San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

France Donates Patrol Boat for Isla del Coco

The bottle broke, the champagne spilled and the ship was off.

The Ministry of the Environment, Energy and Telecommunications (MINAET) launched Cocos Patrol I on Friday from Puntarenas on the Pacific coast. The 48-meter patrol boat will trek 535 kilometers from the coast to the Isla del Coco, Costa Rica’s treasure island. A national park, the island is world-famous for its rich marine biodiversity.

The boat, a donation from the French government’s Global Environment Fund, will police the national park to prevent illicit activities, especially illegal fishing.

Marine biologists agree that over fishing is one of the greatest threats to marine life. Declining fish populations in Costa Rica’s Pacific waters have forced fishermen to look for their catches further out, sometimes pushing inside of Isla del Coco’s park boundary, where fishing is illegal.

Foreign fishing vessels also are said to pose a significant threat.

Patrollers and conservationists find hundreds of fishing hooks and nets within the park boundaries every year. These contraptions entangle and kill sea turtles, sharks, dolphins and other protected marine species.

Environmentalists have criticized the Costa Rican government recently for not doing enough to protect the marine park.

“This boat is an important tool to help us improve our capacity to conserve this area,” said Fernando Quirós, director of the Isla del Coco Marine Conservation Area. The boat is equipped with a GPS system, a kitchen, bathrooms and 10 beds, which will allow crews to patrol the island’s waters for several days at a time.

For good luck, officials broke a bottle of champagne over the boat’s stern.

–Mike McDonald


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