Scuba Diving - - GEAR BAG -

Ran­dall Arauz is a pas­sion­ate, smart, ded­i­cated man — and these days some­times an an­gry and frus­trated one. He’s been in­volved in Co­cos Is­land re­search and con­ser­va­tion since 2004, with 36 trips to the is­land as a marine sci­en­tist, tag­ging sharks and tur­tles, and us­ing sub­marines to place acous­tic re­ceivers on lo­cal seamounts.

Sev­eral hun­dred sharks and tur­tles, and smaller num­bers of manta rays, have been tagged to date across the re­gion. The whale sharks and some of the silkies have so far been the cham­pion long-dis­tance mi­gra­tors, some span­ning right across from the Gala­pa­gos, Malpelo and Co­cos to Baja, the Revil­lagige­dos and Clip­per­ton Is­land to the north, and Peru to the south. Ham­mer­heads pre­fer the core of the Golden Tri­an­gle — a dozen ham­mers tagged at Co­cos have made trips to Malpelo and the Gala­pa­gos, but many more reg­u­larly shut­tle be­tween Co­cos and Las Geme­las, or the Twins, seamounts 40 miles away along the Co­cos ridge that forms a high­way to the Gala­pa­gos. Sci­en­tists call the ridge — used as a mi­gra­tion route from Costa Rica to the Gala­pa­gos by green and leatherback tur­tles as well as by Gala­pa­gos, ham­mer­head and silky sharks — the Gala­pa­gos-co­cos Swimway. It’s a well-used route — and per­haps the most im­por­tant bridge for marine an­i­mals be­tween the Costa Rica Dome and Hum­boldtGala­pa­gos ecosys­tems.

Re­search car­ried out by Arauz and other sci­en­tists has led to the im­ple­men­ta­tion and ex­pan­sion of a marine-pro­tected area and a no-take zone, now ex­tend­ing 400 square miles to in­clude Las Geme­las. Arauz and con­ser­va­tion­ists across the re­gion have formed Mi­gra­mar ( mi­gra­, a coali­tion of sci­en­tists and con­ser­va­tion­ists build­ing a solid base of un­der­stand­ing on mi­gra­tion cor­ri­dors and seamounts, and the move­ments of sharks, tur­tles and

cetaceans through the re­gion. They have used this un­der­stand­ing, and the science un­der­pin­ning it, to ad­vise and, in some cases, lobby gov­ern­ments to pro­tect these ar­eas and con­serve their me­gafauna.

Costa Rica’s gov­ern­ment, how­ever, cur­rently seems more sup­port­ive of short-term fish­ing than con­ser­va­tion. You can sense the frus­tra­tion in Arauz as he cat­a­logs the slow, steady weak­en­ing of pro­tec­tion of Co­cos from fish­ing. Since 2014, ham­mer­heads have been listed un­der CITES; to ex­port their fins re­quires stud­ies demon­strat­ing that the fish­ery is sus­tain­able. In 2014, the gov­ern­ment al­lowed the ex­port of more than 2,000 pounds of fins, but then ac­knowl­edged that shark fins should not have been ex­ported un­til a coun­cil of sci­en­tists could demon­strate sus­tain­abil­ity.

Sci­en­tists rec­om­mended main­tain­ing the ban on shark- fin ex­port, so the gov­ern­ment has changed who can sit on the coun­cil — twice. The gov­ern­ment re­cently re­duced the com­mit­tee to a sin­gle sci­en­tist and sev­eral mem­bers of the in­dus­trial-fish­ing in­dus­try, ap­par­ently in the hope that they can get a body that tells them it is sus­tain­able to ex­port fins.

While dis­cus­sions con­tinue, shark fish­ing con­tin­ues, with fish­ing com­pa­nies sim­ply stock­pil­ing the fins un­til they can by­pass or change the coun­cil’s rec­om­men­da­tions.

Clock­wise from left: Ea­gle rays are a fre­quent sight; ham­mers are much more shy, and tend to stick to clean­ing sta­tions like this one at Manuelita Deep; a Gala­pa­gos hog­fish de­fends hid­den eggs; co­ral also is un­der threat at Co­cos, from cli­mate change and pre­da­tion.

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