not hold significant value for their meat and fins, but when caught they are used as bait for commercially targeted game fish such as snapper. Fishery exploitation has led to a drastic decline in the shark’s population during the past few decades.

By tagging juvenile hammerheads and analyzing the data on their movements, Rainforest Trust’s partner Misión Tiburón has identified several shark nursery areas within Golfo Dulce. Rainforest Trust seeks $313,681 to help our local partner create a multi-use Marine Management Area, and will eventually help establish a Shark Sanctuary for additional security. This 172,974-protected area will relieve fishing pressure on both sharks and rays and bolster the declining Eastern Pacific population of Scalloped Hammerheads.

Biodiversity

  • Endangered Scalloped Hammerhead. Photo by David Garcia/ Mision Tiburon

Endangered Scalloped Hammerheads 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. Adults migrate to open waters, returning to nursery areas to have pups.

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.

Challenges

  • The coast guard removing an illegal gill net. Photo by Mision Tiburon

Because sharks have low reproductive rates and mature slowly, they are particularly vulnerable to fishery exploitation and have experienced significant declines throughout their range. Scalloped Hammerheads are caught in oceanic and coastal waters, through targeted fishing as well as bycatch. Our partner’s research shows that sharks and rays contributed to more than 50 percent of the total catch of fishing operations in Golfo Dulce, with Scalloped Hammerheads as the most negatively impacted.

Communities

  • School children learning about marine ecosystems. Photo by David Garcia/ Mision Tiburon

The artisanal fishermen of Golfo Dulce have supported our partner’s research of Scalloped Hammerheads in the area. Local fishermen have assisted with scientific expeditions and participated in the analysis of shark catches. Our partner is also working with local communities to integrate conservation education into schools.

Solutions

  • The Mision Tiburon team. Photo by OlasDavid.com/ Mision Tiburon

Rainforest Trust is supporting our local partner in the creation of a 172,974-acre multi-use Marine Management Area in Golfo Dulce, Costa Rica. This designation will establish no take zones in the most critical nursery habitat for Scalloped Hammerheads and around the feeding aggregations of Whale Sharks. Additionally, Rainforest Trust and our partner are working to establish this area as Costa Rica’s very first Shark Sanctuary, a new categorization which will prohibit sharks from being harvested anywhere in Golfo Dulce.

The management of this Marine Management Area in Golfo Dulce includes patrols in collaboration with the government coast guard and the establishment of a surveillance plan. Our partner’s patrol team will likely involve young fishermen that have demonstrated support for shark conservation over the years, and the conservation organization will also set up a training program for artisanal and sport fishermen to identify and report illegal activities. Workshops with local fishermen, tourist operators and other stakeholders will be held to explain how to correctly report illegal fishing activity to the coast guard.

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