A new protected area for marine life several hundred miles off the coast of Costa Rica surrounding Cocos Island has been created by the Costa Rican government. Over two million acres of marine habitat is covered by the new preserve to provide protection to overfished and threatened species. Cocos Island is about twelves miles in circumference, and is called Shark Island by some due to the large numbers of various shark species there such as hammerheads, white-tipped reef and whale sharks. The new protected habitat is called Seamounts Marine Management Area. There are thirty marine species found in the Cocos Island waters, and nowhere else on earth.
“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,” said Marco Quesada from Conservation International. (Source: Conservation International)
The area is habitat for leatherback turtles, an endangered species declining in numbers due to egg poaching, accidental bycatch from fishing boats, marine pollution, and ingestion of human-made plastic garbage floating in the ocean. The Costa Rican population has declined by forty percent just in the last eight years.
Leatherbacks are the largest marine turtle, growing four to eight feet in length, and can weigh over five hundred pounds. Scalloped hammerhead sharks are also endangered and are often targeted for their fins, which are sold for retail in Chinese markets. In January of this year, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay spied thousands of illegally obtained detached shark fins in Costa Rica, when he entered the stronghold of a local gang. They were drying on rooftops before being shipped to Asia. The shark population in Costa Rican waters has been said to have declined by eighty percent
in the last ten years.
Getting the large marine area protected by law was a six year process. Conservation International worked with various organizations to help get it approved, such as Cocos National Park Administration, the University of Costa Rica’s Center for Marine Investigations, Pretoma, Marviva, and Forever Costa Rica.
Image Credits: Conservation International