Costa Rica Expands Marine Protected Area in Cocos Islands

Cocos Islands in Costa Rica have the highest number of Shark and other predators in its waters than anywhere else in the world. In a bid to give these marine animals Costa Rica has created a new marine park that increases the protected area to five times the previous size.

The new Marine Protected Area (MPA) is called Seamounts Marine Management Area after the deep seamounts that are found 35 miles South of Coco Islands. The area also includes locations where sharks, tunas and other sea animals are found in abundance.

For more than a year discussions between the Costa Rican government and many conservation organizations including the National Geographic were on to expand the MPA.

In an expedition by National Geographic and there local NGO partners in 2009 it was revealed that the Cocos Island National Park has some of the highest number of large predators like sharks found anywhere in the world. They also found that illegal fishing within the protected area and encroaching fishing around it, were posing a threat to the biodiversity of this park.

Declared as a World Heritage Site, the organizations Costa Rica Forever, Marviva, Pretoma, The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, Fundación de Amigos de la Isla del Coco and National Geographic recommended an expansion of the park area. It was proposed to create a no-take marine reserve area covering 25,000 square kilometers around Cocos Island National Park. This was in order to protect the sharks, tuna and also the Las Gemelas seamounts that till date have a pristine habitat.

Although this proposal by the organisation was not fully agreed upon by the Costa Rican government, they have created a 9,640-square-kilometer MPA that excludes purse seining for tuna, but will allow long-lining for tuna in some of its waters.

What conservationists fear is that while the formation of the MPA is good news, it will not stop the long-line fishing–which already accounts for the largest amount of illegal fishing at Cocos and the marine animals therefore still will be threatened by fishing.

But the formation of the MPA will definitely help protecting the sea mount and take the nation a step closer to conserving its marine habitats and creatures.