Tamarindo Estuary on the move

By Ellen Zoe Golden

Mother Nature is playing havoc with Tamarindo Beach, and has been doing so a few months now. The Tamarindo estuary’s river mouth, which used to end adjacent to the beach that leads to Playa Casitas, is now pouring out near Pico Pequeño just past the parking lot entrance to the beach. As a result, the character of the beach has changed for those who want to enjoy it.

Just what is going on? Cassie Rauser, PhD, a former Tamarindo resident now working in California on environmental projects to enhance biodiversity as Director of UCLA’s Sustainable LA Grand Challenge Initiative, explained: “The short answer to how this could happen so quickly is that it in fact didn’t happen quickly–it just appeared to happen quickly. The river mouth, or estuary, appears to be very stable, but is always changing. The sand and sediment are always moving around due to waves, the tide, heavy rainfall, lack of rainfall, and changes in sea level. It is likely that a shift has been happening for some time. Maybe a shift in a sand bar, for example, that allowed the water to move in a different direction and seemingly take over Tamarindo Beach. This is just a natural shift in the shoreline. These types of things can, of course, be managed, and are heavily managed in California, for example. There are a number of interventions that can be used (barriers) to control the shift on sandy beaches (also known as beach drift). Jetties are one such structure that is used to manage beach drift. Essentially Tamarindo beach is a completely unmanaged beach, so you are going to see shifts in the shoreline like this over time.”

The shift in the river mouth has also altered the behavior patterns of the Tamarindo beach patrons. For surfers and swimmers looking to avoid being in the river mouth itself (and perhaps coming face-to-face with a dangerous crocodile), they are now basing themselves in one area just before Pico.

For surfers, now there are less safe surf peaks, and those who know what they are doing find themselves among an even more crowded myriad of surf schools teaching new people.

In addition, swimmers need to dodge the surfers, and vice versa. Another result of the natural shift of the river mouth, coupled with a decent rainy season, are that high tides are much fuller, coming way up the beach, eroding the sand.

The Tamarindo Lifeguard tower was threatened and had to be moved in September. Currently, it has not been reconstructed, but the lifeguards are still working to protect the beach in a tent on the northwest corner of El Vaquero restaurant. Originally, as the tide came up closer and closer, a group of volunteers from Capitan Suizo, Best Western Tamarindo Vista Villas and Witch’s Rock built a small retaining wall of rocks covered with wire. It remains.

But, after a while, the incoming water became a threat to the tower, and it was deconstructed by the group, leaving Continuación P.6 > only its cement foundation and the retaining wall in its former location. Often now, that rock wall, and the foundation are covered by water during high tide. “Days after we built the retaining wall, the ocean had its highest tide yet, and it took both the sand from the side of the wall and in front of it. It became clear that the wall was not sufficient and honestly, Tamarindo doesn’t need a giant retaining wall,” explained Joe Walsh, head of the Lifeguard Committee for ADI.

Walsh has watched the river adjust, concerned not only because his Witch’s Rock Surf Camp is located on the beach and no longer directly in front of the ocean, but because he believes that its of utmost importance that the lifeguards have a spot to view those in the water.

“The lifeguards are probably one of the most important things we do for the community, as the #1 reason people come here is the beach,” he said.

Fortunately, according to Walsh, the number of rescues has not increased with the new currents at the beach.

“They are about the same,” he said. “I don’t think the estuary moving and the currents have added to our ledger.”

The plan now is to rebuild the tower on metal “skids, giant skis” so the tower can be easily moved by a back hoe.

ADI has decided that the best new location for the tower is in front of the beach parking lot, where the majority of surfers and swimmers now enjoy the ocean.

The expected completion date for the new Lifeguard Tower was October 16. El Vaquero is providing the electricity and their security guards will monitor it during closed hours. (Lifeguards work 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. everyday.)

ADI plans to ask Coopeguanacaste to install two streetlights in the parking lot.

THE Tamarindo News consulted Coopeguanacaste, who explained that technical staff went to the site where streetlights were requested and realized that, according the MINAE (Ministry of Environment and Energy), special lighting —that does not interfere with the sea turtle nesting habits— should be placed.

Coopeguanacaste and the MINAE are identifying vulnerable points all over coastal areas to install these special lights. Meanwhile, it remains to be seen what will happen to the river mouth after rainy season ends.