Marine Research

The project site: mouth of the Golfo Dulce

In 2012 ARCAE is performing a marine fauna visual survey of the mouth of the Golfo Dulce (Sweet Gulf) along Costa Rica’s Southern Pacific coast. 

To carry out this survey, researchers travel by boat along a predetermined route while recording the different kinds of animals they observe on the surface, as well as their positions.  In order to survey the entire project site, its expanse has been divided into 3 subsites.  Once a week researchers board a local fishing boat captained by a member of the Pavones Artisanal Fishing Association to survey one of these subsites.  Once inside the site, the team follows a predetermined zig-zag transect through the area using a global positioning system (GPS) to navigate.  This same GPS is used to mark the exact positions of all marine fauna observed inside the site.  Researchers depart at around 6:30 am and spend 5-6 hours surveying the subsite, traveling at a speed of 9-10 km/hour.  Transect lengths are between 50-60 km. 

Observed marine fauna locations during the first 10 trips

During the study, the team has observed 3 species of sea turtle, 2 species of dolphin, whales, sea snakes, rays, and multiple species of fish including sharks, mahi-mahi, and rooster fish.  The data will be analyzed and maps will be created using a Geographic Information System (GIS) to determine spatial dynamics of individual animal species including their relative abundance and population densities.  This information will contribute to the responsible management of the Golfo Dulce’s marine fauna through what’s hoped to be the establishment of responsible fishing areas and alternative economic opportunities for local fisher folk through the development of marine animal sightseeing tours designed with the project’s results.

In addition to the field research, ARCAE members have attended and/or presented their work at local and regional coastal management meetings and workshops.

An endangered green sea turtle is observed during one of the transects

The project comes at an important time for Costa Rica’s Southern Pacific coast.  Free trade agreements with China (signed into law in August, 2011) allow for the large scale extraction of Costa Rican fisheries resources by the Asian superpower.  Feasibility studies for the implementation of an industrial tuna aquaculture, or tuna farm, project have already begun.  While tuna farms we’re originally proposed by international investors in the mid 2000’s, they were denied the necessary permits from the Costa Rican government.  However, it’s believed that China will exert increasing political pressure on Costa Rica to implement this and other projects in order to fuel its insatiable appetite for tuna and other marine delicacies.  ARCAE’s visual marine survey is helping to scientifically justify the need to protect these waters and to support local, Costa Rican based economic development initiatives.  It’s a tough fight, but the ARCAE team is committed to doing what’s right.

If you would like to learn more or participate in this type of marine research, contact Andy Bystrom at

Research team member Jon Schrank (USA) and Jose Cortez (Costa Rica) record species location data during one of the survey trips. Boat captain William Mata (Costa Rica) looks on.


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