Considered to be the most beautiful island in the world by Jacques Cousteau, the island of Cocos in Costa Rica is a sight to behold. Located 350 miles off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, lives a diversity of large pelagic species including sharks, rays, tunas, and dolphins. Sharks including hammerhead, Galápagos, silky, tiger, white tip reef and whale sharks are common sightings, making it a haven for scientists, divers, and marine enthusiasts alike. The iconic animals are known to migrate throughout the Eastern Tropical Pacific from the Galapagos to Columbia, Panama, and Costa Rica. Sharks are integral apex predators that shape the food web and maintain a healthy ecosystem for all marine life. Unfortunately, they continue to be hunted for their fins and exported to China in violation of international agreements, despite Cocos Island designation as a World Heritage Site.
Diving in the Cocos Island is nothing short of thrilling.
“It was partly my fascination for sharks that attracted me to Cocos. Everywhere you look you see them parting the crowds of fish like silent ships parting the sea. During the day, it’s common to observe Galapagos sharks, silky sharks and even if you’re lucky, the tiger shark. But night dives on the sheltered side of Isla Manuelita are where the real drama unfolds. Using a combination of eyesight, smell and electroreception, swarms of literally hundreds of white tip reef sharks frantically scan the bottom for bleary-eyed reef fish aroused by the commotion. At one point almost 20 sharks jammed themselves into a gap in the rocks. They were stuck!! It was if they were saying “bugger, not again guys, this is so embarrassing!” After a furious amount of wiggling and thrashing (throwing sand and rubble flying), shark dignity was restored. While each individual swam free, chaos took on a whole new meaning for me that night!” – Youth Explorer, Yoland Bosiger
Tomorrow (May 24th), the Mission Blue team is heading out to Cocos Islands for a special trip focusing on finding and tagging sharks including tiger, silky, Galápagos and whitetip reef sharks. Led by Mission Blue founder, Dr. Sylvia Earle, Director of Expeditions, Kip Evans, and Dr. Alex Antoniou from Fins Attached, we will work closely with scientists to learn more about the movement and conservation status of these apex predators. Threats of overfishing, especially long lining, still pose a serious concern to sharks and other marine life. “As long as there is a market for shark fins the fisherman will circumvent the law to try to fish,” said Randall Arauz, a conservationist and ocean advocate at the Costa Rican Conservation Organization, PRETOMA .
For instance, during a 2015 Expedition to Cocos Islands, Mission Blue board Member, Shari Saint Plummer explains:
“Unfortunately, a week before our trip we heard from PRETOMA, that the Costa Rican government’s Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE) had allowed the export of endangered hammerhead shark fins despite international commitments not to made by the previous president, Laura Chinchilla. The two shipments were sent to Hong Kong to feed the seemingly insatiable market for shark fin soup in Mainland China. Sources estimate that the number of sharks killed for these shipments was representative of close to 2,000 hammerheads.”
Our goals for the upcoming expedition are clear: increase awareness for illegal fishing and celebrate the countless amazing species of sharks in Cocos Island!
A History of Conservation Science
Shark tagging in Cocos Island began in 2005, with the first ever tagging of scalloped hammerhead sharks. Since then, a great deal of data has been collected and analyzed including the release of an important scientific publication scheduled for release later this year. According to our Director of Expeditions, Kip Evans:
“Tracking sharks around Cocos Island has been extremely important work for the continued protection of this World Heritage site. Beyond Cocos, we have been collaborating with other researchers in the Eastern Pacific from Colombia and the Galápagos Islands. By using the same technology, sharks have been tracked moving between these three locations. This region has been given the name of the “Triangle” with sharks using corridors to move between the islands.”
In addition to tagging sharks, there will be a particular emphasis on studying and tracking turtles with satellite tags since the number of turtles has significantly decreased over the past several years. This may be correlated with the increased sightings of tiger sharks, a species that likes to prey on turtles.
The Mission Blue team will be shooting video and still images to help highlight Cocos Island as part of the Eastern Pacific Seascape Hope Spot. Watch out for a special Facebook LIVE interview with Dr. Sylvia Earle! Join the conversation: #HopeSpots!