Another daily visitor to the bathing ritual was the Neotropical River Otter (Lutra
longicaudis.) No sooner
did we started splashing around than a couple of otters would
appear from down river, swimming toward our location
at the “Paso del Guanacaste.” They
would swim directly at us at high speed, and about four meters short
of our location they
would dive. Sometimes they stayed underwater only a few seconds and sometimes longer
a minute. When they resurfaced it could be anywhere, but it would definitely be at
least four meters (13 feet) from
the nearest person. It was like they were playing a game
with us, but only to a certain point.
otters love to play, they love to eat even more. Most animals wolf down their food as fast as they can. No
so with an otter. Occasionally one would catch a small fish or a crayfish or some other delicacy. Sometimes
the otter would swim around on its back leisurely eating the prize, but usually it would find a flat rock,
stretch out and devour the prey slowly in small bites, savoring every morsel. I was reminded of a gourmet
diner enjoying a delicious meal. It almost made me want to catch a crayfish and sample the fair. Cooked
maybe, but definitely not raw and whole, shell, legs, antennae and all.
I once paddled down river
on a boogie board with the idea of finding their den, but to no
avail. If any of us moved more than 20 meters or
so downstream, all of the otters would
disappear and not return until another day. Otters are normally quite shy,
became so accustomed to our presence that they lost their timidity. But only if we followed
rules -- no closer that four meters, and no swimming downstream. Today we often
observe otters in the mangrove estuary
and other waterways of the Hacienda Baru
National Wildlife Refuge, but none so friendly as our old friends on the
Barú River. All the
otters I have seen in other places have immediately dived upon detecting my presence.
otters can still be seen on the Barú River in the area around the mouth and as far up
river as Villas Rio Mar. If
you would like to see them, go to the river bank or even the
bridge, around 6:00 AM or 4:30 PM. Scan the surface
of the river and look for a sleek,
dark, brown head moving across the surface. Right now, in March, is the best
time of year
to see the otters, when the river is low, calm and clear. If you really want to see them I
that you go soon, because next dry season may be too late. Little do the
otters know that their river habitat is
in grave danger.
At this time there are six applications pending for gravel mining concessions
in the Barú River. The areas being requested range from the mouth of the river to above the crossing on
the road to Nauyaca Waterfalls. If all of these concessions are granted, the Barú will become a riverine waste-land
with a non functional ecosystem. If you want to see an example of what is about to happen to the Barú,
just take a short drive to the Naranjo River on the costanera a couple of kilometers south of the Quepos airport.
Or if you happen to be in the Osa Peninsula check out the Río Tigre. Take a good look at the results of many years
of gravel mining in a river and ask yourself if you would like to have a similar view from the Barú River bridge. Ask
yourself if visitors would want to stay in Dominical after driving across a river with a view like that from the Naranajo
or Tigre River bridges.
The Naranjo River has already suffered grave damange and may
be past the point of no return.
Additionally there are a number of applications for concessions
on the Savegre River, but these are temporarily on hold due to overwhelming oposition from local communities.
Another thing that has helped considerably in the battle to conserve the Savegre is the existence of extensive biological
studies which verify the high level of biodiversity of the river.
An excelent article
on this subject, by Carol Cespedes PhD and Bruce Melton PE, appeared a couple of months ago in the “Perspective”
section of The Tico Times. It would be very difficult for me to improve on their description of what happens when a river
is degraded by gravel mining. With their permission I quote from their article:
what happens when a sand- and gravel-mining operation – called in-streammining -- excavates the bed of a living river.
Removing material causes an immediatechange in the existing river geometry, which refers to the shape and course of the river.It includes all the little
meanders and pools, the riffles, rocks, bars and bends, as well asthe streamside vegetation. In-stream mining destroys this geometry and replaces
relatively flat surface.
This simplified geometry increases the velocity of the river, which in turn increases theerosion. The faster-flowing
water tends to spread out the rocks and sand and gravel inthe river rather than deposit it in bars and riffles. This eliminates the deep holes
moving areas, leaving the creatures that rely on the deeper water to survivewithout homes. The greater erosive force of
the altered riverbed creates more erosionalong the outside of bends in the river and increases the rate that the river meanders, ormoves around within the riverbed.
This increases the sideways erosion of the river evenmore.