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How to Protect A Local Surf Ecosystem: Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica

On June 12, Playa Hermosa was dedicated as the 11th World Surfing Reserve.  The worldwide recognition of this incredible area is a testament to the waves, wildlife and community that surrounds it.

As a true surf ecosystem, Playa Hermosa is teeming with biodiversity, unique culture, and an organized surf community with irreplaceable waves.

What makes Playa Hermosa special?

A surf ecosystem is more than a wave: it’s the geophysical components, the plants and animals, and the human interactions.

When approving the next World Surfing Reserve, we look for a special combination of irreplaceable and unique component that make that coastline special – and worth protecting.

THE WAVE: A SURFING MECCA

Playa Hermosa is famous for its powerful beach breaks that often barrel and provide an exhilarating experience for locals and brings international surfers seeking a proper Costa Rican tube.

In fact, Playa Hermosa is considered the training ground for competitive surfers as it has some of the most powerful and consistent waves throughout the year.  Carlos Munoz, the World Surf League competitor grew up in a town nearby to Playa Hermosa and has claimed that he has experienced some of the best barrels in his life at Playa Hermosa.

A combination of factors create the conditions that make the waves special in the area including the influence of tidal swings, river mouths and sedimentation processes, as well as the bathymetry of the coastline. Playa Hermosa’s orientation to the southwest picks up swell from various directions resulting in surf throughout most of the year.

THE ENVIRONMENT: WILDLIFE AND coastal HABITATS

Playa Hermosa is a recognised biodiversity hotspot that hosts multiple critically important ecosystems including estuaries and mangroves.

There are 61 threatened species in the surf ecosystem including 3 endangered turtle species and the iconic scarlet macaw.  A large stretch of Playa Hermosa is part of the Punta Mala National Wildlife Refuge protecting important mangrove habitat as well as hosting a sea turtle conservation program.

Additionally, the conservation-minded community has been successful in restoring the coastal forest with native plants and trees spearheaded by the local organization Costas Verdes.  Though much of the coastal forest has been lost over the years to agriculture and coastal development, the region still hosts incredibly important habitat for a diversity of marine and terrestrial species. The Local Stewardship Council is dedicated to protecting and enhancing these natural resources.

THE COMMUNITY: CULTURE AND ECONOMY

In the words of Ariel Gutierrez Roque, a well known local, “Playa Hermosa has an international and national surf community”.

Playa Hermosa hosts multicultural line-ups, mostly driven by respect and equality. It is normal to hear Portuguese, Hebrew, Tico, Argentinian and English in the water at the same time. 

Surfing also drives the local economy: a Save The Waves Surfonomics study has shown that about 15,000 international tourists spend approximately $14 million dollars annually in the community. This surf tourism supports local hotels, restaurants, surf shops, local artisans, surf schools and much more making surfing integral to the culture and economy of Playa Hermosa.

It is these elements; biodiversity, quality waves, and community that create a true surf ecosystem worthy of recognition and protection.  Save The Waves is proud to support the incredible vision of the Local Stewardship Council of Playa Hermosa and share their conservation successes into the future.

Local Stewardship Council: What’s Next?

To receive the designation of a World Surfing Reserve, a dedicated and passionate community is essential to the successful long term protection of the surf ecosystem. 

On June 12 Dedication Day, this community is beginning a new chapter, building on previous conservation efforts, and taking them further, to celebrate and protect the waves in perpetuity. 

The Local Stewardship Council (LSC) is working alongside Save The Waves to protect and steward Playa Hermosa’s surf ecosystem. An LSC is a representative group of  community members who guide and direct World Surfing Reserve projects.  Playa Hermosa is a close community of surfers, artists, business owners, nonprofit organizations, and other passionate individuals – and the Council reflects this diversity of interests.

Our community is as strong as our wave.

Becoming a World Surfing Reserve is not only a great honor and a celebration for us, it’s also a call to action. We know how valuable our surf ecosystem is and its protection is in our hands. Local development will continue to grow, so we must advocate for protecting our waves and surrounding environment now.

Picture of Laura Zumbado
Laura Zumbado

Chair of the LSC

TAKING ACTION: PROJECTS AND GOALS

The extensive Stewardship Plan is based around three distinct goals: 1) building sustainable surf tourism, 2) protecting the coastline by implementing a sustainable urban design plan and focusing on land use and protection, and 3) enhancing key ecosystem services to benefit wildlife and the local community.

These goals will address threats posed by rapid coastal development, climate change impacts, trash and plastic pollution, and others.

One of the first projects taken on by the LSC will be the recovery of the small watershed Quebrada Ganado which has been heavily impacted by erosion and water quality impacts and drains out directly to the waves of Playa Hermosa.  By working with the municipality of Garabito, the World Surfing Reserve will develop a recovery strategy and engage with the local community to support the restoration of the watershed that directly impacts the surf at Playa Hermosa.

The LSC also will turn their focus to protecting critical wildlife of the Reserve by working alongside the Punta Mala National Wildlife Refuge to reengage a turtle hatchery and nesting program.

With the dedication of Playa Hermosa as a World Surfing Reserve, a line in the sand has been drawn to ensure that the region remains the surf and environmental treasure it has been for generations.

With the strong team that has been built over the years and the coalition of local surfers, government and decision makers, NGO’s, and Save The Waves the future looks bright for Costa Rica’s beloved surfing arena.

Learn more about the Playa Hermosa World Surfing Reserve here.

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Donate today and make a global impact for our coastlines. 

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