UNEP logo Regional Management Plan for the West Indian Manatee, Trichechus manatus

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CEP Technical Report No. 35 1995 All CEP Technical Reports


Costa Rica
Dominican Republic
French Guiana (France)
Puerto Rico (USA)
Trinidad & Tobago
United States

Costa Rica

Status and distribution

Costa Rica has excellent manatee habitat: quiet and shallow canals and lagoons, freshwater and abundant emergent and floating vegetation, such as the canals in the Atlantic of Costa Rica (Reynolds et al. in ms, Vasquez R. 1993 in litt.). Manatees were reported all along the Atlantic coast in the past, and entered rivers San Juan, Sarapiquí and San Carlos (Frantzius 1869). Although relatively common in Costa Rica until the 1950's manatees are considered rare nowadays (Reynolds et al. in ms). O'Donnell (1981) described manatee distribution in the late 70's based on interviews and aerial surveys. Tortuguero, in the northeastern coastal plain, still harbors the largest, although small, concentration of manatees in the country, especially in Caño Servulo (Reynolds et al. in ms). Recent sightings are scattered and include Rio Colorado (1 in 1991) and Laguna Gandoca, Refúgio de Fauna Silvestre Gandoca-Manzanillo, in southeastern Costa Rica (1 in 1982 and 3 in 1990) (Vasquez R. 1993 in litt.). No manatees were observed in three boat surveys conducted in Tortuguero Lagoon between 1984 and 1991, and an aerial survey in July 1991 yielded only 3 sightings: 1 manatee in Caño Servulo and 2 just north of the mouth of the Rio Sixaola on the Panama border (Reynolds et al. in ms).

Major threats and conservation problems

Illegal hunting for subsistence and motorboat traffic in the canals of Tortuguero claim the lives of 1 to 2 manatees a year. The meat is used by the black community in the town of Tortuguero, adjacent to the Park (Elizondo 1993 unpubl. report). Increase in vessel traffic in Río Colorado, water contamination by oil released by the motors in those areas, and habitat loss (Elizondo 1993 unpubl. report, Vásquez R. 1993 in litt.) further threaten manatee persistence in Costa Rica. Forests destroyed in the buffer area of Tortuguero National Park may cause siltation of the canals in the intermediate or long term (Elizondo 1993 unpubl. report). Agrochemicals are being released into canals of Tortuguero (e.g., near Boca Parismina) by local banana growers and new projects are being installed along the basin of Rio Tortuguero, which drains into the Park. Manatees may be ingesting discarded plastic banana bags (Elizondo 1993 unpubl. report, Reynolds et al. in ms).

Socio-economic significance and conservation measures

Manatees are hunted for their meat of alleged many flavors, and fat which yields high quality oil (Vasquez R. 1993 in litt., Reynolds et al. in ms.). However younger people seem to have lost interest in hunting; this is justified in interviews partially by the time and patience that it requires and partially to a certain level of awareness about the endangered status of the species and its tourist appeal (Reynolds et al. in ms.).

National legislation and conservation measures

Costa Rica has protected its manatees since 1953. The recent law Ley de Conservación de la Vida Silvestre no. 7317 of 1992 characterizes manatees as endangered of extinction (Vásquez R. 1993 in litt.). Costa Rica is a Party to the CITES Convention but has not signed the SPAW Protocol.

Protection is difficult, however, due to lack of personnel both in the refuges and at national level. The best habitat protection is provided by the implementation of Parque Nacional Tortuguero and Refúgio de Fauna Silvestre Barra del Colorado, as well as Refúgio Gandoca-Manzanillo. The Dirección General de Vida Silvestre stimulates the conservation of wild flora and fauna in general and implements programmes, but no specific programmes have been developed for manatees (Vásquez R. 1993 in litt.).

Belize | Colombia | Costa Rica | Cuba | Dominican Republic | French Guiana (France) | Guatemala | Guyana | Haiti | Honduras | Jamaica | Mexico | Nicaragua | Panama | Puerto Rico (USA) | Suriname | Trinidad & Tobago | United States | Venezuela

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Preface and Objectives | Summary | I. Introduction | II. National Status | III. Short and Long-term...IV. References | Appendix I | Appendix II | Appendix III | Table 1 | Manatee Map

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