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Popular Nicoya Peninsula beaches heavily contaminated, study finds

A study from the Costa Rican Water and Sewer Institute (AyA) and Nicoya Peninsula Waterkeeper, a nongovernmental organization, found heavily contaminated water at some of the area’s most-popular beaches.

The amount of fecal coliforms at Santa Teresa Beach corresponded to “severe contamination,” while nearby Manzanillo, Malpaís and Carmen beaches were all graded as “highly” polluted, the non-governmental organization said.

Playa Hermosa (near Santa Teresa) had no detectable contamination from fecal coliforms.

The results were based on water samples taken in June and August 2021.

Graphic via Nicoya Peninsula Waterkeeper.

Nicoya Peninsula Waterkeeper blamed inadequate wastewater management as a reason for the poor results.

“If we do not have an effective system that treats the waters we use in the bathroom, they go directly to the rivers and then to the sea,” the NGO said.

“The solution is complex, but the first step is to analyze what type of water treatment system you are using and whether it works or not. … We do not gain anything by denying the reality, sea water is highly polluted. Now that you know, what are you going to do about it?”

Growth outpacing infrastructure

The Cóbano district — which contains the beach towns of Santa Teresa, Mal País, Carmen and Hermosa — has changed dramatically over the last decade as tourists visit a region which promises a peaceful, laid-back attitude complemented by unspoiled natural beauty and surf.

Those tourists bring money they’re eager to spend on food, housing and transportation — and dozens of new businesses have formed as a result.

But that growth lacks the necessary oversight and supporting infrastructure, Nicoya Peninsula Waterkeeper has said, which puts the area’s biggest draws in peril.

According to the Municipality of Cóbano, blackwater — water polluted with food, animal or human waste — “does not yet have a network that prevents it from being directed toward the nearest streams,” leaving each business responsible for its own water treatment and disposal.

And if businesses don’t invest in proper wastewater management, Nicoya Peninsula Waterkeeper says, contaminated ocean water is the expected result.

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