WildAid Launches New Marine Enforcement Partnership at the Cocos Island National Park, Costa Rica

March 24, 2022; By Carolyn Sotka

Cocos Island, located 500 km off Costa Rica’s Pacific shore and inspiration for the movie Jurassic Park, is a haven for marine wildlife. Due to its rich biodiversity and wildlife, the Island has been protected as The Cocos Island National Park (CINP) since 1978. In January 2022, the total marine protected area (MPA) was expanded to form the Bicentennial (Seamounts) Marine Management Area (BMMA). This move increased the MPA ten-fold to 106,285.56 square kilometers and expanded the country’s protection of its ocean, from 2.7% to approximately 30%.

President Carlos Alvarado said, “Science has concluded that to reduce the accelerated loss of biodiversity, we must protect our terrestrial and marine ecosystems. Part of our global commitment is to help halt the accelerated loss of species and protect the vital ecosystems that are the source of our food and economic security.

This expansion contributes to the conservation of a network of MPAs across the seascape. The mega-MPA referred to as the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor (Corredor Marino del Pacífico Este – CMAR)  has commitments from the Presidents of Costa Rica, Panama, and Columbia to link the four countries’ EEZs with 500,000 sq km of additional protected waters. Throughout the region, currents collide with seamounts, deep-sea underwater mountains, and generate upwelling of nutrients and essential habitat for 1,688 species of marine fauna, of which nearly 50% are only found in Costa Rican waters.

WildAid Marine’s Latin America Regional Director, Manuel Bravo and Galápagos Project Manager, Diana Vinueza met with CINP rangers to help improve marine enforcement of the expanded MPA.

In a demonstration of its commitment to stronger marine enforcement, WildAid Marine was invited by the government of Costa Rica and the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC) of the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE) to develop a Marine Protection System (MPS) for CINP and the BMMA, in collaboration with our local partner, Friends of Cocos Island (FAICO). The project will complement a recent move by the Costa Rican government to join Global Fishing Watch’s database and map, which shows the location of 100+ fishing vessels, comprising Costa Rica’s industrial longline and international purse-seine fleets.

The development of a comprehensive Marine Protection System for Cocos is an important step in strengthening regional enforcement for the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape and protecting migratory marine wildlife. The MPS plan will address illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and other threats like ghost fishing gear that can get caught on the seamounts and is thought to have decreased the number of pelagic or open-ocean fish, sharks, manta rays and turtles in the region. Also, there is a need for improved technology such as the installation of a satellite monitoring system, that can identify the behavior of the collaborative vessels, as well as the identification of possible infractions carried out by those vessels not sharing data.

WildAid Marine’s Ecuador-based team led an introduction to CINP on a suite of technological tools and strategies used to improve surveillance, monitoring and enforcement based on our 20 years of experience in the Galapagos Marine Reserve.

The expanded MPA joins Costa Rica’s EEZ with Ecuador’s to protect an important corridor to the Galapagos ‘Reserva Marina de Hermandad”.

Although the MPS assessment is ongoing, during a preliminary visit to Cocos in September 2021, WildAid Marine’s Ecuador team identified a few gaps in its enforcement, including that the CINP does not have a patrol unit specifically assigned to the marine environment, which makes it challenging to develop the specialized skills needed to be a marine-only enforcement ranger. Also, needed are an improved process to cite and prosecute illegal activities, better interagency collaboration to increase transparency, and coordination amongst marine enforcement agencies. Once complete, the MPS plan will provide a strategy to mitigate these issues and strengthen enforcement of the area.

CINP rangers join the WildAid Ecuador team on patrol of the MPA.

Thanks to the support of Blue Action Fund and our partnership with FAICO, WildAid Marine is proud to work with Costa Rica in Cocos to protect its vital marine habitats and wildlife. Check out FAICO’s beautiful videos to learn more about Cocos Island! Learn more about WildAid Marine’s work in the Galapagos Marine Reserve, and protection of this region and important ocean highway for migratory wildlife. 

Credit: Enric Sala, National Geographic