San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Conservation Activist Wins Goldman Environmental Prize

Randall Arauz earned a $150,000 award for his fight against the killing of sharks for their fins off the shores of Costa Rica. The biologist and founder of PRETOMA (Association for the Restoration of Sea Turtles) was selected as one of the six winners for the international Goldman Environmental Prize.

Arauz was working to protect sea turtles in Costa Rica when the issue of shark finning was brought to his attention in 2003. A friend aboard a Taiwanese fishing boat secretly filmed the killing of tens of thousands of sharks in the waters around Costa Rica. After seeing how the fishermen would remove the shark fins and toss the live bodies back into the water in order to fit more fins on board, Arauz added the issue to his sea turtle protection agenda.

“Shark finning is not only cruel,” said Arauz, in a video presented at the awards. “It is irresponsible and unsustainable fishing at its highest degree. In spite of this, it has been close to impossible to attain any binding management and conservation measures to curtail this practice.”

Shark fin soup is a popular and expensive specialty in East Asia.

Over the years, Arauz has waged a battle with the local government asking it to enforce Costa Rican laws designed to protect the sharks. Laws mandate that all sharks must be landed with their fins still attached.

International fishing boats often circumvent that law, Arauz said, and the Costa Rican government does little to pursue or punish them. Arauz also brought international attention to the cause by soliciting the United Nations to call on other nations to adopt responsible shark fishing policies.

The annual award recognizes grassroots environmental activists on each of the six inhabited continents. Arauz is the first Costa Rican to win the award, which was presented Monday in San Francisco, California. PRETOMA plans to use part of the prize money to buy all-terrain-vehicles in order to increase their access to the remote beaches where endangered sea turtles nest.

–Matt Levin

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