San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Conservation Agency Makes Plea for the Sea

Broader swaths of Costa Rica’s offshore area must be protected if the country expects to meet its obligations under the global Convention on Biological Diversity, Costa Rican conservation officials said this week.

The National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC) on Tuesday released the final installment of its three-volume “Grúas II” series, a program that attempts to identify gaps in Costa Rica’s conservation efforts.

Grúas Marino, Vol. III in the series, identifies 35 sites of ecological importance in the country’s oceans. At present, only 9.5 percent of the area at these sites receives some level of protection.

Among the more important of these areas are the Domo térmico, an up-welling of cold, nutrient-rich water in the Pacific; the Golfo Dulce, in the southwestern part of the country; the Golfo de Papagayo, on the northern Pacific coast; and Barra de Colorado, a river mouth near the border with Nicaragua on the Caribbean Sea.

The report came as lawmakers debate a bill designed to ease restrictions on the construction of new boating marinas, a plan that worries conservationists.

While more than 25 percent of the small nation’s landmass receives some measure of legal protection, only 0.9 percent of its national waters are included in protected areas. Grúas Marino proposes to increase the coverage of protected marine areas to 4.14 percent of Costa Rica’s seas.

Officials noted that SINAC does not wish to restrict all activity within the identified areas. However, they acknowledged that they have not completed the necessary studies to determine which zones should be completely off limits to tourism, fishing and resource extraction, and where these activities should be allowed under controlled conditions.

“When we talk about marine protected areas, people think we are talking about areas that will be totally restricted, but we are talking about different categories,” said Guisselle Méndez, director of SINAC. “Each area will have a different level of protection according to its needs and the needs of the communities that depend on it.”

She indicated, though, that SINAC is not yet fully prepared to determine what those needs are.

“We have to analyze the internal capacity of our institution and the amount of marine experience we have. Marine protection is new to us and we have to prepare, but we are not yet prepared for this part,” she said.

Méndez said SINAC is working with academic institutions to assess the various options that exist in order to establish marine protected areas.

–Mike McDonald


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