Is there a country in the world that doesn’t have an army? How about a country that spends instead on education, environment and culture? Guess what, there is. And this most-visited country in Central America, has just created a huge marine protected area (MPA).
Welcome to Costa Rica | Capital: San Jose | Population: 4.6 Million.
Evoking memories of Isla Nublar, from the movie Jurassic Park, 550km off the coast of Costa Rica, in the Pacific Ocean lies Cocos Island National Park – a World Heritage Site. With steep rocky cliffs rising over narrow beaches, this is the only island in the eastern Pacific that has tropical rainforests. And there are spectacular waterfalls that cascade down the cliffs. But it is the 15km radius of water surrounding the island (called Isla del Coco locally) that has attracted the attention of nature lovers around the world.
Why? You see, these waters have some of the highest concentrations of sharks, tuna, rays and dolphins. This rich marine area with its predators and prey makes for an ecosystem that is heaven for biologists. You find bottle-nosed dolphins, California sea lions, hawksbill green turtles, olive ridley turtles and an amazingly rich fish population in these waters. And then there are the sharks. Hammerhead sharks migrate to these waters, as do white-tip sharks, and whale sharks and manta rays are found here in plenty.
Why is it important to protect this area?
In 2009, a National Geographic team with local and other international organizations went on an expedition to Isla del Coco to study it and make recommendations. There has been illegal fishing in these areas, which is severely affecting the marine life here. And then there are seamounts that are important to protect. Seamounts are volcanic mountains that have sprung up from the ocean bed but don’t quite reach the sea surface to form islands. They are underwater mountains – hence seamounts. The seamounts in this are called Las Gamelas and are also under threat from over-fishing. It was very important to protect them.
A good start
The expedition made sweeping recommendations – asking for the country of Costa Rica to protect large areas around the island. While the government of Costa Rica did not agree to it in full, they did set aside almost 10,000 square kilometers as the MPA. It is regarded as a great start in ocean protection by the country.
Some types of fishing in this area is still allowed which could still cause some harm. However, the protection of the seamounts is a huge achievement, experts say and believe that it can only get better. Here’s to the new feather in Costa Rica’s “responsible country” cap!
Here is an great introductory video to Isla del Coco or Coco's Island - if you decide to go. In fact, it has great instructions and "dos and don'ts" for any wild place one goes to.