Monday, November 21, 2011

Carlos Hiller - Production of a Cocos Island Masterpiece

Carlos Hiller, famed marine artist and dedicated conservationist 
created a special painting for the Sea Save Foundation fundraising
This video shows the work in progress. The scene captures the 
excitement and beauty of a cleaning station.  The Cocos adrenaline
rush is a product of a 360 degree awareness of everything happening.  
Large schools, cleaning stations, macro, pelagics, currents...  Carlos
has captured both the beauty and excitement that is Cocos Island.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Fillmore - A Special Grean Sea Turtle Visiting Cocos Island

Jim Toomey Creation, Fillmore, Draws Attention to Tagging Program
Fillmore is a green sea turtle quipped with a Mark 10 satellite tag that shows his global position. These tags are extremely high tech: costing $5,000, they can last for over a year of continuous submersion! 
Fillmore is adventuring at Cocos Island National Park and his tag will show his swimpath around the island! 

Jim Toomey, the author of Sherman's Lagoon cartoon, is working closely with the Sea Turtle Restoration Project using his popular character Fillmore to illustrate the sea turtle's Cocos Island travels.

Currently, Filmore is swimming south and is nearing the 12 mile border of the Cocos Island protected area.  There he will encounter a deadly danger zone full of longline fishing hooks.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Carlos Hiller - Profile of an Artist and Conservationist

Carlos Hiller, at Cocos Island
Carlos Hiller is a man of restless energy,  and an unrelenting drive to get things done. It is apparent in the undertones of his soft voice, the steady of his piercing blue eyes, but most of all it can be seen in his art.

"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.

Carlos Hiller explains the relationship between the species portrayed in his mural

The students fill in the blank fish with their own artwork

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

President Chinchilla sends official proposal to create a Marine Commission.

Delivering on it's commitment, the President Chinchilla officially responded to the campaign by the team of Leonora Jimenez, David Chacon, Andres Jimenez and Randall Arauz, on the official letter she presented a plan to form a committee to review the marine agencies of the country with the purpose of recommending actions to improve marine management. The plan was officially launched by the President on November 14, together with the Environment Minister Rene Castro. In the letter, the officials make clear that this government's commitment to marine resources is reflected in the National Development Plan 2011-2014, among whose goals is the management and promotion of fisheries and the development of a national plan for coastal and marine management, this Commission is thought to be very useful in reaching their goals.

In the executive summary the approach aims to create a Presidential Council, with a limit of three months to assess marine institutions. The same must diagnose, assess and recommend the necessary adjustments to the marine governance. "We consider is necessary to appoint a group of leaders and intellectuals to analyze marine institutions, hoping that from the results and the recommendations of this commission we can strengthen the institutions responsible for marine management and control of the country," Proclaim the proposal.

The document appoints the envioronmental lawyer Maria Virginia Cajiao Jimenez as the coordinator of the group, currently she is an advisor and coordinator of the National Environmental Council (presidential environmental council). Due to this position she will serve as the bridge to ensure communication and coordination with the Presidency of the Republic, the MINAET and other public institutions involved. The group is going to be integrated by an expert in oceanography or marine biology, a representative of government institutions, one of the artisanal fisheries sector and other industrial fishing sector, all of which have yet to be appointed.

"We consider of vital importance for the expert in biology or oceanography to be a leading academic from national universities. Alsofor the inclusion of a representative of high credibility among national NGOs, seeking greater equity among sectors represented in the commission as experience in different topics," said Andres Jimenez. "In addition in desire to avoid bias we expect for the represent of government institutions not to be from the Incopesca (from its name in Spanish translated to National Institute for fisheries and agriculture) otherwise we could unbalance the commission to the side of fisheries."

"We will be vigilant in the process, and report promptly to the civil society on the progress," said Randall Arauz.. "We are proposing to the Minister Castro to take us into account as a tool to link with the public."

"We are optimistic, as the President Chinchilla has shown great openness to the call of Costa Rican citizens who want better management of its precious marine resources," said Leo Jimenez. "We are killing the sea, and it is our responsibility and nobody else’s, to do something about it, and fight to demand reforms in the country's marine institutions we need."

Written by: Andres Jimenez

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Costa Rica’s Chinchilla agrees to form commission to review maritime agencies

Reprinted from / Clayton Norman

Among the agencies under presidential review is the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute, often criticized by environmental groups.
Noted international model Leo Jimenez and Cocos Island
activist, takes case to President Laura Chinchilla

President Laura Chinchilla announced Friday that she will form a commission of experts to analyze and review the government agencies in charge of regulating Costa Rica’s marine resources. Included among those agencies is the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute (Incopesca), which has long been criticized by environmentalists for failing to curb practices like shark finning, a multibillion-dollar industry that is depleting shark populations.

The announcement came after the president met with various marine conservation leaders and activists who presented to Chinchilla the case that despite some recent major strides in protecting marine resources, powerful interests in the commercial fishing industry have stymied deeper institutional reforms.

Andrés Jiménez, a biologist and environmental journalist who attended the meeting, said the problem lies in the fact that Incopesca’s board of directors, who are charged with managing the country’s fisheries, have significant personal interests in commercial fishing that don’t always line up with conservation.
“In the end they are judge and jury,” Jiménez said. “They have never made a decision regarding public resources that didn’t affect their personal interests or those of their partners in foreign fishing fleets, and that, without a doubt, is something unconstitutional.”

Shark finning in and around Costa Rican waters by foreign and sometimes Costa Rican boats continues to be a central issue in the conflict between Costa Rican activists and Incopesca. Costa Rica has made milquetoast overtures to cut down on the practice by making it illegal to unload shark fins at private docks in the country, but the practice itself, which involves slicing off the fins and throwing sharks back into the water to bleed to death, remains technically legal.

Shark fins are worth big bucks in Asian markets, where they may fetch upward of $40 per kilo before being made into soup with supposed aphrodisiacal qualities.

Last month, the government of Colombia detained two Costa Rican ships under suspicion of finning and killing more than 2,000 sharks in a marine sanctuary off that country’s coast.

Shark finning is a powerful impetus behind the desire for change in Costa Rica’s fisheries landscape, but not the only one. David Chacón, president of the the Tárcoles Fishermen’s Cooperative, also attended the meeting with Chinchilla to represent the interests of small-scale fishermen who don’t have the advantages of heavily industrialized fleets.

“The small-scale fishing sector is very interested in the development of responsible and sustainable fishing programs,” Chacón said. “Unfortunately, the politics of Incopesca never benefit us, even though there are many more of us than those represented on the board of directors of Incopesca.”
Chinchilla promised to present, within a week of next Monday, a plan for the formation of the commission and its duties.

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!
‎"I've also gained a new outlook on conservation while here. Or, to more accurately describe it, a nagging suspicion that I've had about conservation philosophy has solidified into a conviction, a belief. And as much as it is a conservation... belief, it's more of a lifestyle belief: Each individual has a niche in the ecosystem surrounding them, each individual has role to fulfill in that ecological niche." - William Henriques - From his first blog entry. Read more here

Monday, October 31, 2011

Goodbye for Now - William Henriques

Goodbye to Cocos Island...for now.
Snapshot: Driving south of Jaco down the Pacific coast of Costa Rica along Rte. 143/34, driving south to Quepos in Guillermo’s battered Suzuki in which the windows only work half the time, driving south down the arrow-straight highway through miles and miles of palm-oil  tree orchards, lining both sides of the road. We come upon the palm oil processing plant on the right. Greasy brown smoke billows out of the stacks, and Guillermo slows to show me the palm fruit piled in the back of old, beaten, tractor-draw carts.

Snapshot: Sitting in the shade of the trees lining the beach in Manuel Antonio National Park, surveying the several hundred tourists milling about under the Costa Rican sun. The group from France to the left is packing up, they were caught drinking liquor and were asked to leave. Further down the beach there’s a boy doing back hand springs down to the water. A troupe of three white-faced monkeys appears in the trees overhead, on the hunt for open food containers near low-hanging branches and then moments later the inevitable pack of camera-toting tourists arrives, some dozen strong. 

Snapshot: Riding the bus from Jaco to San Jose, the bus is filled to capacity and then some. Can smell something fried – chicken, I think – and I’m listening to the soft murmur of voices and to the music blaring out of the ear buds of the larger women asleep in the seat next to me as I gaze out the window. Rain pounds down as the bus enters San Jose on Route 1, the Trans American Highway. Used car lots, industrial complexes, the San Jose International Airport, and billboards advertising McDonald’s Tica Burgers, Coca Cola’s 125 Anniversary, Kolbi, and EPA flash by. 

No, I’m not on Cocos Island anymore; I’m in that other world now, that world outside of the island. I long to go back, I yearn to return to the Wafer Bay Station. I miss the routine, miss the bleary-eyed walk up to the Big House under the overloaded coconut palms in early morning light for breakfast, Filander’s cheerful “Buenos Dias”, the heaping plate of pinto, the morning meeting. I miss Golfin’s 5:30 am whoops of delight that rouse me long before my alarm , and chess games with Roberto in the evening and the Cocos finches fluttering and twittering around the big house in an eternal quest for crumbs. I miss those clear nights, when I would walk out onto the beach and look up at the myriad stars and at the broad band of the Milky Way, a view unmarred by light pollution and the noise of traffic, only the occasional cloud passing overhead. I miss the steady rhythm of the waves rocking Cocos Patrol, the chirping crickets that would lull me to sleep, and the sound of crabs scurrying across the sand when I stood still for a moment on the beach. I miss the remoteness, the feeling of disconnected -ness and peace it was possible to attain. I miss living and working in, around, and with virgin wilderness. 

But thanks to the incredible generosity of Avi Klapfer, Alan Steenstrup, The Undersea Hunter Group and Sea Save Foundation, it’s only goodbye for now. I’ll be returning to the island aboard the Sea Hunter in mid-December, this time not in the capacity of a volunteer but as a diver. I will don my fins, mask, wetsuit , and tank to explore the submarine world that the park guards are working so hard to protect.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Reflections From Cocos Island National Park Director - Geiner Golfin

Cocos Island, Pacific Ocean - Here we do not hear cars, it is not necessary to go to the store, a restaurant or a mall, I do not have to carry cash and I live in total harmony with Cocos Island.

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

Cocos Island: Law #8436 - William Henriques

Tonight's sunset - Day Seven Without Rain
Seven straight absolutely gorgeous days here on Cocos Island. Seven days without a drop of rain; “It’s not normal,” says Manuel. The small stream that runs onto the beach has dried up, and the water is so low in River Genio that it barely spills over the top of the dam just below the Genio Casade. For an island that receives an average of 275 inches of rain, seven straight days feels downright drought-like.

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”.

Despite Article 9, the presence of fishing boats within the park limits is continuous

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.

For 6-8 hour patrols, four people aboard Cocos Patrol is a tight fit

An ineffective law. An understaffed ranger station. And the wrong equipment. The illegal fishing will continue for as long as this trio continues to plague Cocos Island National Park.

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

Ranger Profile: Filander Avila Calderon

Position: Guardaparque - Kitchen Coordinator
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.

Filander's favorite tree

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

Reseaching Hammerhead Sharks and Need for Expanded Protected Areas

How "Stuff" Gets to the Island - William Henriques

Snapshot: First morning at Cocos Island. Woke up at 5:00 am aboard the Undersea Hunter and something was different; the motor had stopped, and there was an unusual amount of activity - thumps, bumps, and voices. Climbed up the companionway from the crew’s quarters where I was stowed and looked curiously out the window of the main salon (view partially obscured by rainwater streaming over the porthole glass) at a steep, emerald green shore rising up out of gray water under a leaden sky. An unfamiliar man wearing an army green rain poncho was occupied passing plastic crates down to to a rubber launch tied to Undersea Hunter’s starboard side.

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.”

The route from Undersea's anchorage to Wafer Bay

(Photo courtesy of
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.

A large provision re-supply arrives in Megaptera

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.

Volunteers are stowed in the "Casa", which occupies the second floor of this brilliantly painted building (Office, Infirmary, Dive Room, and Guardacosta's quarters occupy the first floor)

Provisions - fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, canned and dried goods - are shipped out roughly every two weeks. The morning of a food delivery is a hectic affair. The whole station is roused by 5:45 and told to be down at the river. When the “supply boat” pulls alongside the bank, the horde descends, forming a human train to transfer the crates and boxes from the boat to the waiting trailer. The tractor and trailer drive the several hundred yards up to the river, and then the train forms again to off-load the trailer, delivering the food to the porch just outside the kitchen. All this before breakfast - a good way to work up an appetite. Station supplies and tools, (such as the wire cutters sent out several weeks ago) arrive with the shipments of food.

The trailer all loaded up

The kitchen porch all loaded up with produce

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.

Three recently arrived gasoline barrels, waiting for transport off of Megaptera to the bodega

And that’s how “stuff” gets to the island. No need to do a whole new post on how “stuff” leaves the island; the only things that leave the island are trash, recycling, funcionarios, and volunteers. Late in the afternoon of the departure day, the “outgoing mail” is loaded up into the Mobula and sent out to the departing diving boat. 36 hours and 300 miles later, the diving boat arrives back in Puntarenas. Trash and recycling are disposed of, and volunteers and funcionarios go on their merry way.

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

Cocos Island: Ranger Profile: Roberto Cubero

Position: Park Guard - Chief of the Sustainable Tourism Program
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.

Roberto is one of the go-betweens for the Park and the diving boats. All of the communication and coordination is carried out over the radio.

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

Cocos Island: Photo Essay: All in A Day's Work at Wafer Station - William Henriques

A Day in the Life of Wafer Bay Station

Vinicio is the station's office man, processing administrative paperwork and anything else that comes his way: inventory, daily patrol reports, and the various permissions required by the dive boats.

Filander prepares the perfect meal.

Beatrice and Daniella are painting the inside of the lower bodega.

This four wheeler is being shipped back to the mainland for repairs because the shaft that drives the rear axle has snapped. It was lifted on board Megaptera by four funcionarios. It will be transferred to one of the diving boats by crane and carried back to Costa Rica.

Victor disposes of some recently pruned lime tree branches.

Even though he worked through lunch and is eager for some chow, Bryan takes the time to rinse off the snorkel gear in fresh water after spending the morning cleaning the hull of the Mobula (One of the island's transport launches).

Guillermo fashions a new plug for the stern of FAICO III, another one of the launches.

Golfin, the park's head, hard at work in the shade of the beach-side pavilion.

And then, of course, there's the daily patrol:

Our resident Guardacosta Pablo, takes the helm of Cocos Patrol during today's patrol.

Below the white cross (representing the position of the Cocos Patrol) is the island as it shows up on radar. Above the white cross are two red blips; these are the fishing boats we caught within the park on today's patrol. We initially picked them up on radar when they were six miles off shore, and we chased them out of the park. At thirteen miles, just a mile outside the limit, the two boats cut their engines. We circled around them, taking down the boat names and hull numbers.

Yes, some things never change. The ever present poaching vessels.

The Albatross - Already caught within the park 17 times this year

The Chaday I - already caught within the park 11 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.

As we turned towards the island, several of the fisherman raised their arms in casual wave, gesture of smug satisfaction that turned Maikel's normally serene expression sour.

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.