Costa Rica blooms two oceans worth or coral reef biodiversity. Shallow, deep and everything in between. Dive down below to see some of the best images of Costa Rican coral reef life. Learn how to help our coral amigos. They need it.
This is now the official site to reserve a tour with Shawn Larkin while you are staying at any Drake Bay, Caletas, Marenco, Sierpe or Corcovado area hotel, lodge, inn, tent camp or cabinas, including pick up and drop off.
YOU CAN NO LONGER BOOK TRIPS WITH SHAWN LARKIN THROUGH AGUILA DE OSA INN OR COSTA RICA ADVENTURE DIVERS, HOTEL JINETES DE OSA. WE CAN PICK YOU AT WHEN YOU STAY AT THESE HOTEL, IF YOU MUST, BUT YOU MUST RESERVE YOUR SPACE HERE, as Jinetes de Osa Costa Rica Adventure Divers nor Aguila de Osa Inn meets our Part of the Solution Eco Standards. Please ask if your hotel has proper wastewater treatment and assure they are not destroying waterways and dumping toxins very close to the beach and river. We must conserve the waters to save the rainforest, the coral reefs, the dolphins, the whales and ourselves. Be part of the solution and check out where you stay. It's easy! Yes we can.
Scattered around the seas of Costa Rica are tiny animals that live together with plants in self-built homes: coral reefs.
coral head may be the size of a computer screen or grow as big as a
car, which is about when we start calling it a reef. The biggest reefs
in Costa Rica stretch for kilometers off the southern Caribbean coast.
Cocos Island National Park and Caño Island Biological Reserve contain
the best of the Pacific reefs, but there are many other patch reefs
along the entire Pacific coast, especially where no dirty rivers are too
Among the ocean’s many ecosystems, the coral reef speaks to
us perhaps the strongest. Here in Costa Rica, our ties to the sea pass
through the coral. The corals protect, nourish and enrich us, teach us
and provide heaps of fun and income. They are ancient permaculture
gardens tended to by fish and a bunch of very strange creatures that
The country’s precious reefs are being eradicated
because of hotels and businesses that want to save money on wastewater
treatment, demand for reduced agricultural costs and cheap seafood, and
lack of sufficient marine protected areas and enforcement. The carbon
dioxide in the air from all the cars, planes, trucks and buses is
changing into acid in the ocean, and that eats away at reefs. In
addition to leaching into our oceans, our exhaust is also warming up the
planet, and that kills a lot of reef.
Of course, it wasn’t always
like this. Once upon a time – like, a really long time ago – the reefs
off these shores bloomed healthy ecosystems. Lots of whales and dolphins
right off the beaches and bays and filling the lagoons, so many that a
mini-ecosystem of animals lived off their waste. Lots of big sharks
pruning the smaller fish of the reef. Lots of smaller fish pruning the
plants, corals and sponges of the reef. Heaps of turtles, muchos manatees, and maybe some human fishers and divers.
a while back, the whales where slaughtered and the old ecosystems began
to change. Then nearly all the sharks were gone, and the dolphins moved
offshore. All the seals disappeared. Soon, most turtles were gone,
followed by most manatees. Then the biggest fish were gone. And the
reefs began to change.
Where once had been coral, now there was
seaweed. Where once had been many big animals, now there were very few.
Where once the rare, old and wise had thrived, now the small and the
fleeting overwhelmed. Seas once full of fish were now full of jellyfish.
Most of the multicolor of the reef morphed into the monotone of
But take heart; there is still plenty of
wondrous reef to see in Costa Rica. There are still blooming areas of
live coral gardens and incomprehensible marine biodiversity. Still, it’s
not what it used to be. We are assaulting the sea, and she is resisting
the attack best in marine protected areas. Luckily for us, the ocean is
Resilience is what we need, and obviously
some of the most important things we can do is minimize burning and
buying petrol, stop inadequate wastewater treatment, manage and enforce
environmental regulations, educate people and tend to our reefs.
future of living reefs will probably not return to past states for a
long time, if ever. Even in protected areas, bad kinds of invasive
algae, like the caulerpa at Caño Island on the Pacific, will have to be
cropped. Invasive fish, like the lionfish in the Caribbean’s
Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge, will have to be culled.
So we not only have to stop hurting the reefs – we have to start helping them.
First Published in The Tico Times.
Welcome to the page dedicated to Costa Rica's coral reefs.
There are more things we don't know about Costa Rica's super valuable reefs than we do know. One thing for sure is that the reefs need you to help them. First get to know them below with mucho info about where they are, what are the best coral reefs in Costa Rica? How do reefs of the Pacific Costa Rica look different from the Caribbean? Dive down to know.
Coral Bleaching on the reefs of Costa Rica has struck again in October 2010, to hundreds of Porites corals at many reefs. Many other species are bleaching as well. Check out this photo from Talamanca, Limon, Costa Rica taken in October 2010. Reefs stressed by contamination bleach quicker than healthy reefs. The hotels of Talamanca Caribe Sur should stop killing the reef by neglecting waste water treatment. Ecotourists need to check where they stay to make sure they are respecting the waters. The last big bleaching here was 2004, and, so far, it was much worse.
Corals can comeback after a bleaching, but each time we lose some.
And we all need to stop spewing so much carbon into the air. This carbon is making acid in the oceans and killing a lot of life.
More marine protected areas will help corals survive, look below see Costa Rica's finest reefs, most in protected areas.
All of the coral reef images on this site were photographed in Osa or Talamanca Costa Rica unlike tooo many other web sites that mislead you with photos from somewhere else.
How to save the coral reefs of Caribe Sur, Talamanca, Caño Island, Costa Rica and the world.
Stop touching and kicking them. Do not give your money to dive shops that touch reef or hunt on Scuba. Seems simple but the fact is all the dive sites at Caño Island Biological Reserve, a forest and marine conservation area 12 nautical miles or 22 kilometers, offshore of Drake Bay, Osa peninsula, are heavily damaged by scuba divers. The same is true for the ridiculously over used dive sites in front of Punta Uva, the most diver damaged sites on Costa Rica´s Caribbean.
There are still too many dive guides who not only fail to prevent their clients from touching and damaging coral but carelessly set a bad example themselves.
When you shop for your dive shop, ask them if they will assure that all guides will take great care with the marine life that grows on the bottom. Report careless guides who allow touching directly to the guards at the ranger stations and to the administrator and owner of the dive operation and your hotel.
Also there are reports that one dive shop on the Talamanca coast hunts with Scuba inside the National Wildlife Refuge. If you see your dive guide, anywhere in Costa Rica hunt or take lobster on SCUBA, demand your money back, report them to local hotels and authorities and tell the story on the internet. Hunting while free diving, the only sustainable form of dive hunting, is legal outside of protected areas. Many people do not know that the Pacific bottom is just as delicate as a Caribbean reef. Even if you cannot see coral there could be a wide assortment of life becoming established on rock. You should not grab the bottom.
You should master buoyancy control before you come to scuba Caño Island and demand that the people you dive with are ready to help you observe and protect the coral, not destroy it.
Costa Cetacea guide and PADI scuba diving instructor Shawn Larkin has dived the Osa and Talamanca for over two decades and says, “Caño Island is a terrible place to learn how to dive. Between quickly changing currents, visibility, temperatures and runoff, heavy surge, a delicate and easily damaged biodiversity of bottom life, and far from medical help remoteness, Reserva Biologica Isla del Caño, like Cocos Island National Park, is best enjoyed by advanced divers."
"I would guess between 30 and 50 percent of scuba students drop out. There are thousands of calm, easy places to learn how to dive in swimming pool like conditions where you will not hurt coral, like Manzanillo. Learn to dive in one of these places, master buoyancy control, and then come see the incredible scuba diving of Caño Island, or just come free dive and snorkel.”
Aguila de Osa Lodge, Caño Island Divers Pirates Cove Hotel, Corcovado Expeditions, Costa Cetacea, Costa Rica Adventure Divers Jinetes de Osa Hotel, Drake Bay Wilderness Resort, La Paloma Lodge, Osa Divers, Southern Expeditions all dive Caño Island.
Aquamor and Costa Cetacea, Punta Uva Dive Center, Reef Runners all dive Talamanca and Costa Rica's south Caribbean.
Free diving on the coral reefs of Cano Island Biological Reserve, off Drake Bay, Osa peninsula.
State of the Coral Reefs of Costa Rica
A version of this article appeared in 2005 in The Tico Times, central america's leading English language newspaper. www.ticotimes.net
The coral reefs of Costa Rica are slowly dying. Last year many locations around the entire Caribbean Sea recorded surface temperatures that broke all records. South Caribbean divers here saw some coral turn white and then later die beneath a blanket of quick growing seaweed. But warm waters are not the only factor killing the reef; chances are you might be playing a part.
Reef building corals do not live alone. Corals are little animals that, under the right conditions, each slowly make their own little shelter made out of calcium. The tiny tentacles of each coral animal, or polyp, grab minute sea life drifting by to eat and survive. But these wee creatures could not build a reef without some help. So they share their shelter with some plants known as alga.
The petite plants photosynthesize from the sun and get a sheltered place to live. The wastes the plants produce nurture the corals with just what they need to make reef. All reef building corals depend on plants that, in turn, rely on the corals. This relationship of mutual benefits demonstrates one of the most fantastic examples in nature of what is called symbiosis.
When things heat up the coral and algae do not get along. Rising water temperatures cause coral to kick out their roommates. Without the plants the corals turn white, a phenomenon divers and coral researchers call “bleaching.” The corals cannot live for very long without their alga buddies but if the waters cool enough the alga return and the reef grows.
The reefs grow so well that they are the biggest animal made structures on the planet. The barrier reef growing on Costa Rica’s south Caribe, known as Long Shoal to locals, stretches for several kilometres offshore of the Gandoca Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge and on towards the fringing reef off Cahuita. Some of the many patch reefs growing inshore towards the beach from the barrier reef are larger than a city block. Other patch reefs, some just a few fin kicks off the beaches, are about as big as your dinner table.
A lot of things on your dinner table here in Costa Rica might have arrived there with the help of the coral reef. Many lobster, fish, shellfish, shrimp and crab, and more spend at least part, if not all, of their life cycles hiding within the protection of the coral. Coral reefs are the most diverse marine ecosystems on earth and an enormous number of other species depend on them for food, from sponges to dolphins. When not eating reef species, people studying them gain insight that leads to many medical advances such as artificial bone.
Without the reefs many surfers and divers would simply go somewhere else. Reefs cause waves to break overhead in a spectacular fashion and that is why Puerto Viejo’s Salsa Brava wave, caused by the coral reef below, is considered by many surfers to be one of the best in the world. There are many other surfing waves, reef breaks, in the south Caribe as well. The resulting draw to surfers brings Limon, and Costa Rica, a lot of money. Divers as well come for the reef, and its accompanying marine life, and like surfers they spend money on transportation, accommodations, food and services all over Costa Rica.
We do not get just money and food from the reef, the reef also protects Costa Ricans from tsunamis, massive waves usually caused by earthquakes. Manzanillo residents who were here for the devastating big shake of 1991 recall watching a massive tsunami break offshore over the Long Shoal barrier reef. The wave spending its deadly energy on the Long Shoal coral reef is probably why parts of the south coast received a slowly rising wave of foam and not a high speed crushing impact. The reefs also create shallow pools and lagoons that are protected from surf and are perfect for swimming. The reefs and pools together form what many people consider to be the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica.
This source of food, money, medicine, beaches and protection for the nation is now under threat. Rapid development of the tourism industry is dumping contamination, cutting bush and draining wetlands. Irresponsible agriculture does the same thing. All affect the reef with increased sediments in the water. Sediments make the water murky and prevent the reef from growing. The plants that live with coral need plenty of light which can only pass through clear water. Cutting forest and draining land for habitation stops a natural filtration process. Dirty water reaches the reef in hours instead of spending time oozing through the land and leaving many of its sediments.
Another major threat for corals in Costa Rica is water that is too warm. Last year was the worst Caribbean bleaching I have seen in more than twenty years diving the region. Much of the bleached coral is coloured again this year but some of it has died for good. Bleaching corals were documented over most of the Caribbean Sea by the end of the summer last year, the warmest year on record for this body of water.
This year the Caribbean Sea is heating up as the northern hemisphere’s summer advances. According to the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, parts of the north Caribbean are already as hot as they normally would be at the end of summer. Costa Rica’s water usually remains warmer longer than the north Caribbean and cools off with the winds of November blowing down water from the north. That’s still months of summer heating to come and that does not bode well for Costa Rica’s Caribbean reef or the marine life and people who depend on coral.
Don’t think dying coral does not affect you if you enjoy just the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Reef building coral does not grow usually grow as profusely on the western side of continents due to ocean circulation patterns but here in Costa Rica, Pacific divers know that plenty of coral grows on the rocks in some areas and that there are even some rare eastern tropical pacific reefs. These pacific corals provide the habitat for little fish that bring in the big stuff Pacific sport fishers and divers come to see. Without Pacific corals and all the fish they bring, Costa Rica would have to buy a lot more seafood from other countries.
The Caribbean warming up like never before is thought by many people to be due to global warming. Global warming is thought to also cause more frequent warmings of the eastern tropical pacific, a phenomenon known as El Nino. Previous El Ninos have caused massive bleachings on all of Costa Rica’s pacific coral areas, from Guanacaste to Cocos Island, including some local species extinctions. This negatively affects diving, sport and commercial fishing, dolphin and whale watching and tourism in general.
But even if the sea does not heat up unchecked development and over fishing off the Caribe and the Pacific coasts will continue to damage the reefs. Already the reef sections off the south Caribbean’s Puerto Viejo are mostly dead and that was long before last years bleaching. Inside the waters of the Gandoca Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge and Cahuita National Park the marine life clearly appears healthier than outside to divers, evidence that the earthquake damage and agricultural runoff are not the only big factors hurting the reef. But even in protected Manzanillo waters, where locals are allowed to hunt but there are no “no take zones,” most divers admit that overfishing has factored into local sons knowing they will never make catches as big as their fathers. Will the next generation even get to see coral reef?
The most important things we can do to save the tico reefs involve slowing water contamination. If tourists, travel agents, guidebooks and newspapers began checking the waste water treatment systems of the hotels and operators that they stay in, book, and write about, businesses would clean up their act fast. A certification, like divers must have, for sustainable Costa Rican fisheries, would help little Ticos have a chance to eat local seafood and dive the reef and as well as keep tourists coming back. The Marine Stewardship Council shows an example of such a certification. Leaving more bush around waterways filters more sediment, preventing it from reaching the reef. More no take zones that act as nurseries for countless species are crucial. Protected areas must include more reefs. We must boycott any establishment, like hotels or dining, that uses salt water aquaruims with live coral in them, as it must be constantly replenished. Divers, snorklers and beachgoers can take care to not touch, stand on, or fin the highly stressed corals.
Viva el coral!
All rights reserved Costa Cetacea shawn larkin 2010
Thats a giant stingray on the bottom
Check out this link to an article on Cano Island Biological Reserve in the Tico Times.