Preserving Costa Rica’s Critical Shark Habitat

A lone hammerhead by Cocos Island

Costa Rica holds a number of the Pacific ocean’s most critical shark habitats.  It is in Costa Rican waters that much of the Pacific ocean’s sharks grow to maturity.  Cocos Island is known for the thousands of hammerhead sharks that come to school around the seamounts just off shore.  In Corcovado National park bull sharks wait just outside of the breaking waves for the tide to get high enough for them to travel up the river mouth so they can feed in the estuary.  Inside the estuary, young bull sharks hide in the Mangroves hoping to avoid the hungry crocodiles that share their habitat.  It used to be that bull sharks had many places in Central America that acted as nurseries for the young.  Now they’ve been reduced to a few remote locations, and just like in Cocos Island, humans may make it impossible for them to continue surviving in these places much longer.

Sharks are quickly disappearing from these places where they have existed since before humans walked the earth. This crash in shark populations has happened in only the last 50 years.  Over 95 percent of the sharks have disappeared, many because of illegal poaching for shark fins, long lining, and habitat loss.

Reefs known for supporting the schools of hammerhead have become deserted, and are now mere shadows of what they were only a short time ago.  Rivers that once protected the young bull sharks have been diverted into reservoirs leaving them dry for much of the year.  Sharks are running out of habitat that offer them the protection they need until they are mature enough to venture into the open sea.

This project will show how human actions have devastated these populations, and that these are viable habitats that can be healthy again if we give them a chance.  It is a story that has considerable value for conservation purposes on it’s own, but recently Costa Rica has taken the initiative to expand it’s national parks and marine reserves by double. Now Costa Rica needs to know what habitats they should protect, and which habitats will be important in the years to come.

I will be working with the Costa Rican scientists, Randall Arauz, Ilena Zanella and Elda Brizuela to expand the protection around habitats such as Cocos Island and Rio Sirena. They have been collecting the data that proves that these places are threatened and that the boundaries that exist are insufficient.  By providing imagery that supports Randall and Elda’s work, their data will become more effective in translating the importance of protecting these habitats with expanded park boundaries.

This is not a project to save a few sharks in a remote habitat, this project aims to work with the Costa Rican government and local scientists to preserve vital habitats that support the population of sharks for the entire Pacific Ocean.


About Ben Horton
Highly influenced by his love of travel and adventure and his constant search for something new, his imagery is vibrant with fresh and creative energy. Raised in Bermuda, Ben Horton has spent the majority of his life traveling and seeking out new adventure. Ben is the recipient of the National Geographic Society’s first Young Explorer award for research on Cocos Island involving shark poaching. This led to becoming a photographer for National Geographic, and has allowed Ben to continue his passion for adventure. Follow Ben on Instagram

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