The Arenal Area Magazine

Ocean does not heed boundary markers put up by humans


By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

When someone built this fence it marked the end of the 50-meter zone. A yellow official marker attests to that fact. Now the fence line is nearly in the sea at high tide.A.M. Costa Rica/Dennis Rogers

Recent months have seen the outer shore of Isla Palo Seco near Parrita eroded to the point where waves are lapping at the fences of beach properties.

In places the water has eliminated three rows of coconut palms to reach the mojones which mark the limits between the 50 meters of public beach and land that can theoretically be leased from local government. These markers were set as recently as 2000, according to inscriptions on them.

Isla Palo Seco is a narrow barrier island with an estuary and some mangroves behind it. Much is empty lots and abandoned beach houses, though there are occupied houses and several operating hotels. Many of the lots don’t have concession status, and in the narrowest parts of the island the distance between the mojones indicating 50 meters from the ocean and those indicating the protected zone for the estuary are only 15 to 20 meters. Most of the road is along the beach within the 50-meter zone, and has been rendered impassable for stretches, resulting in tracks across lots in various states of occupation.

Universidad Nacional oceanographer Alejandro Gutiérrez said that conditions on these sand islands are transient and they have their own natural dynamic. Any specific case would involve a combination of factors. Climate change and accompanying increases in water temperature can produce the swells that attack the beaches. Some of these swells travel great distances to come ashore in Costa Rica, he said. The few millimeters increase in water levels by
itself is not enough to affect this and other beaches that have seen similar erosion as Island Palo Seco.

What he called anthropomorphic factors have been crucial in another nearby case where Isla Damas near Quepos broke into several pieces and was cut off from the mainland. Gutiérrez attributed the change in the channel, which could be crossed on foot at low tide, to cutting of mangroves behind the island.

The Palo Seco access road is well-maintained by the Parrita municipality, but workers are unable to confront the encroaching sea. Esperanza Gallego, who owns a hotel near the worst section, said she was told ahead of time the mayor wouldn’t discuss the road. When a meeting was arranged and she brought it up anyway, he was displeased, she said.

Material for the miles of riprap it would take to stabilize the beach shore would have to come from far away, and would be impossible for a poor municipality like Parrita to manage or finance a project that large.

Potentially the national Comisión Nacional de Emergencia could be involved, but its resources don’t tend to be spent on disasters impacting people who live at the beach.

One dump truck load of large rocks did come in, according to local resident Christine Bartoldus, but made a trivial difference. During a recent visit to the island, a backhoe was working illegally on the beach as some property owner dredged material for a barrier.

Municipal workers have reportedly just stabilized and filled the worst areas where the road was impassable.

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