Monday, November 21, 2011
Sunday, November 20, 2011
|Jim Toomey Creation, Fillmore, Draws Attention to Tagging Program|
Saturday, November 19, 2011
"I have two passions: art and the ocean. The majority of my art - all but three pieces, I think - are depictions, interpretations of the sea. It wasn´t one that came before the other, either. My love for the ocean has always manifested itself in my artwork, and my love for creating, for painting and sculpting, has always found a subject in the ocean.
I do a lot of education work, too. I take my two passions to schools in coastal communities, and try to generate an interest in the ocean, try to create a passion for the marine world. I go to these schools, and paint a mural of a marine scene. To get the kids involved, what I usually do is paint the background, the marine landscape, and a shark, or a whale, something big. And then I paint the outlines of a school of fish, and all of the kids get to paint these fish. And to accompany the mural painting event, we do educational workshops. We teach the kids marine biology, and the importance of marine conservation.
We focus our energy on coastal communities, fishing communities, where fishing is as much a way of life as it is a source of income, where the same fishing methods have been used for decades. I focus my education and outreach efforts on these communities to create a genuine love for marine life in the next generation, in the youth of these towns. If we can reach the next generation, we can break the cycle of harmful fishing practices handed down from generation to generation. We can turn these communities into part of the solution, not part of the problem."
"Apart from my education efforts, I also donate a mural to a poor, coastal community in Costa Rica every year. I´m just trying to get the ocean in the eyes of the people, trying to show them that it is so much more than a flat horizon line, waves against the beach, a source of food. I´m trying to show the world just how beautiful and complex the underwater ecosystems are, trying to raise awareness, generate interest. At the very least, I feel like I´m doing something to better the poor communities in Costa Rica, making the spaces within those communities beautiful. But I think it has a larger impact than that. I hope it does.
Last year, I also donated the murals at Wafer Bay, the one of the whale shark and the cloud forest up in the main complex, and the underwater scene along the north and west walls of the Casa de Voluntarios.
That was one trip to Cocos Island. Counting this last one, there have been two others. This most recent one was primarily a diving trip. I took a lot of pictures, soaked up the experience. I plan on using the material from this trip for future paintings.
Friday, November 18, 2011
From left to right: Rene Castro, Leonora Jiménez, Laura chinchilla, David Chacón, Randall Arauz Y Andrés Jiménez.
On November first the group of conservationist held a meeting with President Chinchilla and the Minister Castro to ask for the immediate intervention and refurnishing of the Costa Rican Institute for Fisheries and Aquiculture (Incopesca). The group mention that Incopesca constantly fails to apply marine environmental regulations and that there is a serious conflict of interest, as the members of the executive board of the institute are owners at the same time, of the fishing vessels.
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
|Noted international model Leo Jimenez and Cocos Island|
activist, takes case to President Laura Chinchilla
Thursday, November 3, 2011
Thank you, Cocos Island Intern, William Henriques! We look forward to reading more of your blogs when you return in December!
Sea Save Foundation would like to say thank you and good luck to blog writer extraordinaire and intern, William Henriques. We have all enjoyed reading your wonderful blogs during your volunteer stay at Cocos Island. We look forward to your return in mid December!
Monday, October 31, 2011
|Goodbye to Cocos Island...for now.|
Friday, October 28, 2011
I first arrived in October, the worst season for making the crossing, but even the strength of the waves could not dampen my desire to know this natural beauty. I remember that when I saw it for the first time, it felt like a dream come true.
I had spent much time immersed in marine biology textbooks at the National University, and now I was staring at a living textbook, it moved it shouted and it transformed me. Last Tuesday, over the Internet, we learned that the island could possibly become one of the "Modern Seven Wonders of the World." But, we know that it already is.
At night when we finish the days work, we only here the rain falling, or the blades of a fan. Silence is absolute. This is a quiet place. There is no fear. We can walk the trails without fear of assault or murder. This is another Costa Rica. Here 300 miles from Puntarenas, the sunrises resemble the sunsets. The sun rises as we patrol the island. The spectacle is unique and beautiful. The island remains black as the sun begins to illuminate the sea. This month we wait for the arrival of the fishermen. We watch cautiously, they hide between the islets and cast their nets to try to poach the rich marine life found here.
It is incredible to think that below us are hammerhead sharks, whale sharks, manta rays and moray eels. It is a quiet day. The sun is shining, but there are also pockets of rain, this is because the island is located at an intertropical convergence. Being here is the dream of every nature lover. However, it is also hard work.
No one can get sick. The nearest hospital is a 20 hour boat journey. Best thing is to be in very good condition. The evening is falling and the sun illuminates the mountains...
Being here, is my dream turned reality.
Isla del Coco, Océano Pacífico. - Aquí no se escuchan carros, no hay necesidad de ir a la pulpería, a un restaurante o centro comercial, no tengo que andar dinero, vivo en total armonía con la Isla del Coco.
Llegué en octubre, época de mal tiempo para navegar, pero ni la fuerza de las olas del mar, amainaron mi deseo de conocer esta belleza natural. Recuerdo que cuando la vi, por primera vez, sentí que un sueño se había hecho realidad.
Tanto tiempo metido en textos de biología marina en la Universidad Nacional y ahora estaba frente a un libro vivo, que se mueve, que grita y se transforma. El martes pasado, por Internet, nos dimos cuenta que la isla está postulada para ser una de las siete maravillas del mundo. Pero, saben una cosa, ya lo es. Lluvia y abanico Aquí, en las noches, cuando terminan las labores del día, solo se escucha la lluvia al caer o las aspas del abanico. El silencio es absoluto. Es un sitio tranquilo. El miedo no existe. Se puede salir a caminar por los senderos sin el temor de un asalto o asesinato, ésta, es otra Costa Rica.
Aquí, a 555 kilómetros de Puntarenas, los amaneceres parecen atardeceres. El sol sale mientras patrullamos los alrededores de la isla. El espectáculo es único, hermoso. La isla se ve negra, mientras el sol ilumina el mar. En este mes, esperamos a los pescadores. Hay que tener cuidado. Algunos se esconden en islotes y tiran sus redes para llevarse otra de las riquezas que tiene, su vida marina.
Amor a la naturaleza
Es increíble pensar, que debajo de nosotros hay tiburones martillo, tiburones ballena, mantarayas, morenas cebra y ranisapos de Commerson. Hoy (ayer), llegó un barco llamado Fénix, con varios estudiantes ingleses. Es un día tranquilo. Hace sol, pero, a veces, llueve, esto se debe a que la isla está ubicada en un sitio de convergencia intertropical. Estar aquí es el sueño de cualquier persona amante de la naturaleza. Sin embargo, también es un trabajo sacrificado.
Nadie se puede enfermar. Salir de aquí representan más de 20 horas viaje en barco. Lo mejor es estar en muy buena condición. La tarde está cayendo y el sol ilumina las montañas... Vivir aquí, es mi sueño hecho realidad
Thursday, October 27, 2011
|Tonight's sunset - Day Seven Without Rain|
But I’m not complaining. I’m sitting in the beachside pavilion after the day’s work is done, with Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow playing softly, and a gentle breeze is rustling the coconut palms and wafting the scent of cut grass into my face (the doing of Manuel’s weed whacker), and that golden, low-angle light reminiscent of a late 1980’s western film illuminates the early evening. Life is good.
I’m leafing through my borrowed copy of Costa Rican Law 8436, the Law of Fishing and Aquaculture (a robust 140 page affair), and comparing it to the English translation I found on Google, trying to make sense of the situation here in the park. The key piece, Golfin tells me, is Article 9.
Here’s Article 9, copied exactly :
Artículo 9. Sobre la pesca y vigilancia en areas protegidas. Prohíbense el ejercicio de la actividad pesquera con fines comerciales y la pesca deportiva en parques nacionales, monumentos naturales, y reservas biológicas. El ejercicio de la actividad pesquera en la parte continental e insular, en las reservas forestales, zonas protectoras, refugios nacionales de vida silvestre y humedales, estará restringido de conformidad con los planes de manejo, que determin para cada zona el Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía (MINAE), en el ámbito de sus atribuciones. Para crear o ampliar zonas protegidas que cubran áreas marinas, salvo las que apruebe la Asamblea Legislativa de conformidad con las leyes vigentes, el Ministerio deberá consultar el criterio del INCOPESCA, acerca del uso sostenible de los recursos biologicos en estas zonas. La opinión que el INCOPESCA externe deberá estar fundamentada en criterios técnicos, sociales y económicos, científicos y ecológicos, y ser emitida dentro del plazo de treinta días naturales, contados a partir de la fecha de recibida la consulta. La vigilancia de la pesca en las áreas silvestres protegidas indicadas en este artículo, le corresponderá al MINAE, que podrá coordinar los operativos con el Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas. Se permitirá a las embarcaciones permanecer en las áreas protegidas con porción marina o sin ella, en los supuestos de caso fortuito y fuerza mayor, mientras duren tales situaciones.
And in English:
Fishing with commercial purposes and sport fishing activity in national parks, natural monuments and biological reserves is prohibited. Fishing activity in continental and insular areas, in forest reserves, protective zones, wild life and wetlands national refuges, will be restricted according to the management plans that The Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE) (by its initials in Spanish) determines for each zone. In order to create or extend protected zones that cover marine areas, except for which it approves the Legislative Assembly according the current laws, the Ministry will have to consult INCOPESCA criterion about the sustainable use of the biological resources in these zones The opinion of INCOPESCA will be based on technical, social and economic, scientific and ecological criteria, and should be emitted within a thirty days term, starting from consultation’s reception date. The fishing activity in the indicated protected wild areas will be monitored by MINAE and coordinated with the National Service of Coastguard. The vessels will be allowed to remain in protected areas due to Force Majure cases, while such situations last. MINAE and INCOPESCA will be able to jointly authorize, the transit or anchorage of boats in protected areas, when natural conditions strictly require it.
Rather dry, but there are a couple of important pieces to this article: 1) It establishes that any form of fishing in national parks is illegal. 2) It gives the funcionarios (MINAE employees) the authority to monitor protected waters, while accompanied by the Costa Rican Coast Guard.
I kept flipping through the book, and on page 94, I found Title X: Crimes, Offences, Penalties, and Remedies. Chapter I: Offenses and Penalties. Article 131 gives INCOPESCA (Costa Rican Institute of Fishing and Aquaculture) the power to implement and enforce fines and penalties. Article 132 gives the Coast Guard the authority “arrest and confiscate property, equipment, gear, or fishery equipment used to commit crimes and offenses against the fishery legislation.” And then Articles 136-153 delineate in detail the penalties for various offenses (type of fish caught with, type of equipment, un-licensed fishermen, etc.).
So to summarize up to this point:
Fact 1: Fishing in national parks is illegal.
Fact 2: The park rangers and the Coast Guard have the authority to make arrests and confiscate equipment.
Fact 3: There are penalties for every violation imaginable involving “fishing activities”.
But the Cocos Island patrol finds boats within the park on a daily basis, and nothing happens. It’s as if the law doesn’t apply out here on Cocos Island, and the fishermen are somehow immune. But talking with, Pablo, our resident Guardacosta, after dinner tonight, the pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place.
Unless patrol catches fishermen in the act of hauling or setting lines, Pablo explained, the park officials can do nothing. “Fishing activity” is prohibited, but the presence of fishing boats in national parks is not. And when patrol hauls long lines out of the water? There is no identifying marker on the lines, no name or number associated with it. And since there’s no physical link between the boats Patrol chases away and the lines it hauls out of the water, the fisherman, technically speaking, are not violating the law. The park authorities are powerless to impose any sort of fine or punishment on the fishermen simply for being in the park.
Furthermore, Pablo explained, the park is severely understaffed. Even if the law did allow the seizure of the boats and the arrest of the fisherman on board, nothing could be done with the current number of funcionarios and Guardacostas on the island. Regulations dictate that five Guardacostas must be present before an offending boat can be boarded (a necessary action to arrest the fishermen and seize the boat), but the Costa Rican Coastguard only sends out one or two members at a time.
On top of the anemic numbers, the park also suffers from a lack of equipment. There is no patrol boat that can hold five people, let alone the six or seven that would realistically take part in a boarding operation. As of this moment, there’s only one patrol boat in service right now, Cocos Patrol, and four is a tight fit. Cocos Patrol 1, the other “patrol boat” in the water, has been waiting for its registration papers from the mainland for 30 months. And now, because it has been sitting in Wafer Bay for so long, inactive, it has engine problems.
But the winds of change are blowing. I can feel a sense of urgency, an infusion of fresh energy among the funcionarios; they’re sick of the system, and they’re "stirring the pot". But they need help. They need their message pushed out into the world. They need help pressuring the government to change the law, to make it stronger and more effective. They need better equipment. And this is where those of us “outside the system” - outside of the government and outside Costa Rica can help. Make a donation. Spread the word.
As Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Age: 42 Years
Numbers of years as Guardaparque at PNIC (Parque Nacional Isla del Coco): 11 years
Off-Island Residence: Grecia, Alajuela Province, Costa Rica
I’ve already spoken several times to the supreme quality of the food here at the island - in particular, the coffee and morning pinto. But to put a face to the food, I present any and all readers with this exquisite chef, Filander.
I asked him some questions last night as he finished the kitchen cleanup, giving the counters a final wipe down and putting the last of the leftovers away in the refrigerator, and he was more than willing to chat for several minutes. I’ve done my best to paraphrase his responses accurately, and I’ve tried not to take any creative liberties.
As the Kitchen Coordinator, what are your duties?
It’s my duty to provide three quality meals each day to the average 15-18 people who live at the Wafer Station. I get up around 4:30 every morning, and am in the kitchen by 5:00 am, and then my day usually ends around 7:00 pm when I finish the kitchen cleanup. I also keep track of the pantry inventory and sort through the shipments of provisions. As with all the other funcionarios, I have certain maintenance duties too; in my case, I’m responsible for maintaining a clean kitchen and dining area.
Do you have any hobbies?
I love to cook. When I’m here, it’s all I do. When I’m home, I enjoy spending time with my family, and resting. I guess you could say that walking is one of my hobbies, too. I really love walking in the woods around the station whenever I can get a spare moment.
What was your work before becoming a funcionario?
Ah, that’s a complicated answer. When I was really young, around eleven or so, I started working. My first job was working for a cobbler, where I spent several years learning to make shoes out of leather - I specialized in cowboy boots. After that, I worked in my family’s clothing factory. Eventually, my brother and I got sick of that work, and so we took a job at an export warehouse. I was the guy checking each shipment to make sure all the merchandise was accounted for. After that, I landed a job with the Undersea Hunter Group, out of Puntarenas, and I worked on board their various boats for three years as a sous-chef and cabin steward. I made friends with some of the Guardaparques who worked here at Cocos Island, and when a position in the kitchen opened up, they asked me if I wanted the job. I agreed, but first I came here to work as a volunteer in the kitchen for two months. They had to see if I was going to be the right fit with the community of funcionarios and volunteers that lives here, and they wanted to make sure I could handle the daily stress of preparing quality meals for so many people.
What’s your favorite part about living and working here at the island?
I love the forest, all the trees. There’s one tree that I particularly love, called Palo Hierro. It’s endemic to the island, and it’s just beautiful. I also love walking in the forest along the path to Chatham. I think that’s probably my favorite piece of the island, that trail that goes up behind this building and over the ridge to the Chatham Station.
What is the most important work you do here?
The most important work that the Guardaparques do as a collective? Our first priority is stopping poaching by the fisherman from Puntarenas within the park’s boundaries. But in order to do that , we need a happy, well-functioning team. That’s where I come in, the most important part of my job. I try to prepare good food to keep the team’s spirits up and their bodies healthy.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
The cook stepped out of the galley and said something in Spanish (at this point my Spanish was limited to Buenos dias, gracias, and the words for breakfast, lunch, and dinner), pointing urgently back down the companionway at my bag, and then to boat tied up alongside. I got the gist: Time to go. I donned my raincoat, pushed my overweight pack up the ladder into the main cabin, pulled myself up after it, then shouldered my pack and stepped out into the rain.
Two more rangers were in the boat were busily arranging the crates, filled with vegetables. I was put up front, on top of the meat coolers. My pack went below the lettuce. Just another item on the morning’s delivery list - that’s what I felt like, unable to understand a word of the conversation going on around me. Fragile. Handle with Care. This Side Up. I sat in the bow of the dinghy, thinking: what have I gotten myself into?
With the shipment loaded and the new volunteer on board, the rangers cast off and motored across Chatham Bay, through the Challe Straight between Agujas Point and the enormous hulk that is Manuelita. The rain stopped, and I could see early-morning blue sky through a tattered hole temporarily ripped in the cloud-ceiling. Hundreds of magnificent frigatebirds and red-footed boobies soared overhead, as we passed through Weston Bay and rounded Presidio Point, entering into Wafer Bay. We motored towards the beach and as the coconut palms came into focus, a river mouth appeared and we made for it, nudging up into the sand of Wafer’s riverside landing, and then a swarm of people descended on the boat, hauling crates to the waiting tractor and trailer, and Esteban led me to the Casa de Voluntarios and showed me to my room and then left me alone with the words: “Breakfast is at 6:30.”
(Photo courtesy of www.diving-world.com)
Everybody and everything that arrives here on the island - funcionarios, volunteers, vegetables, frozen meat, gasoline, lightbulbs, and trash bags - shares the same experience. This is how it goes: when anything needs to get to Cocos Island, it must first travel to Puntarenas, one of Costa Rica’s main Pacific ports, located in the Gulf of Nicoya. In Puntarenas, said person or object is loaded onto one of the tourist boats that brings divers to the island for week-long trips. The Undersea Hunter Group runs the most trips out to the island, and so their boats are the ones most often used. After 36 hours and over 300 miles in the Pacific, the boat arrives in Chatham Bay. Early in the morning, usually between 5:00 and 5:30 am, a group of rangers will take the Mobula from the Wafer Bay Station over to Chatham, where they will pick up person, produce, or supplies. On mornings with large deliveries, the rangers take Megaptera (an old, battered police boat for hunting down drug runners) because of its much larger platform.
People come and go on a weekly basis. Hardly a diving boat arrives without a new volunteer or funcionario. When they arrive on the island in the early morning, they are escorted to their quarters by a funcionario. They’re told “breakfast is at six-thirty, the morning meeting an hour later,” and by the end of the day, they’ve blended right in.
Gasoline and diesel arrive in 2-3 week intervals. Gasoline is transferred in 60-gallon, plastic drums to the Megaptera, which transports the drums to Wafer. From the Megaptera’s parking spot in the mouth of the River Genio, the gasoline drums are transferred to the lower bodega’s pumping station. Diesel never actually makes it to the island; it is transferred from the diving boats directly to the patrol boat. The patrol boat holds 300 gallons in its two tanks on board, and an additional 120 gallons are held in drums that are strapped to the deck.
Six days from now, that will be me. How time does fly.
Also in the Cocos Island News today: The Albatross and Chaday I were caught within the park again by today's patrol. That's the second time this week they've been caught. Grand Totals for 2011: Albatross - 19 violations. Chaday I - 13 violations.
Monday, October 24, 2011
Age: 30 yrs
Number of years as Park Guarde at PNIC (Parque Nacional Isla del Coco): 1 Year
Permanent Residence: Santa Ana, Costa Rica
For the past several weeks, Roberto and I have been dueling it out on the chess board after dinner. Well, “dueling” might not be the most accurate verb, because it insinuates that we’re relatively equal, and that fight is a fair one. Restatement: For the past several weeks, Roberto has been annihilating me on the chess board. But despite the guaranteed trouncing, I’ve found that the most pleasant way to spend an evening at Wafer Station is to play several games of chess with Roberto, salon empty and classical music playing softly in the background.
Anyways, here’s a little bit about Roberto, taken from an interview I conducted several nights ago. I’ve paraphrased his responses, and tried my hardest to convey them accurately, without taking any liberties.
As the Chief of the Sustainable Tourism Program, what are your duties?
As the Chief of the Sustainable Tourism Program, my duties entail coordinating and supervising tourist activity around the island. When a boat of divers arrives, I give an introductory presentation and collect the park fee. I monitor the numerous dive sights to ensure that diver activity is not having an impact on the island’s marine ecosystems. Really, I’m in charge of anything that has to do with diving; I’m responsible for checking all of the moorings in Wafer and Chatham Bay, and also for keeping the hulls of Cocos Patrol and Cocos Patrol 1 barnacle-free. But diving-related activities aren’t my only responsibilities. I guide visitors on the various hikes around the island, and I’m part of the “transfer team” that ferries the deliveries of produce, gasoline, volunteers, and funcionarios from the boats to the island. Then there’s my least favorite task, processing all the paperwork - permissions, waivers, etc - related to the diving boats. And like everyone else at the station, I’ve got certain responsibilities in regards to the maintenance and upkeep of the station. As one of the rangers most frequently on the island’s trails, I end up doing a lot of the trail work.
Do you have any hobbies?
I’m an outdoor kind of guy. I like to surf, mountain bike, and kayak. Out here at the island, I do a lot of scuba diving as part of my work, but I also enjoy free diving. I can hold my breath for two minutes, but I’m trying to push that limit. I’d like to be able to stay under longer than that. I’m also a big birder, and a recreational photographer. Recently, I’ve started playing chess again. I used to play a lot, but then I stopped for three years or so until a couple of weeks ago when Vinicio challenged me to a game.
What was your work before becoming a funcionario?
Before I got the job as a guardaparque, I worked as a naturalist and outdoor guide. My work took me all over Costa Rica, but most often I found myself in the Arenal area in the north, or around Corcovado National Park, along the Pacific Coast in the south. I spent a month here at Cocos Island as a volunteer, and afterwards I got a call from Golfin with a job offer. Despite the lower pay and the prolonged time away from home, working at Cocos Island, well, let’s just say that it’s not the kind of opportunity you turn down.
What’s your favorite part about living and working here at the island?
Favorite part of the island? Well, two things. First, Roca Sucia. I love diving at Roca Sucia; it’s absolutely beautiful, by far my favorite dive. And second, Chatham Bay. I love the geography of Chatham Bay, love the view from the trail above Chatham Bay. The distinct lines of the landscape, accentuated by Manuelite, combined with the clarity and color of the water, ah, man, it’s just buenisimo. Pura vida.
What is the most important work you do here?
The most important part of my work is controlling and reducing the impact of visitors on the pristine and wild marine ecosystem around Cocos Island. Illegal fishing is an enormous threat to the marine life in the park, but so too are careless divers. The most important part of my job is ensuring that the divers that come here to the park are educated about responsible and safe diving practices, so that they have a minimum impact.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Filander prepares the perfect meal.
And then, of course, there's the daily patrol:
The Albatross - Already caught within the park 17 times this year
The crews of the two boats lounged on the decks in the sun. Some took videos or pictures with cell phones and cameras. Others simply stared.
We spent the next two hours trolling the water's where the fisherman had originally been looking for the lines Maikel suspected were there (the radar was picking something up in that location) but we came up empty-handed. When night fell and there were no more boats on our radar, Maikel pointed the bow back to Wafer.
Tomorrow, there will be no patrol because it's diesel delivery day. Unfortunately, no patrol doesn't mean no fishermen; it just means that today there won't be anyone to drive them away.