Ballena Marine National Park
Much more than just whales…
By Biol. Cindy Fernández (MarViva) y Biol. Juan José Alvarado (CIMAR – UCR) – translated and abridged by Martha Desrosiers (Mar y Selva Ecolodge)
Many visit attracted by those enormous tales that come out from the water and smack back down on the water surface. Even though the whales are one of its greatest attractions, this national park holds a thousand and one treasures both on land and in the water.
Southwards, towards the ocean
The Ballena Marine National Park is located on the Southern Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, and belongs to the Conservation Area of Osa. It goes from the mouth of the Morete River to Piñuela Point.
It is an area with high rainfall, with the highest rainfall occurring from May through October, and the drier months are from November through April. January and February are months with little rain (2-24 mm) and these are the warmest months as well.
It was declared a national park by a Decree given in February of 1989 and its limits were broadened July 1992. Its land boundaries on the wetlands and bordering mangroves, and has a total of 284 acres of land area and 13,282 acres of marine acreage. Despite it being the first national park that was created exclusively for its marine resources, it is one of the smallest national parks compared to other parks such as Cahuita (55,352 acres), Tortuguero (123,948 acres), Manuel Antonio (135,908 acres), o Santa Rosa (192,742 acres).
The immediate surroundings of the park are characterized by recent colonization. The first people to settle here came from San Isidro del General with the intention of growing bananas, and for many years this was done on a small scale and they sold their product to the banana company. Later, with the construction of the inter-American highway, other communities developed such as Bahía Ballena, Playa Hermosa, Uvita and San Josecito, with an improvement in basic services such as running water, electricity and telephone services as will as private and public transportation.
This area presents a variety of attractions, with its coastal natural resources being the greatest attraction for tourists. For this reason, many businesses have joined to form the Costa Ballena Chamber of Tourism whose main objective is to develop tourism that is in tune with nature and which is promoted by the presence of the Ballena Marine National Park. Beautiful rivers, the climate and cultural projects derived from this area’s productive activities enrich the beauty of this unique scenery. This national park attracts the communities of the southern zone and the Central Pacific as well as many foreigners. International tourism has continued to increase with the passing of the years, with a 66% increase in tourism noted in the last three years.
Exploring the Park
The Park’s objective is to conserve the rich marine ecosystem and the beauty of its landscapes. In its waters we can find a series of very interesting geological formations such as sandy beaches, rocky beaches, cliffs and islets. On its northern border it has a natural bridge formed by small islands and submerged rocks that make up “Whales Tail” in Uvita. The bridge is made from the sand from the mainland that has been slowly deposited uniting the beach with a crest rock formation, creating a coastal rim that when the tide is high, the rocky point is isolated from the mainland, and when it is low, one can walk from the mainland beach to the rocky area to observe several marine species.
Ballena Island, and the large rocks called “Las Tres Hermanas y la Viuda” (the Three Sisters and the Widow), are islets that stick out of this connecting archway of rocks that lie below the surface. These terraces are a huge habitat where many of the marine species of the park can be found.
This island is known to have a very sharp drop with areas that rapidly become 20 meters deep. It is very common to see several species of birds nesting on the island at different times throughout the year.
The area of the “Three Sisters” has one of the best corral reef formations. In front of these three main rocks one can observe the corral formations made by the Núcura Coral (Porites lobata) which is the most abundant species of the park. These colonies are of large size having 1-3 meters in diameter and they grow one on top of the other, creating cavities and caves where many species of animals and algae live and seek refuge. The rock called the “Widow” is located on the western end of the park. Right now it is not a part of the national park. However, its marine diversity is such that the extension of the park to cover it is being considered. This islet slopes sharply on the southern side where one can see a wall that drops abruptly up to 20 meters in depth. It is common to find gardens of sea fans which, due to their morphology there are few other species of coral here. On the northern side there is a less dramatic drop reaching only to about 15 meters. This area has high currents which makes it difficult to visit. However during the dry season it is ideal for snorkeling.