Thursday, September 29, 2011

Cocos Island: Hooks and Gastillas II - William Henriques

Voices outside the Casa de Voluntarios woke me up at 5:00 am this morning. This isn’t the first early rousing though; it happens once or twice a week. I’ve come to associate it with the arrival of new faces, and this morning was no exception to the rule. When I stumbled groggily down the stairs of the Casa and looked over towards the river landing, sure enough, there was the launch with the newcomers, along with several dozen crates of fresh produce and three coolers chock-full of meat. Resupply day - perfect timing. I arrived with the last supply load 14 days ago, and the daily salads have been slightly meagre of late.

Breakfast was delayed as all hands were on deck carting the food delivery up to the kitchen in the pouring rain, and the day’s morning meeting didn’t start until eight. But the day eventually did kick into gear, and then it was back to sorting hooks and gastillas. We have moved on to the back-log: two and a half 50-gallon plastic oil drums filled with a rat’s-nest tangle of line, and rusty hooks. These barrels promise many days of work.

Today’s patrol motored in right before lunch (poor Daniella, one of the newer volunteers, had gone out and was unfortunate enough to be seasick the entire time), and the monotony of corroded, entangled line was broken as we spent the early afternoon sorting out the new line the patrol had hauled in.

As for the mystery of the enormous pile of line-filled sacks and the half dozen oil drums filled with metal gear pieces, I was able to find some answers. I spent the morning working with Jeido, another volunteer who has some broken English, and though he’s only a volunteer, I probed him for information about the confiscated fishing equipment. This is what I came up with:

Fact 1: The national park system is currently in court against the fishermen (and their friends and political allies).
Fact 2: The fishermen are claiming that they are setting their lines outside of the protected marine area, and that the Pacific currents are carrying them into the protected area around Cocos (This isn’t an entirely unjustifiable argument - the lines are strung out in the water along a line of buoys, and there is no anchor to prevent them from being carried by the currents)
Inference 1: The fishermen have sued the park (or some sort of legal equivalent) for confiscating their gear, and are claiming this seizure is unlawful because the lines were not technically placed illegally.
Fact 3: The confiscated gear is in fact just sitting there. The rangers can do nothing with it until the court case is decided. They are legally bound to keep it here, in case the fisherman win the court case and demand their equipment.
Inference 2: With no flow of materials, the rangers have no reason to stay on top of the organization of the confiscated gear. When there are ample volunteers, they can be put to work sorting. Hence the backlog that I’ll be working on for a while.

Surveying the above information, I was struck by this thought: there’s a limited amount of space here on the island, a limited storage capacity, and based on how things look, we’re closing in on the limit. What happens when there’s simply no place to put the confiscated equipment, and no court decision has been reached?

I have a conjecture, a conspiracy theory of sorts: what if it came to the point where the rangers simply could not do anything with the illegal lines? If things don’t look good for the fishermen in court (which they don’t - there is plenty of evidence documenting poaching), it would be in the fisherman’s best interest to stall the court - prevent them from reaching a decision, for as long as possible. It wouldn’t surprise me if they are intentionally trying to bury the case in the bureaucracy of the Costa Rican government. Because at some point, the island will reach its carrying capacity. And then the lines will float freely, the catch will increase, and so will the profits.

Just a thought, but still more investigating to do.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Cocos Island: Hooks and Gastillas - William Henriques

Spent the day sorting out the confiscated lines from the last two patrols - three lines in total, hundreds of yards of the stuff. The hooks and gacillas - metal devices used to extend lines (I don’t know what they’re called in English) - are separated out from the thin, translucent fishing line. Once the line is clean of all gear, it is stuffed into canvas sacks. A full sack is about the size of a hay bale, and two days worth of patrols converted into four of these sacks, each weighing in at 40-45 pounds apiece (that’s a rough estimate). The hooks and gacillas are sorted as well ( A harrowing task - the hooks are nastily sharp, and camouflage well when mixed in with the gacillas). Any sort of line attached to the eyehole of these devices is cut away, and then the gear is tossed into its respective bucket.

All of this gear is stored in an enormous shed down by the river, amidst the “lower compound” of the Wafer Bay Station. The shed is probably 15 feet by 20 feet, and at least 15 feet high. Over half of it is taken up with an enormous mound of the hay-bale sized sacks, piled literally to the ceiling (My camera is being dysfunctional at the moment, but soon enough I will have pictures up). Literally dozens of sacks worth of confiscated lines. What space is not taken up by the line is filled with plastic, 50-gallon oil drums, overflowing with hooks and gacillas. Several of these barrels remain unsorted, so that will be my task for the next several days, along with a couple of other volunteers.

Several things strike me as odd about this process, and I’m not sure what to make of them. Nothing for now, since I’ve only been here for two weeks, but definitely some things I will be thinking about:

  1. Patrols have been occurring the entire time I’ve been here (14 days), but only in the last two days has anything been recovered. Is this irregular timetable normal?
  2. Why are there two whole barrels of unsorted fishing gear? As a volunteer, this is the sort of work I’d been expecting to do. Though I’m happy to act as landscaper during my time here, I feel that managing the flow of confiscated fishing equipment should be more of a priority than raking the leaves around the pavilion.

Two expand on #2 slightly. All of the confiscated material seems to just sit there. Maybe sorting the equipment does not take priority because there is no next step. Its a distinct possibility that piles just sit there, in which case, what’s the rush? But leaving all of that raw material to simply rot is a waste. I see an opportunity to recycle the plastic line (grind it into pellets, re-use it!) and the hooks and gacillas (that metal is a valuable resource).

I understand that the last thing the rangers want is for the equipment to fall back into the hands of the fisherman. Follow that train of thought, and one can imagine that sending the equipment back to the continent is pretty risky, given the corruption in the Costa Rican government. How easy it would be to just sell the hooks and gastillas right back to the fishermen for a little personal profit! No, no, better to keep it all here out of the hand of bureaucrats and fishermen alike. But the sack pile will just get bigger, and more barrels will overflow.

It’s also a possibility that the funcionarios keep all of the confiscated gear here as evidence of illegal activity. But it seems to me that a written record and photo documentation should be able to accomplish the same thing. And again, if legal action were to be taken against the fishermen, the court would want the evidence on the mainland. But based on my limited knowledge of Costa Rican law, I believe any confiscated equipment must be turned into to the courts in San Jose within 24 hours of being confiscated if it is to be used as evidence, and the pile has been sitting here for two weeks now. So legally, its useless.

But before I get too carried away, I need to know more. And since I’ll be sitting in the shop, separating fishing hooks from gastillas for the next couple of days, I will have plenty of time to get some answers.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Cocos Island: A Changing of the Guards - William Henriques

Cocos Island Sunset

After dinner, I wandered down to the beach and lay on my back looking up at the stars, up at the Milky Way, that hazy cloud of faint light, the swirling centerpiece of the night sky. No light pollution - just an unadulterated, starry sky. The chirp of the crickets was incessant, and the swell had died down, waves washing up on shore with the faintest rush of air. What a contrast to last night, rain pounding steadily down, drumming the corrugated metal roof outside my window as I drifted off to sleep.

But that’s not unexpected. Such changes in the weather occur on a daily - even hourly - basis; it rained steadily for a half hour at lunch today. Change - as the hackneyed phrase goes - is the only constant. That holds true for the cycle of residents here on the island as well as the weather. Of the 20 people staying at Wafer Bay when I arrived, only four of those people remain. None of the rangers that were here when I arrived on the island thirteen days ago are here now. Their thirty-day shift has finished, and they’ve all left for their thirty days of leave on “The Continent”; Esteban and Moises were the last of the “original” funconarios to go. But new faces have arrived to take their place. It’s just another changing of the guard, and such is life on the island.

And yet, there’s also a magnificent permanence about this place. Kayaking in Wafer Bay this afternoon after the day’s work was done, I could feel it. The south-western shore of the bay was silhouetted against a golden haze of low-angle, evening sunlight, and the north-eastern shore was bathed in it. Blue-footed and brown boobies soared over the bay, flapping in and out of their comically small nests of leaves perched precariously on thin branches overhanging the water. Waves rhythmically pounded the glistening black rock where crabs scurried up and down. And beyond the bank of clouds sitting low in the western sky, the Pacific stretched on, wonderfully interminable, unfathomable, and mysterious. This same Wafer Bay has been here for hundreds, thousands of years. An eternity, on a human scale.

In today’s world of minutes and seconds, where change is more of a constant than ever before, I am relieved and comforted by the sort of changelessness that Cocos Island represents and embodies. And yet, I am disquieted when I think about the impact of poaching (two more extensive lines hauled in during this morning’s patrol) and other sorts of changes happening today, in particular climatic ones. How will they affect this permanence which I turn to as a source of solace, a refuge? How do they affect it?

And once I know the answers to those questions, I can answer this one: What can I do to protect and preserve this place?

Cocos Update ~ What lies beneath?

Reported to Nicole by Georgienne ~

"One of the most interesting aspects of this expedition is the fact that the underwater ecosystem seems to be constantly changing. Tiger sharks are being spotted somewhat consistently. This is the first time these sharks have been seen in many years. What is bringing these sharks to the island? Temperature changes? Ecosystem shift? Longline bait from orphan fishing lines providing an easy meal? These large, reportedly aggressive sharks seem to be frequenting the Cocos Islets at night hunting the white tip shark populations that congregate there."

Please feel free to weigh in and leave any questions or comments you have here!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Cocos Island: Patrol - William Henriques

At 8:30, Guillermo, a park funcionario, Frank, Alonzo (two other volunteers), and I walked across the tidal flats to the small launch beached at the water’s edge by the low tide. After hauling it off the sand and into the surf, we motored out to the smaller of the two boats marked “Cocos Island”. Around 20 feet long, with a wheel house big enough for maybe three people maximum, and a three-step ladder down into a two-bunk cabin in the bow, complete with microwave, sink, and head (toilet) - it seemed ridiculous to patrol the waters of the mighty Pacific in such a boat. But the [much] larger patrol boat is currently without the proper registration papers, which are being processed in the bureaucracy of the Costa Rican government. So the rangers make do with this one.

After an oil addition, the engine roared to life, and we began the day’s patrol chugging out around the western head of the bay, heading south-west about a mile off the island’s coast. After passing the Dos Amigos, two prominent rock islets, we continued on our south-west course, veering south slightly, moving away from the island.

After about an hour on patrol, I spotted something some 50 yards to the starboard side of the patrol boat. Four buoys, painted gray, bobbing up and down among the waves. It took several pairs of eyes to confirm that the buoys were in fact there, for they blend in with the water, especially on a gray, rainy days like this one. The fishermen do this intentionally, to avoid detection of their lines.

Only when we had slowed to examine the bobbing objects to the starboard did we realize that we had in fact run over a line stretching several hundred yards along an east-west axis, not more than two miles from the island. Note that the Area de Conservacion Marina Isla Del Coco extends 12 miles out in all directions from Cocos Island. The line was well within the protected area - a gross violation. Hauled in hundreds of yards of line. A dozen buoys, painted a camouflage gray over there natural white and yellow. 44 hooks in total. Two Galapagos sharks and one ray ensnared. Dead.

Once the line was out of the water, and the hooks and buoys had been cut away, we set a southeast course. Around noon, something showed up on the radar that looked like a fishing boat, so we set a course for the red blip, and in the meantime, made ourselves ham and cheese sandwiches. By 1 pm, the boat was in sight. Out of Puntarenas, it was anchored in the rolling swells some nine miles from the island, and appeared abandoned at first pass. Guillermo radioed for the captain, and after several tries, a head emerged in the fishing boats wheelhouse. “Registration number, fishing license number, name and age of everyone on board” (All in Spanish). “You are aware that you are in Marine Protection Area? I’m going to have to ask you to leave”. And that was it. The fishing boat hauled up its anchor and set off into the haze of rain, and we turned back towards Wafer Bay, with all the incriminating evidence necessary to pursue justice for this violator of Costa Rica’s conservation laws.

Only there’s a catch. This criminal boat will not be brought to justice. There’s no reason to believe that the fisherman won’t be back next week or next month. No fine will be imposed. No license will be suspended. No equipment will be confiscated. Though I don’t fully comprehend the system yet, this is what I do know, passed on to me by rangers and other volunteers: no matter how many “tickets” the rangers write, the fisherman will never be required to pay the fine. The park staff has the power to confiscate boats, and equipment from fisherman found within the protected area; but, they must deliver the confiscated goods to San Jose within 24 hours of the violation if they wish to impose a sentence. It’s 36 hours by boat to the Costa Rican mainland, and another two hours at least from Puntarenas to San Jose. The laws are outdated, and are made by fishermen and the friends of fishermen, according to one ranger here. The system is deeply flawed, but the park rangers don’t carry enough weight in the Costa Rican government to change it.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Cocos Island: First Dive - Manuelita (Deep) - William Henriques

Photo credit: Avi Klapfer 
courtesy of The Undersea Hunter Group

I’m still reeling from my first dive at Cocos Island. Until yesterday, I had planned to take Sunday to hike to the peak of the island, Cerro Iglesias, but when Esteban, the park’s Acting Director, asked if I wanted to dive on Sunday, there was really no choice to be made. Which activity would your prefer? Diving, obviously.

Under textured gray skies, we took the park’s rubber launch out to Sea Hunter, anchored in the not-so-calm of Wafer Bay, where we picked up Jay Ireland and Georgienne Bradley (Sea Save’s own), who were to accompany us on this dive. Our destination: Manuelita, the largest of the satellite islets surrounding the island. Our dive site was on the western side of the islet, and is the deeper of the two dive sites around Manuelita.

Amidst the six to eight foot swells and the noise of water crashing against the rock in a spray of white foam, we strapped on our weight belts, double checked the quantity of air in the tanks before donning our dive vests, flippers and masks, and then before I could think twice about it, we had flipped over the side of the boat and were plunging down, down, down. 15 m. 20 m. 25 m. At 33 m. (110 ft) below the surface, we stopped. At this depth, the steep, rocky shelf of Manuelita meets with the sandy, downward-sloping plain of the ocean-bottom that disappears into a deep blue gloom. In between the rasp of inhaled air, and the stream of bubbles that comes with the exhale, there was an incredible calm, a profound stillness. Not silence, exactly. I could still hear the faint, distorted sounds of the sea. But what a contrast to the roiling surface 110 feet overhead! The feeling of calm penetrated deep into my mind and muscles. My body relaxed, breathing came easier.

In this peaceful state on the ocean-bottom, all traces of fear and tension were gone, and my mind was open to the wonders around me. When the first hammerhead shark appeared out of the gloom, it was not fear that paralyzed me, but wonder - giddy, innocent, child-like wonder. I was amazed by its bizarre, other-worldly, and beautiful shape. I was struck dumb by the powerful, elastic undulation with which it propelled itself. And then more came. Dozens of hammerheads, hazy shapes in the gloom, then closer and clearer, then silhouettes swimming overhead. Languidly drifting along now, then darting quickly to the right to nab some small, unseen fish. I’ve never seen anything like it.

As we slowly made our way along the shelf of Manuelita, away from the hammerheads, we saw rays, trumpet fish, urchins, white tip reef sharks, and myriads of fish for which I don’t know the name. But I could spent hours documenting the dozens of species. It was indescribable. Incredible.

The problem with diving is that the return to the surface is inevitable. It was with regret, and a pang of jealousy for those species lucky enough to dwell beneath the surface of the water, that I surfaced and climbed back into the boat. As we motored through the surf back to the Wafer Bay Station, I sat in silent awe of this place, of Cocos Island, and then this David Attenborough quote from my highschool environmental science teacher popped into my head:

“It seems to me that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty; the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living.” - David Attenborough

And then the words of a good friend came to my mind, uttered after a near lightning strike and a mad dash for cover in a thunderstorm:

“God, what a great planet”

I couldn’t agree more.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Day in the Life - Wafer Bay Ranger Station, Cocos Island - by William Henriques

It’s the tail end of my tenth day in paradise, and I’m sitting in my six-bed, one-room, eight-by-twelve apartment in the Casa des Voluntarios, the sole occupant of this particular room, contemplating this blog. I’ve been asked to document my time here on the island with daily updates to Sea Save Foundation’s blog, but I’m not much of a blogging expert. I’ve never followed a blog, never commented on one outside of an English class, and certainly never been a contributor to one over an extended period of time. I’m in uncharted waters, as a sailor might say; or, in other words, it truly is my first time around this particular block. The reality of keeping a blog for 36 straight days sank in over my evening meal of rice and beans, but I’ve steeled myself, and I think I’m prepared to tackle this thing. I’ll do my best to keep any and all reading this entertained and well-informed. 

It’s only 9 pm, early by my standard, but I’m beat, absolutely ready to hit the hay. Ben Franklin would be proud. Here on Cocos Island, we embody his oft-quoted words of wisdom, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” Our days on the island begin with breakfast at 6:30 - rice, beans, and fresh fruit is the standard fare, with an accompanying cup of strong, Costa Rican coffee. By 7:30, the 15-20 people in residence at the Wafer Bay Ranger Station have gathered at the beach-side pavilion for a morning meeting. There are currently five funcionaires, six volunteers, a cook, two graduate students doing research, and three funcionaires from other Costa Rican national parks, here to see how this one works. Esteban, the head ranger here presently, outlines the day to the congregation, then we split into small groups to tackle the morning’s work.

This week, I’ve been working with Guillermo Hernandez, another volunteer from the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Our task: landscaping and maintenance work around the station. We’ve raked the grounds clean of leaves, hacked up old palm stumps, and cleared the paths of fallen coconuts. We re-organized the scrap-shed, burned everything too small to use, and salvaged several old tools from the cobwebs of the shed’s back corner. Our prize find from this particular operation: A McCloud head, for which Guillermo found an elegant handle from a broken axe in another back corner.

Those of us around the station re-convene at noon for a glass of fresh juice and lunch, the backbone of which is rice and beans. The TV in the salon is usually on, playing the day’s news from the continent. The overhead fans whir, stirring the heavy, humid air ever so slightly, and conversation is slow and muted, no one wishing to disturb the peace of a midday break. But by 1 pm, everyone is hard at work again, until 4:30 pm or so, when there’s time for a brief period of relaxation and a shower before dinner - rice and beans - at 5:30 pm. After dinner, the salon slowly empties out, and by 8:00 pm, there’s not a soul around. The days work catches up with me quickly. One moment I’m full of the after dinner spunk and pep, ready to break out the books and brush up on all the new Spanish vocabulary I learned during the day, and the next moment, the fatigue has settled in to my muscles, my feet drag, and my eyelids are injected with the weight of anticipated sleep. Bed calls, and by 9:30 pm I’m fast asleep.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Cocos Island Intern - Making the World a Better Place - by William Henriques

After completing all my university applications, I toyed with the idea of taking a year off from my traditional studies. I wanted to continue to grow, but outside the academic setting. I sent out a number of e-mails searching for options and invitations, and when I learned about Cocos Island, I was intrigued. An island 300 miles from any landmass, a historic pirate hideaway, with world-class diving  and a unique biological niche: it sounded like a tropical paradise. As an avid biology student, I was excited at the thought of working in such a unique habitat. I imagined diving aquamarine waters surrounding the islands, hiking through the steamy rainforest, collecting data on the various species, monitoring the health of the ecosystem as a whole, and I was sold. I filed the paperwork, was accepted as a volunteer, bought the plane ticket, and began preparing for six weeks on one of the most remote places on earth.  After a flight to San Jose, a drive to Punterenas, and 36 hours aboard the Undersea Hunter (where, as a park volunteer, I was asked to not "bother" the paying guests.) I arrived at Isla de Cocos.

As it turns out, I'm not diving the reefs or trekking over the island's steep terrain, and there is none of my imagined data collection and ecosystem health monitoring. As a volunteer, my duties are much more quotidian. I've painted the shop floor, cleaned out a storage shed, helped the cooks in the kitchen, and done a good deal of landscaping work with a rake and machete. These tasks don't require much in the way of thinking, and I've had plenty of time to reflect, build relationships with the funcionaires and other volunteers, and learn Spanish, poco á poco, as they say. The things that seemed all-encompassing to me in high school year have been put in perspective; all my college and career worries have simply melted away here on the island.

In Costa Rica, they have an expression, Pura Vida!, that used in any way possible. It's meaning - directly translated - is Pure Life. But it means life's good, no complaints, couldn't be happier - like the Lion King's infamous Hakuna Matata.  I've basked in the word, absorbed the Pura Vida! lifestyle like a sponge. It pervades the Cocos atmosphere. My companions here on the island are hard-working, jovial, and good-natured. And despite their busy days, they always have time to lend each other a hand, to tell a story or joke, or quiz me on my Spanish.

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 a role to fulfill in that ecological niche. One of the rangers I work with, Guillermo, epitomizes what I'm talking about. When I first arrived, everyone told me that if I wanted to know more about the island, I should ask Guillermo, he knows more about the island than anyone. So I asked him questions in broken Spanish, talked with him about the island's history and ecology, and I watched him work. I've watched him care for the island, watched him move through the space with respect and intention. He's the quintessential steward, a keystone in the Cocos Island ecosystem around the station, maintaining a balance in the interactions between the human and natural world here in Wafer Bay.

Guillermo has found his niche, has committed himself to the stewardship of Cocos Island. But what I'm getting at, what I've discovered while I'm here, is this: I've got to find my own niche. We all have to find our own niches, to immerse ourselves in them, to care for them. As important as an education, a career, and success might seem, what is more important is the land on which we live. We need to act as stewards of the land, to facilitate, rather than impede, the growth and development of the ecosystem of which we are a part. I'm convinced that if everyone did so, the world would be a healthier place, a better place.

William Henriques
United States Citizen
Age - 18 years
Cocos Island Volunteer
Sea Save Foundation

William will be joining the Sea Save team as our newest intern and will be reporting from Cocos Island though the beginning of November

Shortage of funding and materials make it important to be creative here at Cocos Island.

This is a tool being created by Sea Save Foundation Jay Ireland , on Cocos Island. Shortage of funding and materials make it important to be creative. This will help with the future collection of fishing line around the island!

Park guards need to patrol the waters around Cocos Island.  This is a Costa Rica National Park and a World Heritage Site, nonetheless it is under siege and there are typically 10 - 20 fishing boats with miles and miles of fishing line cruising for one of the only remaining shark sanctuaries every night.

We have been trying to "fix" the system and help Cocos for the last 20 years.  We are now taking matters into our own hands.  We are working with the park guards, analyzing their needs. 

Cocos Island Trip Report - September 8 - 20 by Georgienne Bradley

Mostly cloudy at the beginning of the week, but then the sun came out and we had beautiful weather for the majority of the trip.

Hammerheads stole the show this week, but we had fantastic Galapagos shark sightings at Punta Maria, Manuelita Channel, and Dirty Rock.

Two Tiger Sharks were spotted in Manuelita Outside, which combined with the huge school of Hammerhead, made the dive one of the best on this trip.

We also saw Silky shark at Dirty Rock and Alcyone .

The big schools of Hundreds of Hammerheads were seen at Punta Maria, Alcyone, and Dirty Rock.

As always the Sea Hunter crew was fantastic present the perfect balance of professionalism and attentiveness to passenger needs.  The guest list was perfect.  Everyone who joined us on this trip was upbeat and will remain great friends!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Cocos Island Park Guards and volunteers came to the rescue of some more sea turtles today.

Sea turtle entangled by illegal fishing line is lifted by Cocos Island Park Guard from the water. Entangled fishing line can be seen in the water.

Turtle is found to be emaciated. Unable to swim easily, or dive for food. The animal has lost over 50% of its body weight. Park guards work to remove net from the animal.

Cocos Island Park Guards and volunteers continue to save marine life such as turtles and sharks being caught in illegal poachers fishing line around Cocos Island. 

Dedicated Passion

Photo credit: Georgienne Bradley
This self illustrated tatoo is a work in progress. Using his back as his screen, this Cocos Island park guard continues to add key features and inhabitants to his Cocos Island body mural. Tiger sharks, hammerheads, Manuelita, booby birds and a pirate ship are dominant elements of this body art!

Reflections from Cocos Island National Park Guard Esteban Herrera Herrera

Wake up, open your eyes and know that you are in a special place.  You are more than  more than 500 miles from the nearest road.  Here you are protected from the issues on the nightly news and your only concern is to complete your work and to navigate through the challenges of the day until once again you reconvene with co-workers at dinner.  

We are tired after a day of heavy rain, of arduous patrols on steep hills, but we are satisfied and happy that we are protecting our home.

While patrolling the island, I sit on a boat and watch the sharks swim and schools of fish quiet swim alongside.  I am gazing into a completely different world, with other sounds, it evokes deep feelings and I feel privileged. I think of my family so far away, but also know I am always among family when I'm here.

In the afternoon I walk through majestic trees, mossy, and I feel the humidity.  I inhale deeply and feel the purity of isolation; I put my feet where few people have been before.  The pristine waterfall crashes and the birds greet us.

I am absolutely certain that this island is alive. She breathes, and becomes more beautiful everyday.

Today is just another day. We have many wonders to protect and this great responsibility rests on the shoulders of a few. I am proud to say I work here, I am proud to say my heart resides here and I am proud to say I am a ranger of Cocos Island National Park. 

Despertar, abrir los ojos y saber que eres uno de los pocos en un lugar a más de 500 kilómetros de la carretera más cercana, para que ver el noticiero si lo importante está aquí y la única preocupación es cumplir el trabajo y esperar reunirnos a la cena todos a salvo de los peligros del día, cansados, tras de un día de fuertes lluvias, de un mar incesante y poderoso que merece respeto o tras largas caminatas por empinados cerros, no parece un trabajo, es más una familia manteniendo su casa lo mejor posible, no es solo nuestra por eso se debe cuidar, quienes nos visitan , dueños también, deben quedar satisfechos con nuestro quehacer.
Otro día más, sentado en un bote observando los tiburones nadando tranquilos junto cardúmenes de peces, parece un imposible ver esto desde la superficie, dar la espalda al mar una exhalación y dejarse ir a un mundo totalmente diferente, con otro sonido, adentrarse en las profundidades sintiéndose privilegiado de poder echar un vistazo al pasado un día cualquiera, así eran los mares hace tantos años, pero yo lo veo hoy, lo disfruto y pienso en tantas personas que desconocen de este lugar aun siendo dueños del mismo. Pienso en mi familia tan lejana, pero recuerdo que siempre me encuentro entre familia cuando estoy aquí.
Y en la tarde caminando entre arboles majestuosos, llenos de musgo, sintiendo la humedad, inhalando fuerte la pureza del aislamiento, poniendo lo pies donde pocas personas los han puesto, tomando agua en nacientes sin nombre, viendo cataratas tal vez nunca vistas, con los pájaros saludando cerca nuestro, escuchando el mar cuando nos acercamos a los acantilados que bañan de agua dulce la inmensidad del Pacifico, tal vez parece irreal, que este pequeño punto tan lejano este tan lleno de vida, tengo la total seguridad que esta Isla está viva, respira, su sangre fluye y todo lo bueno e impresionante se vuelve cotidiano en la Isla más bella del mundo. Es solo un día más, muchas maravillas que proteger mucha responsabilidad sobre pocos, pero todos orgullosos de poder decir yo trabajo aquí, aquí está mi corazón y cuando la dañan me dañan a mí, soy guardaparques y trabajo en el Parque Nacional Isla del Coco.

Esteban Herrera Herrera
Parque Nacional Isla del Coco

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cocos Island - Pulling Back the Veil

Dear Cocos Supporters,

Cocos Island presents us with a paradox. We love the fact that it has been spared development and that the landscape remains pristine. The same isolation that has protected Cocos Island also makes it very difficult to protect her from poaching.

Park guards and other volunteers have been criticized for not keeping the poachers at bay. Sea Save Foundation members are privileged to have been given the opportunity to live and work with the Cocos Island park family once again. We are reporting on the beauty of the island and the challenges facing her.

If you are interested in seeing what goes on behind the scenes, please check in on our blog over the next few days and please be sure to share it with your friends!

Georgienne Bradley
Sea Save Foundation
Reporting from Cocos Island - World Heritage Site

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Holy Spirit Tern

Cocos Island has a soul.  The spirituality of this World Heritage site pours from her waterfalls, sings in her forest and resounds in the vistas found surrounding the pristine island.

The symbolic holy spirit tern is just one of many magic animals you will find on the island.  This delicate white bird will fly to you and unafraid, flutter inches above your head.  Spectacular.  Please share the following experience we captured on an iphone on the second day of our 2011 stay on Cocos Island.

"The White Tern (Gygis alba) is a small seabird ound across the tropical oceans of the world. It is sometimes known as the Fairy Tern and a Holy Spirit Tern for its practice of fluttering above the heads of hikers. Other names for the species include Angel Tern and White Noddy.  The White Tern has 3-4 subspecies: the nominate race G. a. alba, G. a. leucopes, the Pacific White Tern (G. a. candida).  The White Tern is a small, all white tern with a long black bill, related to the noddies. It ranges widely across the Pacific and Indian Oceans, and also nests in some Atlantic islands. It nests on coral islands, usually on trees with thin branches but also on rocky ledges and on man-made structures. The White Tern feeds on small fish which it catches by plunge diving.
This small tern is famous for laying its egg on bare thin branches in a small fork or depression without a nest.  It is thought that the reason for the absence of nests is the reduction in nest parasites  which in some colonial seabirds can cause the abandonment of an entire colony. In spite of these benefits there are costs associated with tree nesting, as the eggs and chicks are vulnerable to becoming dislodged by heavy winds. For this reason the White Tern is also quick to relay should they lose the egg. The newly hatched chicks have well developed feet to hang on to their precarious nesting site with. It is a long-lived bird, having been recorded living for 17 years."

Courtesy Wikipedia

Cocos Island Essay

Multiple countries around the world have monument that represent their glory; France with the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triumph, Egypt has its pyramids and Sphinx, the United States is represented by the Statue of Liberty, China with its Great Wall. These countries have large constructs that attract the eye of the world.

But something that most Costa Rica, do not know that we have a natural monument of international import. Our country is represented by a remote island, full of life

Yet it is Costa Rican fishermen who threaten the beauty of this island.  These fisherman poach this protected monument so they can send their harvest that will end in a dish in an Asian country for them to enjoy and as a result we will loose our treasure.

Cocos Island embodies what many presidents have showcased as a Costa Rica treasure at many conferences. They say that we are a conservationist, democracy and we have no army.  But, what is not said is that we do not have adequate laws or resources to protect our treasure.  Other countries who do have military, can use their helicopters, warships, planes and weapons to protect their natural resources.

What good are our protected areas is we do not have the infrastructure and the means to keep them secure? Despite this, we work diligently to protect this natural monument and World Heritage Site, and to keep alive the dream of ​​former President Rodrigo Carazo to protect this unparallel place.

Moisés Gómez V.
Coco Island National Park

Varios países al rededor del mundo tienen un monumento que los representa, Francia con la Torre Eiffel y el arco del triunfo, Egipto con sus Pirámides y la esfinge, Estados Unidos con la estatua de la libertad y el Golden Gate, Dubai con impresionantes Hoteles y Malls, China con su gran Muralla y muchos mas por mencionar, que han tenido que hacer grandes edificaciones para atraer la vista del mundo. Sin embargo algo que la mayoría de ticos y su Gobierno que es el principal propulsor de que se conozca esto, no saben que tenemos un monumento natural de importancia internacional, que nos representa con una Isla llena de vida, no hecha por el hombre si no para los hombres para que disfruten de su belleza. Y a pesar de esto son los mismos pescadores costarricenses que insisten en llevarse gran parte de la belleza de esta Isla para que termine en un plato en un país Asiático para que ellos vivan mejor y nosotros tengamos menos, pero las Leyes de este país se los permite por que no se han dado cuenta del Tesoro que poseemos y que es la mejor publicidad que tenemos en el mundo y refleja lo que realmente han hablado tantos expresidentes en diferentes conferencias, diciendo que somos un país conservacionista, democrático y sin ejercito, pero como es que un país que predica no tener ejercito y protege el medio ambiente no tiene recursos para un barco adecuado para patrullar y proteger nuestro tesoro, mientras que otros países que si tienen ejercito, tienen helicópteros, barcos de guerra, aviones y armas y lo pueden mantener. Se crean más Áreas protegidas pero no dan recursos para protegerlos. A pesar de esto y todas las complicaciones, trabajamos para proteger este Monumento Natural y Patrimonio de la Humanidad, para que prevalezca viva la idea del Expresidente Rodrigo Carazo con su idea de protegerla declarándola

Moisés Gómez V.
Parque Nacional Isla del Coco

Cocos Island 2011 - Arrival

I moved into the park guard station on Cocos Island, Costa Rica yesterday night.  My room is sparse and my roommates were a battalion of mosquitoes and several spiders the size of my palm.

One insisted on perching on the leg of my bed.  This made me nervous and I tried to encourage him to move to the floor.  He disagreed and was more stubborn than myself.  I finally admitted defeat and in the AM found him in the same position.  He later disappeared... as all the spiders do during the light of day..  I am hoping to beg or borrow a mosquito net today and have a sounder quality of sleep tomorrow.

Mosquitoes and spiders to the side, this island is magnifico!  It is the crown jewel in the Costa Rica National Park network and is one of the final places we find healthy numbers of large marine animals on earth today.  It is the largest uninhabited island in the world (while I am staying here now... there are no permanent residents, only short term caretakers who rotate in and out)
With over 300 waterfalls visible as you circumnavigate the island and with, steep, lush, emerald walls that plummet hundreds of feet into crashing waves, the vista appears to be a Tolkien concoction of Middle Earth with Elfinkind fairies not far away. White Holy Spirit Terns air dance and brown and red-footed boobies dive into the sea as they hunt for unsuspecting fish.

Visiting Cocos Island on the heels of realizing the AB 376 success (California anti-finning bill) has special meaning. The surrounding waters boast huge schools of scalloped hammerheads, white-tip sharks by the hundreds, fat-and-happy Galapagos and Silky sharks, dolphin, turtles and myriad other animals.  Also in large numbers are the poaching vessels that dot the horizon... Some blatantly casting their lines only a mile from the ranger station.  We need to pull international attention to this problem.