December 20, 2021

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On Friday, December 17th, 2021, Carlos Alvarado Quesada, President of Costa Rica, and Andrea Meza, Minister of Environment and Energy, signed a decree expanding the Cocos Island National Park, which lies at the heart of the Cocos Island Hope Spot. This move adds approximately 53,000 sq km (21,235 sq miles) of fully protected waters to Costa Rica’s territory in the Pacific Ocean, making the total size approximately 55,000 sq km. 

 

(c) Amigos Isla del Coco

 

This area of the Eastern Tropical Pacific hosts myriad endangered or threatened marine species like the scalloped hammerhead, which, like many other animals, uses the waters between Cocos Island and the Galápagos Islands as a migratory “swimway.” Marine animals, much like terrestrial animals, do not stay in one place. Due to historically inadequate protection between these parks, populations of these species have been threatened by fishing and other extractive activities that occur between the protected areas. 

 

Hammerhead sharks (c) Nonie Silver

 

Randall Arauz, Secretary of the official Cocos Island Marine Management Council and Hope Spot Champion of the Cocos Island Hope Spot has dedicated the last decade of his career to pushing for greater protection for migratory species in the Eastern Pacific.

“This is a great win,” Arauz says. “I personally have been working on this for 11 years with three presidents, and finally we can be proud of having one of the largest protected areas in the Eastern Tropical Pacific.”

 

Dr. Sylvia Earle (left) with Randall Arauz

 

Dr. Sylvia Earle expressed her support of the plan. “The great news from Costa Rica this morning fills me with hope! Expanding the Cocos Island National Park is a big step forward for Costa Rica and for safeguarding 30% of the ocean by 2030.”

With this decree, President Alvarado also created the Bicentennial Marine Managed Area adjacent to the Cocos Island National Park that encompasses 105,000 square kilometers and will likely include a combination of no-take areas and other managed areas. In order for this marine managed area (MMA) to come into force, the government of Costa Rica must now create a management plan. Considering the biological connectivity between Cocos Island the Galápagos Islands that runs southwest along the Cocos Ridge, an effective management plan would provide for continuous no-take protection along that line, therefore protecting the vulnerable migratory species, like scalloped hammerhead sharks, that rely on that biological highway. It has already been established by the IUCN that one-third of a well managed marine protected area should be put aside as highly protected, no-take zones, which in the case of the new Costa Rican MMA represents 35,000 square kilometers. The global ocean conservation community will be keeping an eye on the management plan process in Costa Rica and, with luck, will see a large no-take area in Costa Rican waters that corresponds, more or less, to the Cocos-Galapagos Swimway Hope Spot.

 

Whale shark (c) Edwar Herreño

 

Arauz elaborates on the drawbacks of the announced plan and what next steps need to be taken. “Unfortunately, the no-take zone doesn’t connect with Ecuador. We still don’t have the protected swimway for which we have advocated so strongly.”

The expansion of the Cocos Island National Park and the addition of the Bicentennial Marine Managed Area acts as a foundation for a healthier future for this biologically important marine ecosystem. There is opportunity for further collaboration between Costa Rica and Ecuador: the addition of a no-take zone connecting the two countries would create a binational marine protected area and serve as an example to the rest of the world of what is possible – and necessary – to thoroughly protect the ocean.

If you’d like to learn more abut the Cocos-Galapagos Swimway Hope Spot, dive into the interactive StoryMap, hosted by Esri.

 

(c) Kip Evans
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