The last time the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society was active in Costa Rica, their founder and lead-activist Captain Paul Watson was nearly arrested on seven counts of attempted murder. Eleven years later, the organization has a new Costa Rica chapter and an office in San José.
“This marks a new precedent,” said Sea Shepherd’s Costa Rica National Coordinator Mabel Oporta. “We want to show everyone here what it is that Sea Shepherd really does.”
Starting with clearing Watson’s name.
Ticos are largely divided in their opinions of the bushy-haired 62-year-old captain due to a widely publicized incident in 2002 that nearly led to his arrest. The clash took place in Guatemalan waters during shark fishing season, when Watson and his crew interrupted the Costa Rican fishing boat, the Varadero II, from allegedly illegally finning sharks. The Sea Shepherd crew captured the entire event on film.
According to Sea Shepherd, the crew was attempting to escort the Varadero to shore on orders from Guatemalan authorities when they got word that a Guatemalan gunship was en route to arrest them. Watson turned course for Costa Rica only to be met by authorities doling out attempted murder charges.
Watson fled and the charges lay dormant for almost a decade until he was arrested in Germany at the request of the Costa Rican government in 2012. Forced back to Costa Rica, the organization again began looking at expanding their operations in the country.
“We weren’t really active in Costa Rica; his arrest actually helped us to get started again,” said Alex Cornelissen, a Sea Shepherd global executive officer. “When Paul got arrested in Frankfurt last year, I traveled to Costa Rica to meet with our lawyer and contacted some supporters we had here to see if they would be interested in starting a local entity.”
Sea Shepherd’s Costa Rica chapter was officially certified in December 2012 and now has more than 150 members. The group’s office opened Saturday, following a donation of office space from Jani Schultz, founder and host of Costa Rica-based English-language radio station Rainforest Radio.
In the year since it started, Sea Shepherd’s Costa Rica chapter has hosted beach cleanups, educational chats and fundraisers. The group will host its second beach cleanup at Playa Guacalillo in Garabito de Puntarenas, on the central Pacific coast, on Saturday, Sept. 28 at 8 a.m.
“This is a gigantic step for us,” Oporta said. “We now have a place to meet and coordinate everything. Little by little we are going to start making change.”
For more information on Sea Shepherd’s Costa Rica chapter, or the upcoming beach cleanup, see their Facebook page here.