World Journal of Engineering and Technology, 2014, 2, 85-90
Published Online September 2014 in SciRes. http://www.scirp.org/journal/wjet
How to cite this paper: Arce, M.F., Solís, D., Porras, J.L. and González, G. (2014) Proposal to Disseminate the Knowledge of
Tsunamis in the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica, Central America. World Journal of Engineering and Technology, 2, 85-90.
Proposal to Disseminate the Knowledge of
Tsunamis in the Caribbean Coast of Costa
Rica, Central America
Mario Fernández Arce1,2,3, Daniel Solís1, Juan Luis Porras4,5, Gino González4,5
1PREVENTEC, University of Costa Rica (UCR)
2Escuela de Geografía-UCR
3Centro de Investigaciones en Ciencias Geológicas-UCR
4Escuela de Geología-UCR
5Red Sismológica Nacional (RSN: ICE-UC R)
Received Ju ly 2014
This work is a proposal to spread the knowledge of tsunamis in the schools of the Caribbean coast
of Costa Rica. Ignorance of basic information about tsunamis and the existing threat, could result
in deaths in areas where tsunami occur. For this reason, we have implemented this project which
is intended to inform the population of coastal schools of the natural threat and how to deal with it.
It is expected to prepare the population to adequately face an emergency by tsunami and reduce
its impact. The work will be done through information sessions, training workshops and the pro-
duction of a video that will be used for a permanent training in schools. The selected schools are in
the communities of Barra del Colorado, Barra the Tortuguero, Barra de Parismina, Puerto Limón,
Cahuita, Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo.
Tsunamis, Threat, Vulnerability, Disaster, Risk
There is a tsunami threat in Costa Rica. The two coasts of this country have geological pr ocesses capable of ge-
nerating local tsunamis -. Six tsunamis have been documented in the Caribbean coasts of Costa Rica and
Panama from 1539 to the present. But, unfortunately, many people don’t know thi s r ea li t y and there is, therefore,
no adequate preparation to face this hazard. The 2004 Indonesia tsunami demonstrated that without knowledge
of the phenomenon, the probability of becoming a victim of a tsunami increases. The death toll increases be-
cause people are not able to recognize the signs prior to the arrival of a tsunami. The 2011 Japan tsunami
showed that the impact of a tsunami can go beyond what is expected by technical and scientific groups. To re-
duce the impact of a tsunami we must prepare the population to respond appropriately in an emergency. To ac-
M. F. Arce et al.
complish thi s goal, we vis i t the coasts , exp l aining and publici zing the phenomenon, eli minat ing myt hs , revealing
realities and removing all the d oubts. There is a need for very practical and concrete action to educate the popu-
lation to respond and address the alerts on tsunamis. Although efforts have been made to educate coastal com-
munities in t he field of tsunamis, mu ch training is still needed. Therefore, we will desi gn a training that will in-
clude an e valuati on of knowledge o n tsunami s befo re and after the tr aini ng.
Such an effort and preparation are required because Costa Rica is a country with grea t tour ist po tential, where
the population in the coastal zones is increasing due to this development. The increase in population also in-
creases the vulnerability and the risk of disaster. The need for preparation was evident on June 15, 2014 , when a
5.4 earthquake, which took place in the Caribbean Sea about 380 km from the Nicaraguan coast, caused expec-
tation and alarm in Puerto Limon. Due to that fear, several public institutions worried about evacuating their
working c enters.
Practical actions and concrete proposals seek to save lives by empowering the population to address and re-
spond to the alerts that emanate from scientific groups. Although efforts have been made to educate coastal
communitie s in the field of tsunamis  -, almost nothing has been done in the Caribbean side of Costa Rica.
Therefore, it is time to make an intervention in this vulnerable and forgotten area. With hard work we hope to
prepare the population of the Caribbean coastal schools to adequately address the tsunami threat.
Fernández et al.  investigated the threat by tsunamis in Central America and reported 6 local tsunamis that
occurred in the Caribbean coasts of Costa Rica and Panama between 1798 and 1991. All these tsunamis were
generated by reverse earthquakes due to compressive forces associated with the North Panama Deformed Pana -
ma Belt (NPDB). As you can see in Table 1, the M s ma gnit ude of s uch ear thq ua kes varie d fro m 6.9 t o 7 .9. T he
generated tsunamis were small.
The effects of these documented tsunamis are small. They include agitation of the sea and floods. The 1916
tsunami produced a wave of more than 1 meter high that brought canoes and debris 200 m inland and destroyed
storage tanks. The 1882 earthquake is the largest that has occurred in Central American so far. This great earth-
quake caused a tsunami that greatly affected the islands, which were flooded by the waves of the tsunami. This
event caused between 75 and 100 victims. It is very likely that this tsunami arrived at Costa Rica, although no
dama ge was re ported in this co untry.
According to Fernández and Alvarado , the 1991 earthquake generated tsunami waves confirmed along a
160 km se g ment of coastline, from Matina-Costa Rica, to Bocas del Toro, Panama. The y struck the coast within
5 - 1 5 minut es of t he eart hquake . Such waves produced maximum height and la ndwar d pe netrati on in Pa na-
ma of 3 and 150 m respectively. The inundation decreased rapidly about 25 km northwest of the Panama-Costa
Rica border. With regard to the damage, the tsunami left layers of sand and debris on the ground and dead fish in
some places of the coast. So me residents were frightened and ran to high sites. Panama was more affected by the
tsunami than Costa Ri ca.
Regarding the management tsunami disasters in Costa Rica, we are running a project that aims to bring tsu-
nami scientific information through training workshops to the staff and students of coastal schools across the
country. Since 2005, meetings have been held with teachers from the Ministry of Public Education to give them
basic and clear infor mation on tsuna mis.
Table 1. Information of earthquakes and tsunamis of the Caribbean side of Costa Rica and Panama. Source: Fernandez et al.,
Earthquake Data T sunami Data
# Time Locati on Ma gnitud e Locati on Run -up (m) Ma gnitud e
1 1798-02 22 Northwest of Limon Matina, Costa Rica −1
2 1822-05 07 Southeast of Limon 7.6 Matina, Costa Ri ca −1
3 1882-09 07 San Blas Islands, Panama 7,9 San Blas Island, Panama 3 1
4 1904-12 20 Southeast of Limon 7.3 Bocas del Toro, Panamá
5 1916-04 26 Southwest of Limon 6 .9 Bocas del Toro, Panamá 1.3 0
6 1991-04 22 South Limon 7 .6 Bocas del Toro, Panamá 3 1
M. F. Arce et al.
In 2007 an inter-institutional group (The National Emergency Office, UCR, Municipalidad de San José and
the Japan International Cooperation Agency) executed the project “Promotion of Tsunamis in Puntarenas (the
most importa nt Costa Rican port in the P a c ific)” which produced teaching guides for teachers and students about
the tsunami threat and also a flip chart on the topic. We are currently spreading knowledge of tsunamis in the
schoo ls of the Costa Rican Pacific coast . A toolkit of tsunamis is being developed for the students of Costa
Rican elementary schools .
3. The Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica and Its Vulnerability
The Costa Rican Caribbean coast is rectilinear and flat with many natural channels and swamps that make the
coastal communities more vulnerable and difficult to evacuate. This situation is more pronounced in the north-
west since there is no relief close to the coast. The communities of Barra del Colorado, Parismina and Tortu-
guero only have access by rivers. Access to Limón, Cahuita, Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo is overland and some
of these towns have access to ne arby highlands.
The Caribbean coast of Costa Rica is very attractive because of its lush vegetation, beautiful beaches, wet-
lands and coastal forests, lagoons, wildlife refuges, nesting grounds of sea turtles, national parks and natural
channels. We have decided to spread the knowledge of tsunamis in the schools of the following communiites:
Barra del Colorado, Tortuguero, Barra de Parismina, Limón, Cahuita, Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo (Figure 1).
The Barra del Colorado Community is a coastal town near both the border with Nicaragua and the Barra del
Colorado Wildlife Refuge which has 92,000 hectares of wet lands and rainforests that are habitat for many flora
and na tive fauna o f the c ount ry.
Figure 1 . Map showing the communities where the promotion of tsunami will take place.
M. F. Arce et al.
Tor tuguero i s locate d in the wo nderfu l Tortuguero Natio nal Pa rk. The small town is tru ly a touristic destina-
tion. The site is very attractive because of the nesting of green sea turtles. Its population is estimated to be al-
most 1500 inhabitants. The Barra del Parismina is a town built on one side of the Parismina River. It is esti-
mated that some 400 people live there. Its main economic activities are ecotourism and sport fishing.
Limon is the largest city and most important commercial port of Costa Rica. The city is separated from the
sea by a boardwalk called “tajamar” (cutwater). It was connected to the nation’s capital in 1890 by a railroad
made to promote exports of coffee to Europe. Its economic activities have been based for a long time in the
production of banana and livestock. Limon is characterized by having the largest black population nationwide.
The climate of this province is mainly humid and rainy for most of the year. Its population is over 100,000 inha-
Cahuita is a tourist place of special interest which has a beautiful beach of yello w sand and coral formations.
There is a national park of 22,40 0 hectares near the community. The main economic activities of the population
have traditionally been fishing and farming, although in recent years they have lost importance to tourism,
whose main attractions are its beaches of coconut palms (Black Beach) and the Cahuita National Park.
Puerto Vie jo is a co a stal c ommunity a nd a popular tourist destination. It i s known in the surfin g communit y as
having the largest and most powerful wave in Costa Rica, called “Salsa Brava”. It is also a site of beautiful
beaches such as Playa Chiquita, Playa Negra and Punta Uva, which are some of the most spectacular beaches of
Costa Rica. Puerto Viejo offers hotels, restaurants and services closer to the border with Panama. The inhabi -
tants of the villa ge are mostly of Costa Rican origin, with a substantial populatio n of Jamaican descent, as well
as a good number of Europeans who have migrated to the region. Manzanillo is a popular place for boating. The
Nacional Refuge Gandoca-Manzanillo is a protected area of great beauty near Manazanillo.
4. The Proposal
Our proposal is to bring knowledge of tsunamis to the population of Caribbean coastal schools of Costa Rica,
which implies the followi ng:
1) Pr esentation of the proj ect to the authorities of the M inistry of Public Ed ucation of Costa Rica and coor di-
nation wi th the regional super visors to start the work in sc hools.
2) Initial visit at the schools to measure how much the students and staff know about the natural threat and
give a n infor mative talk o n tsunamis. T o measure this kno wledge we appl y a test with the following questions:
1—What is a t su nami? 2—What are its causes? 3—W ha t is t he ma xi mu m sp ee d of the ts unami? 4—W ha t is t he
maximum height of the most recent tsunami? 5—What are the effects of tsunamis? 6—Does a tsunami threat
exist in Costa R ica? 7—What are the ba sic rules to d eal with a tsunami? During the first visit we will sched ule
the next visit s .
3) After the firs t visi t wi ll be gin training workshops for st udents.
4) Once the students have a good level of knowledge on tsunamis, they will answer the aforementioned ques-
tions during interviews that will be recorded with a television camera and the resulting clips will be used to
make a video about tsunamis. This video will be used later to disseminate the knowledge of tsunamis in the
educational center and therefore, technical groups will no longer need to do training at the school. This video
will make work easier and more effective for schoolteachers in charge of disaster risk management.
5. Present and Future Actions
As part of the activities of the project we have visited the schools of Manzanillo, Puerto Viejo, Cahuita, and
Limón (Figure 2). We vi sited schools of these towns to know their physical condition and explore the interest of
the principal and teachers in the topic. On previous occasions we visited Parismina.
Both the schools of Manzanillo and Puerto Viejo are located 100 meters from the beach on a flat area. The
schoo l o f P ue rt o Vie j o, unlike o the r sc ho ols, is near high relief which offers relatively safe places in the event of
a tsunami. However, power lines with high voltage pass in front of this school and must be taken into account
whe n evacuati ng the center . Cahuita ’s school is also on a flat area and less than 50 meters from the beach so it
requires much preparation to face an emergency by tsunami. The school Tomás Guardia, located in Puerto
Limón, is perhaps the best constructed of all the schools visited in the Caribbean. It is farther fro m the beach and
has a second floor which could serve as a temporary shelter in the event of a tsunami.
In the Northern Caribbean tsunami emergency management is complicated because there is no access by land
M. F. Arce et al.
to its towns. The towns are often set between the sea, rivers and natural channels which increase the risk of
flooding by tsunamis and rivers overflow. The school of Parismina is near areas flooded by the Parismina River
In the following mont hs we will complete the work in the selecte d schools. At the same time, we will work on
a tool kit of tsunamis which will include a pamphlet, a board game and a video animation that will be designed,
produced and validated in at least five schools of the Caribbean.
Figure 2 . The schools of Manzanillo, Puerto Viejo, Cahuita (left down corner) and Tomás
Guardia in Limón. Courtesy of Oscar Sojo.
Figure 3. Flooded áreas near the school of Parismina (to the right, not shown) generated
by overflow of the Parismina R iver.
M. F. Arce et al.
6. Final Comment s
Although there is no record of large, destructive tsunamis in the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, the tsunami
threat is real. Previous studies have revealed that local tsunamis can be generated on this coast. The coast is very
attractive and flat which increases the vulnerability of coastal residents and tourists. In addition, lack of access
by land to some places makes it difficult to handle emergencies caused by tsunamis in those areas. For all these
reasons, the population of Costa Rica Caribbean coast needs attention and preparation to face an eventual emer-
gency by tsunamis. We have initiated such preparation and hope to complete it in the course of the coming
months and perhaps years.
We would like to express our gratitude to Paula Dunbar for taking the time to review, correct and improve our
manuscript. Thanks also to Laura Kong for her invaluable assistance to our group. Jonnathan Reyes helped in
preparing Figure 1.
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