We have returned to mainland Costa Rica, after three amazing weeks at Cocos Island and Las Gemelas seamounts. What have we learned?
We learned that Cocos National Park has the largest biomass of predators measured to date on Pacific tropical marine ecosystems. At Las Gemelas, we found a complex underwater mountain system harboring an amazing ecosystem with rich biodiversity, including deep sea corals, sponges, crabs, sea urchins, starfishes, sea cucumbers, and deep sea fish. However, the abundance of large fishes such as groupers at Las Gemelas was smaller than at the same habitats within the protected Cocos Island National Park. Despite strong illegal fishing pressure within the park’s waters, Cocos is still an extraordinary place of unique global value. As we showed in our online videos, the frontline protection is largely due to the consistency of daily efforts of the Cocos park rangers from ACMIC (Área de Conservación Marina Isla del Coco), the Costa Rican Coast Guard, and the conservation organization MarViva.
Together, armed with a handful of small boats and great determination and passion, they patrol the park, deter illegal fishermen, and confiscate illegal fishing gear before it can cause more harm day after day. We’ve accompanied them on several occasions, and were amazed by their passion, professionalism and complete dedication. Sun or rain, day or night, they conduct their work tirelessly. People do not realize how hard this work is.
We assume the smaller abundance of large fishes at Las Gemelas is due to fishing, because we found many fishing lines tangled on the seamounts. The good news is that there are still many smaller fishes, so predators could recover if given the opportunity. In the next months we will have more information extracted from the videos we took from the DeepSee submarine, including how many new species we found.
The facts are there in the numbers: there are more fishers than protectors, and as with many MPAs the world over, we witnessed that current efforts need further support.
The good news, and the message of hope, is that Cocos Island National Park, the Costa Rica Coast Guard, a few conservation organizations including MarViva, The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, PRETOMA, Fundación Amigos de la Isla del Coco, CIMAR, plus other research institutions and several donors are working hard to preserve this jewel of the ocean. They are an example for all Costa Ricans and the world.