Written by Marco Quesada, director of Conservation International Costa Rica
We start another tour around the sun and at this time we always want to adjust goals, directions and expectations. It could be a difficult year for marine conservation as El Niño has continued to intensify and its effects on marine ecosystems and resources may also increase. On the other hand, the year looks good because in a few months the radar installation in Cocos Island will be completed and will strengthen the capacity of national authorities on issues of control and surveillance of this protected area. Like everyone else, we have a wish list for this 2016, we have issues on which we would like to see progress. Let’s see them:
- Last year was not characterized by a close relationship between fisheries authorities and non-governmental organizations working in marine conservation. We hope that 2016 will open the doors of dialogue and we will be able to build an agenda of partnership between the two sectors. Topics such as overfishing, illegal fishing, management of responsible fishing areas and attention to coastal areas require joint work, ideas and transparency. We’d like a year of progress and joint work on fisheries issues.
On the subject of sharks there are numerous opportunities to make a change on the national discourse. Costa Rica can position itself as a leader on both shark conservation and traceability of the products associated with their catch. To continue to justify the current disorder in the management of these species using the unproven excuse that we are protecting the fishermen should not be an alternative. The door is open for a change to set an example to the world.
- After a 2015 marked by a controversial handling of the issue of trawling, we expect 2016 to start with a government that abides by the ruling of the Constitutional Court on this issue. Two years have passed since the pronouncement of the Court, but there is still the opportunity to design and implement a phased and socially responsible exit plan for the trawling fleet. We firmly believe that to permanently discontinue trawling will generate positive impacts on artisanal and small-scale fishing, coastal communities and marine ecosystems in our country.
A topic of great interest for our country is the conservation of our mangroves. They are highly diverse and productive ecosystems and they are carbon reservoirs. We envision a 2016 where Costa Rica builds and formalizes a policy on wetlands and includes blue carbon as a priority to facilitate mangrove conservation and the use of their services.
- The start of operations of the radar in Cocos Island during the first half of this year will be more than good news. The national authorities will have at their disposal a state-of-the art tool located on a unique and geopolitically important place. We hope that this tool that we have contributed to imagine, design and install, is used to its full potential in 2016 and through it we come closer to the other countries of the region to improve the control and surveillance of our seas. The problems we face are large in scale and this radar will be a step on a path of greater regional cooperation. Also it is a good opportunity for authorities to review, reassess and plan a new national strategy for the control and surveillance of our oceans.
- Two governments and more than four years have passed during the review of a decree which would protect coral ecosystems in Costa Rica. Today, for example, it is not illegal and there are no regulations to anchor on areas with corals. Something as basic as an anchor generates enormous damage to coral reefs. That and many other basic regulations are urgent. Despite the delay by the environmental authorities in advancing the protection of these ecosystems, we hope that in this 2016 we can enjoy better regulations. Given the intensification of El Niño and climate change, this measure is urgent.
Finally, we would like a year with lower coastal pollution. We would like to see less use of plastic bags, disposable tableware and straws. And of course, less pollution along our coasts, of all kinds! Less light over the beaches that receive turtles (light pollution), less noise in areas used by whales and dolphins (noise pollution) and less fertilizers and pesticides in our rivers.
- To see these wishes come true depends on all of us. We can all learn and do something about it. No contribution is too small. Let’s not eat small fishes that have not have had a chance to reproduce. Let’s not buy shark meat. Let’s learn about how shrimp are caught before we decide to buy them. A shrimp ceviche can cause much destruction. Let’s support our protected areas, visit them, take care of them. Let’s try not to pollute, reduce our footprint. Let’s share with others what we’ve learned and what we’ve done about it. Let’s inspire others.