'A Day of National Pride' for Costa Ricans as Presidential Decree Prioritizes Ocean Health Around Cocos Island, says Conservation International
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Arlington, VA — A massive new marine protected area around
Cocos Island is a beacon of hope for ocean health and human well-being in the
Eastern Tropical Pacific, and will offer endangered marine species such as
hammerhead sharks and leatherback turtles, as well as fish stocks that are
important to local communities, the chance to recover from increasing pressures,
Conservation International (CI) said today in reaction to a decree by the Costa
The protected area, called "Seamounts Marine Management Area" (Area Marina de
Manejo Montes Submarinos), extending nearly one million hectares - will be five
times as large as the existing National Park around the Cocos Islands, currently
a fully protected non-fishing zone covering nearly 200,000 hectares and UNESCO
World Heritage Site. To put it in context, the new Seamounts Marine Management
Area is larger than Yellowstone National Park in the United States, and second
only to Galapagos National Park in terms of marine protected areas in the
Eastern Tropical Pacific.
Located 550 km. (342 mi.) off the coast of Costa Rica in the Pacific Ocean,
Cocos Island is just 20 km (12 mi.) in circumference, and is often dubbed "Shark
Island" for the abundance of sharks that live in its waters, including white
tipped reef sharks, whale sharks, and scalloped hammerhead sharks. The waters
around Cocos also support more than 30 unique, marine endemic species, which
represents more than 40 percent of the country's known total.
Signed by Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla Miranda in an Executive Decree on Thursday
March 3, the declaration formalizes the creation of the new marine protected
area surrounding Cocos Island National Park to improve the conservation of this
unique oceanic island, conserve an entire marine ecosystem, and protect a group
of seamounts (underwater mountains) southwest of Cocos Island.
Describing the decree as a day of national pride, Costa Rican Marine Program
Coordinator for Conservation International, Marco Quesada said, "Creating a
protected seamount area sets an important precedent. Sea mounts host endemic
species, and the deep water that upwells along their sides brings nutrients that
support rich feeding grounds for sealife on the surface. Seamounts serve as
stepping stones for long-distance, migratory species, including sharks, turtles,
whales and tuna. So we applaud the vision of the Costa Rican President, Laura
Chinchilla Miranda, as well as the Minister and Vice Minister of Environment in
making this historic move."
The expanded protected area, which is likely to include both fully protected
and low impact fishing zones, will encourage the sustainable management of
fisheries resources and protect the scalloped hammerhead shark and the
leatherback turtle, two threatened species that concentrate and feed in the new
area, and two key 'flagship' species for the Eastern Tropical Pacific.
Leatherback turtles are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List
of Threatened Species. The Costa Rican population has declined by 40 percent in
the last 8 years, and 90 percent in the past 20 years, due in part to the loss
of eggs to illegal harvest in nesting sites. Scalloped hammerhead sharks are on
the globally Endangered species list, and are often targeted by fishermen for
their fins, which attract high prices primarily for the Chinese market. Both
scalloped hammerhead sharks and leatherback turtles are accidentally captured in
commercial fishing operations.
"This new protected area gives us a better chance to ensure that these
species will thrive for future generations to marvel at for many decades to
come", said Dr. Bryan Wallace, Conservation International's Marine Flagship
Species Program Director.
Recognized as a core site within CI's Eastern Tropical
Pacific Seascape (ETPS) program since 2005, Conservation International
worked with local partners for the past six years, to help make this decree a
reality. In that time, CI's local team supported Costa Rica in developing
national shark and turtle strategies and the creation of new management
categories including Marine Reserves and Responsible Fishing Areas, directly
involving local communities in management.
"This has been a long journey," added Quesada. "We have worked with a host of
national research, conservation and fisheries organizations to determine the
fairest and most environmentally responsible expansion scenarios. None of this
would have been possible without the invaluable scientific and management
contributions of the Cocos National Park Administration, the University of Costa
Rica's Center for Marine Investigations, Pretoma, Marviva, Forever Costa Rica
and, above all, the leadership of President Chinchilla, and her ministers."
Scott Henderson, Regional Marine Conservation Director for Conservation
International said, "Protecting threatened marine life and ensuring thriving
fisheries is what our Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape Program is all about.
Costa Rica and its neighbors are enormously important centers of marine
diversity and abundance that underpin valuable fisheries and tourism industries.
Today's announcement reconfirms Costa Rica's role as a regional leader in green
economic development — extending this approach from its land to its oceans.
Tomorrow's fisheries will show that the expansion of Cocos benefits fishermen,
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Notes for Editors
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