Hammerhead Shark Sanctuary in Costa Rica in Golfo Dulce

Hammerhead Shark Sanctuary in Costa Rica Strives to Protect This Endangered Species

In his last days as President of Costa Rica, Luis Guillermo Solis signed at the beginning of May, an executive decree to declare the Hammerhead Shark Sanctuary of Golfo Dulce, a 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.

Adult Hammerhead Shark

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”, establishes a press release by Rainforest Trust, an organization that worked alongside Mision Tiburon (Shark Mission) for the creation of this sanctuary, a unique ecosystem that is one of the only four tropical fjords in the world

Black Tip Reef Shark

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.

Tiger Shark


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.”

Olive Ridley Turtle on the way to lay eggs

But there is more than sharks in the gulf, 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.”

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.