A group of 14 scientists from Latin America and Australia returned Monday from a 12-day excursion to study coral reefs and biodiversity at Costa Rica s treasured Isla del Coco aboard the newly donated boat Proteus.
According to a statement from the environmental organization MarViva, which donated the vessel, researchers were positively surprised by their findings. Australian researcher Graham Edgar, of Conservation International, identified 45 distinct species of reef fish in an area measuring 50 meters by 5 meters.
Using a methodology that has already been employed at the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Argentina, researchers took inventory of the reefs, the life in and around them and measured temperature and salinity of the ocean water. Conservation International, the University of Costa Rica s Ocean Science and Limnology Research Center (CIMAR) and MarViva financed the expedition.
The information drawn from the studies will be compared to that of the Galapagos Islands, the PanamanianCoibaIsland and the ColombianMalpeloIsland, which, together with CocosIsland, form the East Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor.
The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has declared CocosIslandNational Park, located 365 miles off Costa Rica s Pacific coast, a World Heritage site.
Jorge Cortés, biologist with CIMAR, said such a high variety of species in such small area demonstrates the park s diversity of life. The biologist also estimated that the island s coral reefs would recuperate faster than reefs that are closer to land and more affected by weather phenomena such as El Niño, the statement said.
Scientists say the island s protected waters have recently experienced a rise in illegal fishing, a principal threat to the well being of area marine life.
According to MarViva spokeswoman Michelle Soto, the environmental organization donated Proteus the 50-meter vessel carrying the researchers to the mission and the new boat will stay in the area to help patrol the waters around the protected area.
The boat which can hold 28 people and has radio, GPS, a satellite phone and Internet will also serve as a platform for future scientific research.
Another group of researchers from Costa Rica, the United Kingdom and the United States visited the national park in July in a separate excursion to research sharks in the area.
Scientists tagged 15 hammerhead sharks to determine their regional migration routes, and 10 others were tagged with acoustic radio transmitters to study their movement around the island, according to a statement from the Costa Rica-based Marine Turtle Restoration Program (PRETOMA).
Two of the sharks satellite tags were programmed to collect data for four months, two for two months and two for 10 days. The 10 sharks tagged with radio transmitters are expected to transmit radio signals for one year.
All of the sharks tagged are adult females three to four meters long. They were tagged at depths ranging from 20 to 35 meters.
Isla del Coco is one of the most important habitats for sharks in the world, said PRETOMA president Randall Arauz. Determining sharks movements around the island as well as where they are migrating will help in creating policies to protect them and foster the development of sustainable fisheries of this important resource.
This trip was the fourth in a series of seven that are part of a joint research project between the U.S. Shark Research Institute and PRETOMA. The next expedition will be in November. The project is funded by two British organizations: the Joint Services Expedition Trust Committee and the Royal Geographic Society.