Chinchilla decree greatly expands Coco’s protected waters

Diver moves freely amid a gathering of sharks in the Isla del Coco underwater park. The U.N. said it designed the area world heritage site because of the critical habitats the site provides for marine wildlife especially sharks. Photo: A.M. Costa Rica archive/Frank Stenstrom

President Laura Chinchilla signed a decree Thursday that creates a massive undersea protected area around Isla del Coco in the Pacific. The undersea landscape contains mountains so the new tract is called the Área Marina de Manejo Montes Submarinos.

The executive decree said that the Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuacultura is in charge of issuing licenses for sports fishing and low impact commercial exploitation of the area.

The organization Conservation International, which promoted the project for years, said that the new area is nearly a million hectares around the 200,000 hectares that already is Parque Nacional Isla del Coco.

The Park is a U.N. world heritage site. One hectare is about 2.47 acres.

Conservation International noted that some 300 fish species had been recorded in the waters around Isla del Coco. The area is known for its sharks and other large marine creatures.

A report on the island appeared HERE in A.M. Costa Rica
“This is an historic responsibility with which we seek to establish clear parameters in defense of the cycle of life in one of the zones of great marine richness in the world,” said President Chinchilla in signing the decree.

The tiny island technically is part of the province of Puntarenas, but it is more than 300 miles out in the Pacific. Nearly all of the few residents are government employees and their families.

Scott Henderson, regional marine conservation director for Conservation International said in a release that “Protecting threatened marine life and ensuring thriving fisheries is what our Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape Program is all about. Costa Rica and its neighbors are enormously important centers of marine diversity and abundance that underpin valuable fisheries and tourism industries. Today’s announcement reconfirms Costa Rica’s role as a regional leader in green economic development – extending this approach from its land to its oceans. Tomorrow’s fisheries will show that the expansion of Cocos benefits fishermen, too.”

Costa Rican law enforcement has had trouble patrolling the existing underwater national park. There have been many cases of poaching, mostly by commercial fishing boats.

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