ONE ANGRY, PASSIONATE MAN
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 ( migramar.org), 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.