San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Marine Area Protection Benefits All

Divers in Costa Rica tend to drop in protected park, reserve or refuge waters, and word of where the fish, corals and other marine life are spreads quickly. Like the tourists who visit the rain forests, divers want to see profuse life underwater, not barren, denuded rocks. To safeguard the country’s dive sites and their reputations from the pressures of increasing tourism, more protected marine areas are needed.

All of Costa Rica’s protected marine areas harbor a great deal more life than their surrounding waters because there is less pressure from harvesting fishers. The areas are marine nurseries for hundreds of species that often barely exist outside the protected areas. Here, little fish can grow bigger and big fish can make lots of little fish. Coral stands a better chance of growing undamaged, attracting still more fish.

Fishers often want to take from the protected areas because they know that is where the closest, easiest fishing is most often found. But stopping harvesting in these areas is really a boon to fishers, who benefit from more fish in the surrounding waters.

Around the world, time and time again, no-take zones have been proven to increase overall catch in the general area. If you want to sustainably harvest fish populations, you have to give them at least a few places to get big enough to make more fish. In other words, allowing some fish a safe place to grow is the best way to catch more fish.

History also demonstrates that if you give fishers too much access, they will exterminate the local fish populations and move somewhere else. Not only divers and fishers benefit from added underwater protection; entire coastal communities that depend on marine tourism can enhance their earning potential.

A few already popular dive sites in Costa Rica cry out for protection.

The barrier reef known as Long Shoal, lying north of the southern Caribbean coast, probably contains the country’s most diverse marine communities in terms of total species, but the richest sections lie just outside the limits of the Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge. Extending the limits of protection seems logical for a country interested in protecting its biodiversity.

Regulations allow residents of the refuge to hunt the reefs for fish and lobster, and many tourists thrill just watching the action.

But the refuge doesn’t have a no-take zone, which may be why big fish and lobster are seldom seen compared to just a few years ago. A few small nursery areas would surely help out the ocean-oriented communities with more fish and lobster to see and eat.

One of the most popular diving zones in the country is the CatalinaIslands, a collection of rocks and islets rising out of the Pacific west of Flamingo, in the northwestern province of Guanacaste. These sites are some of the most heavily dived in Costa Rica, and yet enjoy no protection. Fewer fish are seen here now than in years past. This beautiful area should be helped out with some protection before it’s too late.

The same story goes for a shoal named Paraíso, between the OsaPeninsula’s DrakeBay and Caño Island Biological Preserve in southern Costa Rica. Like in the above mentioned sites, divers might arrive here for a drop and find trawlers or hundred-hook-long longliners quickly taking massive quantities of life out of the sea.We often find the rocks scraped clean by nets and tangled in line in this area.

Near Paraíso are areas frequented by massive marine-life congregations of a scale seen in few places in the world. This is likely DrakeBay’s fastest-growing area of tourism. Many days, more than 20 boats are out enjoying Costa Rica’s version of a big-animal safari. Boats full of divers and snorkelers see sailfish, turtles, marlin, tuna, giant mantas, sea snakes, whale sharks and more – often more than in any other diving area in the country.

Here, also, is the best place to see big sharks, something all divers crave inside, and expect from Costa Rica. These waters offer the country’s most consistently crystal-clear visibility. Protecting them can only mean more income for the remote OsaPeninsula and less for outside commercial fishing interests that may plunder the area’s resources.

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