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The Gandoca- Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge ( REGAMA) is located at the south-eastern tip of the Caribbean slope. It is surrounded by the sixaola River at the Panamanian border to the east, a row of mountains from the Talamanca range to the south and bathed on the north side by the white sand beaches and rich coral reefs of the Caribbean Sea.
REGAMA is a component of a system of Costa Rican protected areas which offer the visitor a broad spectrum of cultural, ethnical and ecological diversity, including the neighboring Hitoy-Cerere Biological Reserve, Cahuita National Park, Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve, Bribri indigenous Reserve and Cabecar Indigenous Reserve of Talamanca, Telire indigenous reserve, Tayni indigenous Reserve and the Amistad International Park.
Compromised of 5,013 land mass hectares and 4,436 marine hectares, the REGAMA fills nearly 70% of the Southern Caribbean region. The remaining 30% include the equally attractive areas of Cocles, Old Harbour ( Puerto Viejo) and Black Beach.
Although there is evidence that the region was inhabited by indigenous groups in the past, the more recent colonization began during the 19th century with the arrival of Afro-Caribbeans from the bordering Nicaraguan and Panamanian coast. They developed agricultural activities and founded the majority of the local communities which today are known as Old Harbour, Cocles River, Little Bay, Grape Point, Manzanillo and Monkey Point.
Attracted to the coastal area by the agricultural activity of the afro-Caribbeans, indigenous Cabecar people from Alto Coen and Bribri people from Alto Lari came down to the area today known as the Refuge. For years, these people co-existed with the black people harmoniously, while maintaining contact with their families in upper Talamanca, until the spirits call them back up into the hills and mountains which today are designated as indigenous reserve and surround and protect the Refuge.
The land eco-systems best represented in the Refuge are the wetlands. There are several areas in Costa Rica designated of special international importance under the RAMSAR Wetland convention, including the Gandoca-Manzanillo Refuge.
The wetlands and surrounding forest areas contain a great diversity of species, many endemic to this area, such as: crocodiles, alligators, otters, wild bores, ocelots, pumas, pacas, sloths, spider monkeys, howler monkeys, white-throated capuchin monkeys, and numerous other species of birds, reptiles and amphibians.
The biological richness increases with the Refuges marine coastal areas: coral reefs, sandy beaches, fossil lined coral caves, brackish creeks, mangroves, varying marine floors from silt to sand to rock to coral.
Within the refuge there are five types of coral reefs. These formations contain a wide variety of plant and animal species not found elsewhere; 11 types of sponges, 27 species of algae, and 34 species of mollusks have been identified so far. The beaches from Monkey Point in Manzanillo to the mouth of the Sixaola River are sites for four types of sea turtles to lay their eggs; the leatherback, Green hawksbill and more. And the loggerhead, all of which are endangered.