Getting Serious about Marine Protected Areas
Marine protected areas (MPAs) are ecologically and economically important stretches of ocean that are legally protected in order to better manage their biodiversity and associated natural and cultural resources.
Considered to be a trail blazer in the conservation of terrestrial lands, Costa Rican environmental policy dedicates considerably fewer resources to protecting the country’s coastal areas. However, in 2004 the Tempisque Conservation Area (ACT) established its Coastal Marine Resources Program. Among its responsibilities is to work with coastal fishing communities to better manage the area’s resources and protect endangered marine species such as leatherback and hawksbill sea turtles.
In 2006, the initiative led to the creation of the Caletas-Arío National Wildlife Refuge (CANWR) and accompanying MPA whose area extends 12 nautical miles seaward along Costa Rica’s southern Nicoya Peninsula. The process was a coordinated effort between the Costa Rican Environmental Ministry (Minaet), the ACT, private land owners, local fishing associations, national, and international NGOs. The MPAs management plan outlaws destructive fishing techniques (ones that target juvenile fish and result in massive amounts of by-catch) including shrimp trawling, long lining, the use of gill nets, and compressor diving. At the same time, the plan seeks to promote a sustainable spotted rose snapper fishery by allowing for the use of bottom long lines, a technique that is more selective and causes less impact on the endangered species that the CANWR protects.
The initiative, while still in its infancy and awaiting the results of fish stocks analysis, has already produced anecdotal evidence from local artisanal fishermen that overwhelmingly suggests that the decreased presence of shrimp trawls in the area has led to better catches of commercially viable fish and a decreased occurrence of dead sea turtles on the area’s beaches.
Based on this auspicious news, the process was repeated in 2009 and the Camaronal National Wildlife Refuge’s 12 mile MPA was established 20 km north of the CANWR and carries with it the same restraints on unsustainable fishing techniques.
One criticism of the establishment of these MPAs is that shrimp trawl captains and gill net users still fish in and around the protected areas. For this reason the project’s mid-term goal is to demonstrate the economic viability of sustainable fishing techniques used in conjunction with MPAs in hopes that one day other fishermen will participate in conserving the area’s resources while at the same time earning a comfortable living.