The Threats




Commercial Shrimp Boats

Commercial shrimp boats drag their nets along the ocean floor virtually killing and “clear cutting” everything in their path, including sea turtles, rays, eels, coral, plant life and thousands of small fish. These small fish are an intricate part of the food chain but are killed before they can grow to reproduce and become food for animals and humans alike, breaking the natural food chain. We already know our turtle population is in grave danger and our coral systems are dead or dying. Once the ocean floor is stripped in this way, it does not grow back. The area that the Humpback Whales (and divers) love so much, Paraiso, is being destroyed by the shrimp boats as are the . In fact, for every gallon of shrimp that is harvested, over five gallons of other sea life is killed.

Shrimp trawling was recently outlawed in Costa Rica. Those with existing licenses can trawl for shrimp until they run out, the last one being in 2019, and no licenses will be renewed for at least five years. However, a coalition of shrimp boat owners are fighting the new law and asking for it to be thrown out. See Future Uncertain for Shrimp Trawling in Costa Rica

This shrimp boat can be seen with its TED (Turtle Excluder Device) not being used. It is law in Costa Rica that shrimp boats use the TED which allows sea turtles to escape the trawling nets. However, with little or no enforcement, the TED's are seldom used. In 2009, the US banned imports of shrimp from Costa Rica because of this country's failure to enforce laws that prevent shrimpers from catching and drowning endangered sea turtles in their trawl nets. See Why You Won’t See Costa Rican Shrimp on U.S. Menus.

Long Lines and Nets

Another major problem in the area is the long line fishing boats. Long lines are spread out, sometimes for miles and miles, and are baited every several feet with a hook and a piece of fish. The sea turtles, sharks, manta rays, billfish and many other marine life often will bite the bait and get hooked on the line. If the line is too far below for the turtles to reach the surface, they drown. The ones who don’t drown and are hooked on the long line at the surface are often cut open by the fishermen in order to look for sea turtle eggs or otherwise killed in the process. The long lines are also harmful to dolphins and whales that cannot see them and get severely cut by the lines and hooks, or worse, get entangled in them and drown.

Twice we have seen small humpbacks with long lines and rope wrapped around their bodies. We have frequently recorded long lines spread out in the areas frequented by the dolphins, whales and turtles. Often long line gear and nets that are tangled or unusable is left floating in the water so it continues to kill and maim even after the fishermen are done with it. Any captain traveling these waters has seen dead or even live turtles, rays and dolphins stuck in freely floating long line gear and most recently, a dead baby Humpback Whale washed up onto the shores of Corcovado National Park, the victim of a net left in the water. See

Photos by Hayder Santamaría

A recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology and conducted by the Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science, Drexel University and the Programa Restauración de Tortugas Marinas (Pretoma) called Impact of Costa Rican longline fishery on its bycatch of sharks, stingrays, bony fish and olive ridley turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) states:

"Marine protected areas and/or time area closures are needed to reduce the impact of the Costa Rican longline fishery on sea turtles and sharks."

The Tico Times, in their article about the study, New Study Bites Costa Rican Fishing Industry, quote co-author Randall Arauz, president of the Marine Turtle Restoration Project (PRETOMA):

“You don’t have to be a fishery biologist to know that if you’re killing 80 percent of the animals that haven’t reproduced yet, you’re … on a collision course towards extinction."

An article by Discovery Online about the devestating findings states: Thousands of Turtles Killed by Long Line Fishing. The article goes on to say that:

"A team of Americans and Costa Ricans estimated that longlines hooked more than 699,000 olive ridley sea turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) and 23,000 green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) between 1999 and 2010. Female olive ridleys made up 92,300 of the total. This represents a serious blow to the reproductive potential of the species, which the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists as vulnerable. The IUCN lists green turtles as endangered."

Over Fishing

Over fishing is among the main threat to ictiofauna. The fishing industry uses long lines, or trasmayos in Spanish, and even satellite technology, bombs and ECOWAVES. There is also very poor management of marine resources, such as shrimp boats that may capture and throw away thousands of tons of bycatch, every year, including dozens of fish species with hardly any commercial value, sea turtles and even dolphins.

The technical report, Summary of Demersal Elasmobranch Studies in the Continental Platform of the Pacific of Costa Rica with Management and Conservation Strategies of December 11, 2012, calls for a complete moratorium on fishing in much of our proposed marine protected area due to loss of habitats and by-catch of sharks and rays.


Tuna Boats

Large commercial tuna boats also kill and maim thousands of dolphins each year. They use helicopters to find the dolphins and when they do, they radio the tuna boat which then puts several speed boats in the water to round up to dolphins and set a net around them to catch the tuna swimming underneath. It is now believed that more than 2000 Spinner dolphins per year or more are being killed by the tuna industry off the Osa Peninsula alone. The dolphins are not able to sustain their populations when they are killed off at this rate. Our subspecies of Spinner Dolphin, the “Costa Rican Spinner Dolphin” has been severely depleted. Where there used to be thousands and thousands of them, there are now hundreds.

Our Costa Rica Spinner Dolphins captured in a tuna net by a boat from Venezuela on July 10, 2012. For the full story and photos,visit

The Costa Rican Fisheries Federation's (FECOP) August 2013 report, TUNA CATCHES AND FISHERIES MANAGEMENT IN COSTA RICA’S EXCLUSIVE ECONOMIC ZONE - A PROPOSAL FOR ALTERNATIVE DEVELOPMENT was presented to the Government of the Republic by the National Fisheries Sector Commission and the Costa Rican Fisheries Federation in August 2013 and calls for a six year morotarium on tuna fishing:

"The need for a period in which tuna populations can recover, the time required for fishers’ economies to stabilize, the need for research to improve the efficiency of national fisheries within a framework of responsible fisheries (that in itself requires research), combined with the appropriate use of FADs and the spatial distribution of tuna according to age group, would justify a moratorium for a minimum six-year period between the coast and 350 nm out to sea. The effectiveness of the measure to exclude industrial purse-seine fishing for the benefit of fisheries by national fleets will be evaluated over this period."

The report also paints a frightening picture of the by-catch (non wanted species) caught by the tuna industry:

Non-target groups most involved in bycatch by tuna fisheries in the EEZ, 2002-2011:

Tons extrapolated to 16,626 sets (2002-2011)*


Tons in
4,516 sets


ICr 2.5%

ICr 97.5%





































In addition to the above issues, there is growing water pollution around the coast with fuel, oil, sewage waters, industrial waste or solid waste in general. Many of the residents and hotels in the area are using cleaning products that are not biodegradable and are harmful to this sensitive eco system.

Lack of regulations for “Whale and Dolphin Watch” Activities
Painstaking research substantiates that whale watching is now a billion-dollar industry with more than 10 million people each year participating around the globe. Since 1991, when some four million people went whale watching, the number of participants has increased by 12.1 percent per year. He estimates that 10.1 million people are now going whale watching each year, spending a total of $1.253 billion U.S. dollars in direct and indirect expenditures. This industry is taking off and outpacing global tourism growth by wide margins.

In Costa Rica this activity is relatively new and it has been increasing every year in different zones. Operators in Drake Bay have been conducting dolphin and whale tours for several years.  This kind of tour attracts many tourists every year to Drake Bay to experience the wild dolphins and whales in the area but needs to be regulated to maintain respect to dolphins’ and whales’ behaviors and habitats.

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