Caño Island Biological Reserve

Caño Island is the tip of a massive underwater mountain surrounded by a profusion of marine life. It is surrounded by a rocky shoreline with small beaches that almost disappear at high tide. The island lies just 10km off the Osa Peninsula, north west of the Corcovado National Park.

Marine Life at Caño Island

The eastern Pacific has some of the healthiest populations of fish on the planet and Caño Island’s 5,800 hectare marine reserve is probably the best close to the Costa Rican mainland to see abundant marine life. 25 known species of whales and dolphins that either reside or migrate past the island, of which dolphins and humpback whales are the most frequently seen. Migrations take place in December – April and July – November creating the longest whale season anywhere in the world. This is due to migrations into these seas from both northern and southern hemisphere humpback populations.

Other marine life often see on the surface include turtles and even breaching manta rays or mobula rays. These are generally more easily seen beneath the water, along with the island’s prolific fish life which thrives here because of a fishing exclusion zone.

Snorkelling & Diving at Caño Island

The water surrounding the island provides some excellent snorkelling and diving. White tip reef sharks and turtles are a common site, as well as schools of fish so densely packed that from beneath them you can’t see the surface. Rays are common visitors, including mobular rays (also known as devil rays). Bull sharks are also often seen and less frequently, whale sharks. This abundance of underwater life is complemented with excellent visibility which can range from 45-90 feet combined with a cozy 27°C water temperature.

There are several noteworthy dive locations. One site is the Devils Pinnacle known locally as Bajo del Diablo. Here rock pinnacles thrust from the sea bed often attracting large pelagic species such as manta rays (Manta birostris), large snappers, barracuda and even the odd whale shark.

Whilst at Caño Island you are likely to see more fish life than you will find in many other parts of the world, its reefs are less colourful than the likes of Borneo or Indonesia. This is because the number of hard coral species recorded here is 15 compared to the western Pacific where it can exceed 500.

On land

The island’s wildlife is sparse compared to the mainland but highlights include brightly coloured carpenter bees; one red and one green species.  Perhaps of greater interest is the history of the island, which was used by indigenous people as a burial ground and ceremonial site prior to the Spanish arrival. Evidence of this still remains on the island, where ruined graves and large stone spheres can still be found.

Conservation of Caño Island

The protection of Caño Island was brought about due to the threat of tourist development on the island in 1973. When deforestation began in preparation for construction, the Costa Rican Association of Biologists lobbied the government to stop the project. Construction was indeed stopped through a restraining order by incorporating Caño Island into the Corcovado National Park. It achieved its biological reserve status a few years later. The deforestation has left its mark as slow healing scar in the vegetation of the island.

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