Caño Island Biological Reserve

Caño Island is located some 20 kilometers west of the Osa Peninsula. Its highest point is 110 meters above sea level and most of its coastline is made up of cliffs that climb as high as 70 meters. It has an extension of 300 hectares of land, and 5800 hectares of protected waters around it.

The white sandy beaches are small, no longer than 100 meters. and some almost disappear at high tide. At low tide, it is possible to walk along the coast for some distance, following the beaches and a kind of rocky ledge that surrounds a large portion of the island and where innumerable tide pools form. An old lighthouse on the southwestern tip of the island affords a view of the forest and a great deal of coastline from the look-out platform.

300 Ha, (land sector) 5.800 Ha. (sea sector)
Caño Island is the site of a pre-Columbian cemetery that of enormous archeological value. It is still possible to see some of the perfectly round stone spheres made by the former native Indian peoples.

A geological study of the island reveals that it was formed as a result of plate tectonics setting in this case the subduction or sinking of the Cocos Plate underneath the Caribbean Plate along the Middle American Trench. The age of this relict mountain is approximately 40-50 million years old and it is emerging at a rate of 10 meters every 1000 years.

The island rises to a fairly wide plateau some 90 meters high which is covered with very tall evergreen forest. The predominant species the cow tree (Brosimum utile) which grows up to 50 meters high. It is also known as the milk tree because of the white latex it exudes which can be drunk like milk.

The fact that there is an almost pure milk tree grove in the central part of the island and that it was used at one time as a burial ground has led to the conjecture that the plant life of the island today is what is left of an orchard planted by the native Indians with these trees. The cow tree has large edible seeds and it would seem that it was planted here to protect its fruits from raids by parrots, collared peccaries (Tayassu tajacu) and rodents which abound on the mainland.

There is not very much wildlife on the island, possibly due to the disappearance of the natural forest. Some of the few birds that can be seen are the cattle egret (Bulbulcus ibis), common black-hawk (Buteogallus anthracinus), osprey (Pandion haliaetus), brown booby (Sula leucogaste) northern phalarope (Lobipes lobatus), least tern (Sterna antillarum) and brown noddy (Anous stol1dus).

The insect population of the island is limited to 5 species of beetle, 4 of butterfly, 2 of moth, 7 of bees (the 2 populations of the Euglossa genus number in the thousands), and several of ants and other insects.

Animals that have been observed in the reserve include the gray four-eyed opossum (Philander opossum), paca (Agouti paca), which was introduced, boa constrictor (Boa constrictor), brown tree frog (Smilisca phaeota). great frog (Leptodactylus pen tadactylus), and transparent tree frog (Centrolenella fleishmanni), and several species of rats, bats, small snakes and lizards.

The marine life in the tide pools is more varied. In addition to innumerable fish, there are large populations of brittle star (Ophiocoma sp.) and sea urchins (Echinometra sp. and Diadema sp.). Clinging to the rocks are shore limpet mollusks (Siphonaria gigas), keyhole limpets (Fissurella spp.) which are very abundant, chitons (Chiton stokesii), nerites (Nerita spp.), and Sally lightfoot crabs (Grapsus grapsus), a very populous species of which the exoskeletons can be frequently seen stuck to the rocks.
Two species that are in danger of extinction which are protected by the waters of the reserve are the lobster (Pan ulirus sp.) and giant conch (Strom bus galeatus).

The island is surrounded by five platforms of low coral reefs where 15 species of stony coral have been observed. The most abundant specie is Porites lobata which grows all over the reef in large colonies. Other abundant coral species are the Pavona clavus, Pocillopora damicornis, P. elegans. and Psammocora superficialis. Some of the coral-eaters that thrive in these waters are the Arothron meliagris and Pseudobalistes naufragium fish, the Janneria pustulata and Quoyula monodontica mollusks, land hermit crabs (Trizopagurus magnificus and Aniculus sp.) the Acanthaster planci starfish and the Diadema mexicanum and Eucidaris thouarcii sea urchins.

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Isla del Caño
Caño Island seen from the Corcovado coast

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Small beach at Isla del CañoSmall beach at Isla del Caño


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