Pacific Marine Science Station Changes Hands

June 4, 2004

PUNTA MORALES, Puntarenas – After sixyears under the administration of the UniversidadNacional (UNA), the National Station for the MarineSciences (ECMAR) was officially made part of theuniversity’s campus earlier this month.The station had previously been owned andadministered by the National Counsel of Scientificand Technological Investigations (CONICIT), but onMay 7 CONICIT president Dr. Ronald Meléndez,UNA Director Sonia Mora and Science andTechnology Minister Fernando Gutiérrez signed aformal agreement transferring ownership of the stationto UNA.Meléndez saluted UNA’s recent administration ofthe station, which he said has been bustling withresearch, educational activity and community developmentover the past several years.He said it is appropriate that a center of educationnow administer the station, since CONICIT hasaccomplished the objectives it had for ECMAR whenwork began in 1977.“I’VE nothing left to say except to praise thework, first on the part of UNA, for maintaining thestation, and secondly on the part of CONICIT, forhaving had the vision to create a center of investigationthat is now consolidated,” he said.During the ceremony, Gutiérrez said the station’scontinued success is of vital importance for CostaRica.“This institute is a pillar of science and technology,and a pillar of development for the country,”Gutiérrez said.If use is any indicator of success, ECMARappears to be headed in the right direction. Since1996, more than 10,000 people have visited the station,located about 20 kilometers northwest of thePacific port town of Puntarenas, on the Gulf ofNicoya, said Juana María Coto, the chair of UNA’sExact and Natural Science Department.“But those aren’t visitors who just come to see thebuildings. Those are visitors who come to work, tolearn and to teach,” she said.ECMAR covers two hectares of protected area,including numerous patches of mangroves.At certain points during the day, the station’sdock extends only into a sandbar. Boats lie beachedaround it – hardly a setting one would imagine foractive maritime research.But a few hours later, the sandbar disappears andthe dock is half-submerged in waters brought in bythe tide from the Gulf of Nicoya.Station Administrator Ramiro Méndez said thearea around the dock is flooded every day, and everyday the waters recede. The process repeats itselfabout every 12 hours, he said.THE station is involved in three major projects:providing chemistry training to rural school teachers,managing local species of crocodiles, and the developmentof a new marine science museum at ECMAR.The museum was inaugurated May 7, just after theagreement was signed.ECMAR also houses numerous members of theWomen’s Association of Morales, who for the pastthree years have been cultivating Japanese Oysters,with the hope of selling them for a profit.Maria Mercedes, a member of the association,said they have yet to profit from the venture, and thatthe funding they receive from the Science andTechnology Ministry and CONICIT only covers theproject’s expenses.Mercedes said the project started with 25 women,but now only 10 remain.The oysters are being bred inside an ECMAR laboratoryand are grown in special bags supported byfloating crates just offshore from the center.Mercedes said a good portion of their oysters wasstolen in the middle of the night last year, so now aguard rows out to the crates every night and sleepswith his boat tethered to them.For more info about visiting the station or museum,call 661-2670.

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