By Tamarindo News Staff Photo: The Tamarindo News files
On July 22, 59-year-old Jon Becker was attacked by a crocodile while crossing the Tamarindo estuary after surfing in Playa Grande. According to Avi Becker, the victim’s son, Jon was a “warrior” because he and his friend Édgar Sánchez fought off the 7-foot croc. Sanchez then was able to get the severely injured man to the Tamarindo side of the river mouth where helpful locals and the well-trained Tamarindo Lifeguards put on a tourniquet and kept him calm in the 45-minute wait for the ambulance to arrive.
In a surgery that lasted over two hours at Enrique Baltodano Hospital in Liberia, part of Becker’s right leg below his knee, was amputated. At press time, he was recovering in a hospital in the capital, San José and was receiving antibiotics.
The big question on the mind of community as evidenced by conversations and social media following the attack was what exactly could be done to prevent this from happening again? After all, this was the third crocodile attack in the last three years, and the most severe. Previously, in March 2015 a surfer from Montreal was bitten on the foot and 2 years before another 7-foot croc clamped down on a Spanish surfer. In addition, countless dogs have been stricken while in that area.
Immediately following the attack on Becker, members of the Asociación De Desarollo Intergral de Tamarindo (ADI) met with representatives of National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC) for the second time in a year. After the last croc attack, ADI pushed SINAC to remove some of the crocodiles, who have become accustomed to humans due to their feeding by boat operators who offer estuary tours featuring these reptiles. According to ADI Vice President Juan Carlos Cerdas, last time, SINAC never formally agreed to do any study after their meetings, and the only result was the posting of signs warning of the dangerous crocodiles.
One major problem with the signs however, was that they were posted in areas that were not visible to beachgoers during the low tide, and therefore many people would still enter the estuary. And surfers still paddled across knowing that the river was inhabited by these dangerous animals.
Also in attendance in the meeting last month was the Fuerza Pública police as well as the community representative for the boat operators in the estuary.
“We started talking about what could be done about the crocodiles who are used to people feeding and touching them, and the biologist in the meeting explained that when people feed and touch the crocodiles they are not afraid of humans,” Cerdas explained.
Since Tamarindo is actually in Las Baulas Marine National Park, SINAC cannot simply remove random crocodiles; they must first do a study to determine which of these specific reptiles are dangerous to humans and need to be relocated to someplace less populated by people. Cerdas pointed out one in particular, the big crocodile seen hanging out by the boats.
“However,” he said, “Crocodiles are territorial. If they move the one that’s always by the boats, that creates a space for another one to move there and if people feed and touch that one, this will happen again.”
The Fuerza Pública is now monitoring the area for people who are feeding the crocodiles. Just two days after the attack on Becker, “they showed up to stop someone from feeding the crocodiles, so they are good,” Cerdas said. Just how the police can supervise the boats if they are feeding the crocs while on a tour up the river, has yet to be determined.
ADI has also been discussing the possibility of a dedicated boat that would transport people across the estuary at specific times useful to surfers and others, something that is not currently available. The idea would be to set this up with permitted, licensed boat operators already working in that area.
“The problem is not Tamarindo, Tamarindo is safe,” Cerdas said. “The problem is the estuary, and you don’t have to swim across the estuary. We want to always provide a way to get to Grande using the boats.
Yet, Salty Sols surf instruction Eric Atkinson mentioned the fact that the estuary has changed recently, moving further into the public areas. Because of this, there is an urgency to the completion of the SINAC study. “It is even more dangerous because the estuary now runs directly in front of the main Tamarindo beach where Witch’s Rock Surf Camp is. We are all out there daily giving lessons, tourists are surfing and swimming. Before, we had a lot more beach and there was a distinct spot that marked the river mouth. Now it just all mixes together into one big estuary basically, so that’s another reason to relocate some of these crocs as far as I’m concerned.”
The police observation of those that are feeding the crocs, along with the SINAC study and possibility of moving the determined bad crocodiles, coupled with dedicated boats for crossing and Tamarindo Lifeguard supervision of the area could be just the answers this community is looking for to be safe from crocodile attacks, Cerdas concluded.