Tuna Farms Threaten One of Planet’s Best Surfing Spots

San José, Costa Rica—A proposed tuna farm project at the mouth of Costa Rica’s Golfo Dulce, located along the country’s remote and richly biodiverse southern Pacific coast, threatens the area’s water quality and the overall pristine state of the wave at Pavones – considered to be one of the world’s longest lefts. The gulf’s underwater geography and strong coastal currents provide the optimum location for up to 80 tuna cages, each measuring 50 meters in diameter, into which juvenile wild tuna would be placed and fattened until their size is sufficient for export. Concerns focus around the area’s currents and their potential to sweep the massive quantities of fish excrement and food waste produced by the incarcerated tuna, into the gulf and along beachfront communities.

Pavones' perfect wave (foto by Elizabeth Romano)

Pavones' perfect wave (photo by Elizabeth Romano)

Pavones, located only 3 kilometers inside the Golfo Dulce, has remained nearly impervious to the coastal developmental explosion witnessed along Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. This allows the surf destination to thrive while at the same time maintain its natural beauty and authenticity. However, if the tuna project is implemented, the currents and geography that create the picture perfect wave could bring with them an unappetizing mix of ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and methane, all chemicals found in tuna excrement and leftover decaying food products produced at tuna farm projects around the world. If this tuna farm is granted final approval, these substances will permeate the site’s water column. The question now remains, where will the local currents carry the contamination?

The Golfo Dulce is one of only 5 tropical fjords world wide, making it shallow at its mouth and deep inside its body. The result is an area of water with a reduced capacity to recirculate and flush out any particles trapped inside. Because of its geography, sediments and other residues that flow into the gulf disperse and sink where they remain and accumulate.

It’s not just surfers involved in stopping the tuna farms. The indigenous Guaymi signed a petition against the project

It’s not just surfers involved in stopping the tuna farms. The indigenous Guaymi signed a petition against the project (photo: Allan Bolanos)

According to a team of marine researchers at the University of Costa Rica (UCR), the superficial, sub superficial, and deep water currents present in the area could carry the tuna waste into the gulf. If this happens, there is a high probability that Pavones would be in an area affected by algal blooms, decreased dissolved oxygen amounts, and dinoflagelate occurrences leading to red tides and widespread fish kills. Because currents fluctuate with tidal patters, weather systems, and from season to season, UCR researchers recommend a yearlong study to determine exactly where the tuna waste will go.

Surfers who make the pilgrimage to Pavones for the incredible surf are also treated to the natural marine sanctuary that surrounds the one block town. In the adjacent waters, populations of nesting sea turtles, two species of dolphin, and humpback and killer whales continue along their migratory routs, unaware of the pending concerns.  —Andy Bystrom writing for The Surfers Path


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