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Cocos Island: Saving Costa Rica's Marine Ecosystem

Author : Victor Krumm

Submitted : 2011-03-15 13:46:48    Word Count : 774    Popularity:   146

Tags:   costa rica conservation, costa rica national parks, costa rica,

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2010 was the United Nations' International Year of Biodiversity and in October of that year Costa Rica received its top award, the prestigious Future Policy Award. Just five months later, the little country created an enormous marine conservation area around one of the most famous of all Costa Rica national parks, designed to save and preserve an entire marine ecosystem. It was a "day of national pride" for Costa Rica and a big deal for the world.

Cocos Island, lying 330 miles off the coast of Costa Rica, has long been recognized as one of Costa Rica's Seven Wonders. It sits atop a seamount (an underwater mountain range), so dazzling, so spectacular, so filled with marine animals that it inspired the famous sea captain, Jacque Cousteau, to declare it "the most beautiful island in the world."

Though you may not have heard of it, you've seen it or been there in your imagination. It is said to have been the inspiration for Robert Lewis Stevenson's Treasure Island and Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park and its waters are so renowned for its many sharks that it's often simply called Shark Island. For decades, scuba divers, conservationists, scientists, and film crews have visited its waters.

And, of course, fishermen. Not a few fellows making a living but huge, commercial fishing operations that have threatened its bounty. Unrestrained fishing on an industrial scale and indiscriminate killing on a scale so massive most of us can't comprehend it.

Worst of all are the factory trawlers which, in search of shrimp, drag the ocean floor with giant nets the size of football fields that not only scoop up enormous amounts of shrimp but also vast amounts of "by-product", crustaceans, corals and sponges, sea turtles, adult and immature fish, and everything in their path, leaving behind huge swaths of ocean floor virtually devoid of life.

And, what happens to this "by-product?" Most of it is thrown overboard, discarded. Trash. Billions of creatures, young and old alike. Nothing is spared.

Marine ecosystems that took eons to make gone in hours. Life replaced by death.

Bottom trawling is the most destructive of any actions humans take in the oceans, far more devastating than the effects our chemicals are having.

Every year factory trawlers drag the equivalent of twice the size of the continental United States, kicking up plumes of sediment so large that they are visible, literally, from space, leaving behind entire lifeless marine ecosystems.

Perhaps you've heard of the once famous fishing grounds off of Canada's Newfoundland coast. There, in 1497, English sea captain John Cabot, described so many cod that they literally blocked his ship while sailing. The cod and other fish there seemed to be limitless and for more than a hundred years, they were taken without regard to their ability to replenish. Governments ignored the warnings of conservationists and marine scientists and factory trawlers from across the planet plundered until 1992 when the entire fishery disastrously collapsed.

Tens of thousands of fishermen lost their livelihood and the fishery had to be closed.

And the factory trawlers? They simply moved on.

Truth is, the oceans aren't being fished so much as plundered, decimating or already destroying 75% of the world's fish stocks at an annual worldwide economic loss of $50 billion-losses often hidden in government subsidies.

Economic and fishing losses that are wholly avoidable, unnecessary, and unsustainable.

The World Bank estimates that, with proper governance, sustainable fisheries can go from a huge global economic loss to an economic surplus, drive economic growth, and restore fisheries. Unfortunately proper fisheries governance is in short supply worldwide.

With a few exceptions, like Costa Rica.

For years, this tiny country, about the size of West Virginia, has led the way towards sustainable development. It has set aside nearly 25% of its land for parks and preserves, restored about 25% of its forests, is on track to be the first carbon neutral country on the planet by the end of this decade, and has declared that it wants to end man's ceaseless war with nature and make peace with it.

"Costa Rica is a small country, but it can be a great leader. Nearly sixty years ago, we became the first nation in the world to abolish our army. Today [2008], we seek to make history once again by becoming the first nation in the world to protect its national wonders, on land and under the sea, in perpetuity." ---Former Costa Rica President Oscar Arias

That vision, that commitment, that governance, is carried on by President Laura Chinchilla, who created the magnificent Seamounts Marine Management Area in March 2011, massively expanding the protected waters and seamounts around Cocos Island to nearly 4,000 square miles.

Important habitat to many species, including highly endangered scalloped sharks and ancient leatherback sea turtles, is now preserved into perpetuity. Industrial trawlers won't decimate this marine ecosystem. Life and an ecoystem that took eons to form will continue to flourish. No more massive plumes of sand---death---visible from space.

140 years ago, President Ulysses S. Grant created the world's first national park, Yellowstone, preserving an entire terrestrial ecosystem from exploiting opportunists.

Good governance, Mr. President.

Seamounts Marine Management Area is even bigger than Yellowstone and preserves an entire marine ecosystem. A well deserved "day of national pride for Costa Rica."

Good governance, Mme. President.

Author's Resource Box

The writer lives in and writes about lovely Costa Rica in his popular site Costa Rica Vacations . And, if youre interested in seeing a volcano on your next Costa Rica vacation, be sure to visit Arenal Volcano .

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