Monday 21 June 2021

Conservationists Turn to Drones to Protect Costa Rica’s Isla del Coco (Cocos Island)

QCOSTARICA from Discovery Blog – Isla del Coco (Cocos Island) lies 560 kilometres (350 miles) off of the coast of Costa Rica. The picturesque volcanic island is small, with a circumference of only 20 km (12 miles) — but what it lacks in size, it makes up for with its rich assortment of marine wildlife. By some accounts, Cocos Island is home to more sharks per cubic yard of water than any other marine habitat on Earth.

As is the case with many marine habitats around the planet, human influence is increasingly encroaching upon the island. Although the island itself is designated as a Unesco World Heritage Site, the Nature Conservancy reports that illegal commercial fishing is a growing threat to the island’s biodiversity. In just one month, park rangers on the island confiscated 200 miles of fishing line and 700 buoys from shark finning operations, according to a 2013 report from Public Radio International.

In light of growing threats, conservationists are taking measures into their own hands to protect the island’s rich biodiversity. During a recent research expedition, Turtle Island Restoration Network deployed unmanned aerial vehicles (a.k.a. drones) and submarines with the dual purpose of surveying wildlife and deterring illegal fishing operations.

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“It isn’t very often that we get to go down 180m, or have a 900m bird’s eye view of the waters surrounding Cocos Island,” explains Randall Arauz, the organization’s Central American Director.

“We are currently working with the authorities and our partners to strengthen this collaboration and hopefully not only increase our knowledge on the movements of highly migratory sharks and turtles, but also for this information to permeate public policy and improve conservation for these animals on the ground…and in the water.”

The organization is also assisting the Environment Ministry to collect footage of illegal poaching, with hopes of using the footage to prosecute poachers as early as 2016, The Tico Times reports.

In addition to the fleet of drones, conservation groups have deployed two state-of-the-art submsersible vehicles to aid research efforts in the area. Over the summer, the vessels deployed acoustic listening stations that scientists will use to track the movement of marine wildlife.

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