Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge


5,013 Ha. (land sector); 4.436 Ha. (ocean sector).
The refuge is located on the Caribbean in one of Costa Rica's most scenic regions. The coast is shaped by a chain of headlands set between white sandy beaches with smooth slopes into gently lapping water. The beaches are fringed by innumerable coconut palm trees and surrounded by coral reefs that extend 200 meters off shore.
The coral reefs in front of Uva, Manzanillo and Mona Points measure 5 square kilometers all together and are composed primarily of the following coral species: Siderastrea siderea. S. radians, Diploria clivosa, D. strigosa, Isophyliastres rigida, Mycetophyllia lamarckiana, Agaricia agaricites, A. fragilis, Acropora cervicornis and Porites astreoides. Among the very abundant octocorals are the Briareum asbestinum, Muriceopsis flavida and M. suiphurca corals. Some of the fish are unusually attractive because of their brilliant colors. These include the queen angelfish (Holacanthus ciliaris), with a light blue body covered with yellow spots and a yellow head and tail, French angelfish (Pomacanthus paru), which is black with yellow spots, blue parrotfish (Scams coeruleus) which is usually completely blue, although it can also have yellow spots, and Chaetodon ocellatus which has a black stripe running down its face.
Other species that thrive in the reefs are lobster (Panulirus argus), sponges, red urchin (Tripneustes ventricosus), long-spined black urchin (Diadema antillarum) which is very numerous, sun anemone (Stolchactis helian thus) which is green, Stylaster roseus and Solandaria gracilis hydroids which can be found in cracks and under the reefs, Venus sea fans (Gorgonia ventalina), sea cucumbers (Holothuria sp.). white shrimp (Penaeus sp.) and sometimes Pacific green turtles (Chelonia mydas). A fairly common plant that grows throughout the reef area is turtle grass (Thalassia testudinum). It forms an underwater grassland that is not very deep and that is host to several kinds of seaweed, and food for some fish, mollusks and sea snails.
Most of the refuge, which is flat or gently rolling with small hills no higher that 100 meters, is covered with forest, and the rest with grasslands and some farms. To the south of Manzanillo and Mona Points there is a very thick forest composed primarily of holillo palm (Raphia taedigera) and sajo (Campnosperma panamensis). One of the most prevalent species in the forests of the refuge is the cativo (Prioria copaifera). The littoral woodland is mainly made up of coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) and sea grape (Coccoloba uvifera). A very abundant species in the understorey and in clearings is the heliconia (Heliconia spp.). a plant that grows 2 meters tall and has very conspicuous and beautiful inflorescences with brightly colored bractiets that are usually red and yellow.
To the southeast of the refuge lies the Gandoca estuary which is made up almost exclusively of red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle). It protects a bank of oysters (Crassostrea rhizophorae) and is a spawning site for the Atlantic tarpon (Megalops atlanticus). West Indian manatees (Trichechus manatus). which are an endangered species. can also be seen here,
The refuge protects several species of animals that are in danger of extinction such as the crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) and the tapir (Tapirus bairdli), together with the caiman (Caiman crocodylus) and the paca (Agouti paca). Some of the birds that live in the refuge are the crested-mandibled toucan (Ramphastos swainsonii), ornate hawk-eagle (Spizaetus ornatus), red-bred amazon (Amazona autumnalis), red-capped manakin (Pipra men tails), sulphur-winged parakeet (Pyrrhura hoffmanni), broad-billed motmot (Electron piatyrhynchum), collared aracari (Pteroglossus torquatus), and lineated woodpecker (Diyocopus lineatus).
An interesting geomorphological feature to be seen at Mona Point is a kind of plateau formed by old coral reefs that stand 30 meters high.

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Beach near Manzanillo
Beach near Manzanillo

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