On December 17, President Carlos Alvarado of Costa Rica signed a decree expanding the Cocos Island National Park, increasing the fully protected area in their Pacific waters by almost 53,000 square kilometers. Located about 500 kilometers off Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, Cocos Island National Park is a fully protected area that bans fishing and other extractive activities, designated by the Costa Rican government in 1982.
President Alvarado also created the Bicentennial Marine Managed Area, twice the size of the expanded Coco Island National Park, which will include some no-take areas and strengthen fisheries management.
This expansion follows an agreement that the presidents of Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and Ecuador signed at the climate COP26 in Glasgow on November 2, committing to protect a total of 500,000 square kilometers in the eastern tropical Pacific. The region is home to endangered species of sharks, sea turtles and marine mammals that migrate in between marine protected areas along “marine highways.”
National Geographic Pristine Seas along with partners FAICO, Costa Rica Por Siempre, Marviva, The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, Pretoma and the University of Costa Rica conducted an expedition to study the pristine ecosystems in Cocos Island in 2009, and to establish new scientific baselines for intact and critically important seamounts around the island.
Expedition members tagged sharks and sea turtles to capture data on long-range migration, measured the abundance of reef fishes and sharks, and conducted the first scientific surveys of seamounts south of the island. Pristine Seas and partners produced scientific reports that informed the creation of the Marine Managed Area and the expansion of the National Park.
The team also produced a film, “Shark Island,” showing the underwater world, the threats, and the heroic work of the people who fight daily to protect it.
“Cocos Island is like Jurassic Park: a rare wild place that shows us what the ocean of the past was, but also what the future ocean could be like, if we so decide. The expansion of Cocos Island National Park is a testament of the ocean leadership of the Costa Rica government, which further protects that World Heritage Site from the increasing threat of industrial fishing,” said National Geographic Explorer in Residence and Pristine Seas Founder, Enric Sala.
“The extension of Cocos Island National Park and the creation of the Bicentennial Marine Protected Area represent a historic milestone for Costa Rica and the ocean. At the same time, serving as a model for other countries to emulate and follow. Friends of Cocos Island (FAICO) commits to continue assisting the Costa Rican Government in marine conservation.” Said Carlos Manuel Uribe, Founder of FAICO.
To date, Pristine Seas has supported the creation of 26 marine protected areas around the world. Currently, less than 8 percent of the ocean is currently protected, but the program will work with local communities, Indigenous Peoples, governments and partners to help achieve the protection of at least 30 percent of the ocean by 2030.
About National Geographic Pristine Seas
National Geographic Pristine Seas is a global program that combines exploration, research, strategic communications, education, policy and economic work, and community engagement to help create world-class marine reserves and ensure their effective management. Pristine Seas has helped to inspire the creation of 26 marine reserves, an area totaling over 6.5 million square kilometers. Learn more at nationalgeographic.org/pristineseas.
This article was originally published in Nationalgeographic.org