Taking charge of wetlands

February 8, 2013

More than a third of the diversity of commercial fish species in the Gulf of Nicoya can be found in the Playa Blanca Marine Wetland at Hotel Punta Leona, on Costa Rica’s Central Pacific coast. 

That was the conclusion of a study by the Keto Foundation, a marine and coastal conservation and research group, released in conjunction with International Wetlands Day, on Feb. 2. 

According to marine biologist Víctor Céspedes, this particular wetland is the only one of its kind in the Central Pacific Conservation Area, which makes its conservation even more important. 

The wetland covers 5.5 square kilometers along the coast, of which 1.3 square kilometers currently are protected. 

Céspedes, who managed the wetland’s conservation for two years, said the fact that it was located on the property of a private hotel helped conservation efforts, as hotel management collaborated with Coast Guard officials, who patrolled the area. 

Céspedes said wetlands are among the world’s most threatened ecosystems, as they often face drought, land-use conversion, pollution and over-fishing. 

“During the two years that I managed the wetland, we tried to educate local fishermen about the importance of protecting the marine life that exists there,” Céspedes said.

Wetlands are crucial to the reproduction of marine species that later migrate to areas where fishing is permitted. Playa Blanca’s wetland management program is tied in with responsible fishing programs in nearby areas, a benefit for both nature lovers and coastal residents. 

“In the wetland there is a large number of different juvenile species of fish, which means it’s an area that has high levels of reproduction. There are periods when the species reproduce, and other periods when they migrate,” Céspedes said.

Hotel Punta Leona Manager Joe Calderón told The Tico Times that keeping local fishermen out of the wetland is a constant struggle. 

“We put up markers around the area where fishermen can’t enter. If they do, we’ll send the Coast Guard to explain that this is a protected area and fishing isn’t allowed,” Calderón said. 

The hotel organizes educational trips into the wetland for local schoolchildren, as well snorkeling tours where visitors can see colorful fish species and turtles. 

To learn more about this private initiative, see: www.hotelpuntaleona.com.

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