The Gulf of Nicoya, Costa Rica
The Gulf of Nicoya which separates the Nicoya Peninsula from the mainland of Costa Rica is a stunning marine and coastal landscape of wetlands, jagged rocky islands and cliffs, extensive mangrove habitat, and high biodiversity.
A geological fault has once caused the land to submerge, leaving exposed only the tops of what were formerly low hills. These are the numerous islands which today dot the Gulf of Nicoya.
At its upper end, the Gulf is shallow and muddy. The Tempisque River washes much soil and organic material into the estuary, and mangrove swamps thrive on the shores. In Costa Rica mangroves are protected because they play an important role for aquatic life. In their foliage birds are nesting and the mud at their roots shelters mussels, crabs and shrimps. Located along the banks of the Tempisque River is the Palo Verde National Park which is home to one of Central America's most densely populated areas of migratory birds.
The water in the upper Gulf is rich in nutrients, allowing algae to flourish which feeds fish and mollusks. Most of the area's inhabitants depend on food from the sea. From July to August however, nobody is allowed to fish, as this is the breeding time for maritime life.
The lower Gulf of Nicoya is much different from the upper part. There are few mangroves and the area is even less populated. Densely forested hills and promontories touch the sea, closing off secret bays.
The water here is saltier, clearer and much deeper: between 30 and 180 meters. There are many fish in the lower Gulf but by far fewer shrimp and shellfish.
Currently, only few of Costa Rica's tourists visit this region - an advantage for those who love nature instead of crowds.