San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Films Explore Environmental Issues in Region

The name of the largest island on the Pacific coast of Central America is scarcely known to the world, according to a documentary produced by the Costa Rica-based marine conservationist organization MarViva.

However, after the Discovery network’s Animal Planet channel recently broadcast the 53-minute documentary, viewers around Latin America may have not only heard of Coiba, but also know of the environmental dangers that threaten the island off the coast of Panama.

The documentary, called “Coiba, a Savage Paradise,” forms part of a series of five environmental documentaries about the Central American region, entitled “Latin Seas,” that will include two films focusing on Costa Rica.

MarViva is producing these documentaries with the intention of creating awareness about sustainable ocean and land use, according to MarViva spokeswoman Michelle Soto.

The series is directed by Rick Rosenthal, a marine biologist who has worked as an underwater cameraman for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), National Geographic, Discovery Channel and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

The Coiba documentary, which deals with threats to Coiba ecosystems now that the island prison operating there since 1919 has ceased to exist, took approximately 11 months to produce, and features music by the Grammy award-winning Costa Rican group Editus.

According to the documentary, the prison kept the destructive force of man off the island for years. People feared the prisoners, who roamed “free” on the 500-square-kilometer island declared a national park in 1991 and a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site in 2005.

After the prison – of which only a small prison camp remains – shut down in late 2004, threats such as overfishing have loomed over Coiba, the largest in an archipelago of 38 islands.

After two major shooting trips to the island, the film was finally finished in November of last year, Rosenthal told The Tico Times after a May 25 screening of the documentary at Cinépolis movie theater in Terramall, on the highway to Cartago, east of San José.

“This takes time; it’s a small group – we’re not the BBC – and some of these (nature) shots take time over seasons,”Rosenthal said.

MarViva expects a DVD series with shortened versions of the Coiba documentary, which cost approximately $300,000 to produce, to be released by the end of this year, according to Soto.

“We think that would be a powerful way to get this out,” said Rosenthal, who also works as a film professor at Montana State University, in the United States.

The marine biologist, who left for the United States after the screening, will return to Costa Rica in July to shoot “Winds of Papagayo,” one of the two Costa Rica documentaries.

The film will deal with environmental threats to the Papagayo Peninsula, in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, which has been the center of controversy over tourism development projects since the 1970s.

“Very little wild is left on Costa Rica’s ‘Gold Coast,’ and once it changes it’s gone forever. Developers, real estate agents, Gringos are buying it, and they don’t even live there. (Some) live there two months out of the year,” Rosenthal said.

The other Costa Rica documentary will be entitled “Cocos Island,” and examine threats to what Rosenthal called “Costa Rica’s real crown jewel in the national park system”: Isla del Coco National Park, an approximately 36-hour boat ride off the country’s Pacific coast.

These films, as well as “Super Fish,” the fourth documentary in the “Latin Seas” series, about marlin and sailfish, should be completed by late 2007, according to Soto. The series’ second film, “Seapeople of Honduras,” which deals with threats to Honduras’ coral reefs and development on the Bay Islands, is scheduled to air in Honduras in August.


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