Sporting a park ranger outfit and hiking boots, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla tromped through the jungles of the country’s most distant territory this weekend. She called this trip the most important of her presidency. The environmentally focused expedition to Isla del Coco took 20 hours, and, according to the president, was meant to close out her term with a focus on marine conservation policies.
“This [trip] has special symbolism because my term is culminating with doing something incredibly important for the oceans,” Chinchilla said during a press conference in the central Pacific port town of Caldera before leaving for the island.
In addition to inaugurating the island’s first radar station, the president signed a decree Friday that will provide protection for an area just outside of the national park.
A key breeding ground for marine species in the western Pacific, Isla del Coco and the 12 miles of ocean surrounding it has had complete environmental protection since 1997, but biologists say that one of the most important marine sites exists just outside the park’s boundaries.
A mid-ocean ridge, or underwater mountain range, adjacent to the park is home to more than 260 different marine species and serves as a corridor for migratory animals traveling to the island. The decree formalized the management plan for the Underwater Mountain Marine Management Area, more than 3,700 square miles of ocean encompassing the park and the surrounding area, created in 2011. Though the management area has existed for three years, Chinchilla’s decree will provide the park with the government resources needed to monitor it.
“This is a commitment from the president to continue protecting this paradise,” said Geiner Golfín, Isla del Coco’s park administrator.
While the plan allows for some fishing in the area – sport fishing and longline fishing among the types permitted – foreign and industrial fishing fleets are banned. The goal is to allow national fishermen to use the resource without overfishing.
“The management plan accounts for social concerns,” Golfín said. “Fishing is still allowed, just restricted.”