Thursday, October 4, 2012

Fairy Tales

Fairy Tales

Everyone is familiar with the popular animated Disney movies such as Aladdin, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White and throughout these movies there is always a common theme; that the majority of little girls are captivated by being a fairy tale princess. However, I secretly have to admit that I was not so interested in the “princess” part, but rather in the fact that these characters had a special connection with animals. I mean, how cool is it that Snow White could sit in the middle of a forest and miraculously animals of all shapes and sizes come out of the woods to be with her? How Princess Jasmin has a tiger that can understand her thoughts and emotions? Or how Cinderella has birds that helped her get dressed? I have found myself on numerous occasions, thinking I wish I could beckon animals with a song or befriend wild animals like in the fairy tales (which is probably why when I was a little girl, I dressed up in a Princess Jasmine costume to show my rabbit at a 4-H competition).
Now as I sit at the front of the patrol boat on Cocos Island eagerly awaiting the dolphins that sometimes come to play in the boats bubbles, I wish that I could magically translate to them that they are safe with me; that I would protect them; that I can share their world in harmony. I would want them to be my messengers to the entire undersea world and somehow teach them all about how to avoid being captured by fishing hooks. I would not mind staying on the ocean forever (even though I get seasick) if it meant I could save them, keep them company, and receive their trust.  Just enjoying their presence, grace, and friendship would be enough for me.
Unfortunately, this kind of thing only exists in fairytales! Even still, I will try to make a difference and do everything I can to protect the animals that deserve our protection; otherwise it’s possible that in the near future we might only be seeing these magnificent animals in books and fairytales.
"The world can be a terrible place, not because of the bad things that happen, but because of the good people who stand by and let them happen" [Albert Einstein].
by Jessica Robinson

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

CITES - What is it, and what do they do? Part 2/2

So, now you're a CITES professional and you know all there is to know about them, right? Maybe! 

CITES will be meeting on March 3-14, 2013 in Bangkok, Thailand for their 16th meeting, and during this meeting a variety of amendments and proposals will be discussed and voted on. One of those will be a proposal by Costa Rica, which was also co-sponsored by Programa de Restauracion de Tortugas (PRETOMA), Fundacion Marviva, Ministry of Environment and Energy of Costa Rica and a few others. In September, Costa Rica (along with the others named) brought the initial amendment to light to get Scalloped Hammerheads under Appendix III, and under that Appendix they will receive protection (in at least one country) 90 days after Sept. 25, 2012. Under Appendix III (if you remember from the first blog) any country can unilaterally place a native species in it, no voting needed.

What will happen now is that during the upcoming meeting, the proposal to get Hammerheads protected will be voted on, and if approved (a 2/3 vote is needed) Hammerhead sharks will be placed within Appendix II; which gives them a tremendous amount more protection. If approved, the export of Hammerheads would be regulated in whole, parts and derivatives. Back in 2010 the United States and Palau tried to get Hammerheads protected under Appendix II, but the 2/3 of the votes was not achieved. 

Sea Save would like to attend this upcoming meeting in March. We would like to be there and vote in favor of Hammerheads (of course, along with other animals) but, it's not that easy. Susana Navajas of Sea Save was interviewed earlier last week about this issue and about CITES and sharks. 

Here's the interview:

And, here's a photo of the interview:
Susana Navajas of Sea Save getting interviewed Via Skype.

Now, let's all ask ourselves what we can do - 'what can we do?!'
Let's make a list, shall we?

  1. Check out this blog (Enjoy!)
  2. Spread the blog; Share and make sure to comment!
It's THAT simple! So, let's get to helping to save some sharks!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Jessica Robinson - On Location Report

Name: Jessica Robinson
Age: 28
From: Colorado Springs, CO USA
Three and a half years ago, I joined the Peace Corps with the intention of “following my dream” and helping others discover theirs. I was sent to a small and isolated community in Costa Rica where I did everything from teaching English and environmental awareness to building a playground and multiuse basketball court.

When I was given the opportunity to go to Cocos Island, as a volunteer for a month I thought, “Why not?” as I knew my time as a Peace Corps volunteer would soon end and this opportunity was a once-in-a-lifetime offer.
Jessica sits atop buoys harvested from thwarted illegal fishing efforts
Little did I know about Cocos Island… its beauty, its charm, or even its struggles. As anyone who is unfamiliar with a place, I looked it up on Wikipedia and choose to be content with its information. I am going to “the most beautiful place in the world” I was telling my friends, “a protected National Park.” After arriving on the island, taking some time to enjoy its splendor, and spending a few weeks working with the park rangers, I can agree with the statement “one of the most beautiful place in the world,” however; I was completely taken by surprise to learn that this enchanting place was far from being protected. 
Cocos Island is teaching me man I anticipated and now I think, “How could I have spent the entirety of my 28 years unaware of its existence?!” To some, this might sound a bit ignorant, but I believe that I am not alone and I am not the exception. It is a shame really, as Cocos Island is magical and everyday I am surprised by its beauty. It has given me a new knowledge and perspective on life and on conservation. It has provided me with opportunities that are now repaving my future plans, as I am now considering becoming a dive master and studying marine biology and conservation. As I learn more about the island and its beautiful inhabitants below and above the sea, the more I realize the dire need to protect it. At times, we may feel small, powerless and incapable of changing the world, but...
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can
change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
~Margaret Meade

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

What is CITES?

What is CITES? We’ve all heard of it I’m sure, but not all of us completely understand what it is. To start off, CITES stands for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora which was formed in 1975. It is an international agreement between governments with the aim to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plans does not threaten their survival. Due to the fact that the trade in wild animals and plants crosses borders between countries, the effort to regulate it requires international cooperation to make sure the species are not over exploited. 
 How do they do that, you ask? Well, that’s a great question!

According to their website, “CITES works by subjecting international trade in specimens of selected species to certain controls.” Basically, all imports and exports of species covered by the convention have to be authorized through a licensing system. Each party (or country) to the convention has to designate one or more Management Authorities who will be in charge of administering the systems, and they also have to have scientific authorities to advise them on the effects of trade on the species.

Now, on their website it states that the species covered by CITES are listed in three appendices, which are according to the degree of protection they need. In Appendix I, species threatened with extinction are included and trade of these species is only permitted in exceptional circumstances. In Appendix II, species that are not necessarily threatened with extinction are listed but, trade must be controlled in order to avoid problems with their survival.

So now, I’m sure your next question would be, how do they figure which species to put in these two Appendices, right? Another excellent question!  They have a set of biological and trade criteria to help determine whether a species should be included in either Appendix I or II. So then, in each regular meeting, parties (countries) submit proposals based on the criteria stated above in order to amend the two Appendices; they are then discussed and put into a vote.
In Appendix III, species that are protected in at least one country are placed. Notice, however, that changes to Appendix III follow a different procedure from the two prior appendices. Each party (country) is entitled to make unilateral amendments to it, meaning they can make changes to it without the consent of all of the other parties (countries) but they can only do this if proper documentation has been obtained and presented. 

There are many rules and restrictions for all of the species in all of the Appendices, but as always, there are exceptions to the rules. Here are the exceptions, straight from the CITES website:
  • for specimens in transit or being transhipped [see Resolution Conf. 9.7 (Rev. CoP15)];
  • for specimens that were acquired before CITES provisions applied to them (known as pre-Convention specimens, see Resolution Conf. 13.6);
  • for specimens that are personal or household effects [see Resolution Conf. 13.7 (Rev. CoP14)];
  • for animals that were ‘bred in captivity’ [see also Resolution Conf. 10.16 (Rev.)];
  • for plants that were ‘artificially propagated’ [see also Resolution Conf. 11.11 (Rev. CoP15)];
  • for specimens that are destined for scientific research;
  • for animals or plants forming part of a travelling collection or exhibition, such as a circus [see also Resolution Conf. 12.3 (Rev. CoP15)].

The Structure of CITES

Given that these are exceptions, does not mean they go without any laws. There are special rules and regulations in those cases and a permit or certificate will usually still be required. Now you are asking yourself, what happens when a specimen is transferred to a country that is a participating party from a country that is not? Another fabulous question! When that happens, the country that is a party can accept documentation equivalent to permits and certificates. See, that was simple!

So there you have it – a quick and concise explanation of what CITES is, and what they do! Stay tuned to the next blog where I will go deeper into CITES choices on placing Hammerhead sharks on their lists. 

By Susana Navajas

Monday, September 24, 2012


Cocos Island is extreme.  The diving is extreme, the distance from the continent is extreme, the people who come here are extreme and the effort of protecting her is extreme.

Our last patrol found 19 fishing boats poaching within the protected waters.  As we approached the cluster with our small boat, they scattered.  Seven went south while another twelve headed north.  Their engines are powerful and we were left looking at the crime scene.  We spent more than 17 hours pulling in the nets, attempting to salvage the lives of some of the caught animals and clear the waters of materials that would continue killing….

I wish the world could see what we are doing here.  I wish everyone could understand that this scenario is unfortunate, but true.  This is not a single event, but happens constantly out here at Cocos Island.  Similar events are happening around the world.

Let’s do something to preserve the oceans, our oceans.  There is not enough help coming from the government.  It is painful not being able to do more, it is horrible to see how little by little the fishing line and buoys accumulate on the island, it is unfathomable to bear witness to the thousands of animals that are trapped by orphan hooks, within a supposedly protected sanctuary.

It hurts to see that man cannot live in harmony with nature by respecting the boundaries of a World Heritage Site, but living here and being part of the daily situation makes you love the island in an even deeper and inexplicable way.

By Regi Domingo

Friday, September 21, 2012

Aerial Video Showcases Cocos Island Topside Beauty

Cocos island is a very beautiful place to those who have been lucky enough to experience it, but for the ones that haven't - fret no more, you can now experience the gorgeous island from the comfort of your own computer! I had the pleasure of watching a short video edited and filmed by Ofer Ketter, whom I was also able to briefly interview about the making of the video. I must say, iI was taken aback by the gorgeous colors and aerial sights the video provided. See the video here:

New video by Ofer Ketter - Seldom Seen Topside Beauty
Being someone who still has not visited the island, this video only strengthens my wishes to go and dive there so that I may experience all of its beauty! I hope this brief article gives a small glimpse into a portion of what went into filming the island. 
To film, they used a Sony EX1R with Gates housing and a Canon DSLR camera with SeaCam housing.  All of the footage in the video was filmed, of course, at Cocos Island in Costa Rica and it was all done for recreational purposes with the intention of having the public enjoy the beauty of the island. Mr. Ketter’s history with the island started back in 2001 when he first started working as a dive master inboard M/V Undersea Hunter. 
When asked what the biggest challenges while filming, he responded “Weather, wind, current, surge, clouds, rain and visibility.” Seems like a lot of issues but in the end it all came out beautiful, as one can see from the video.
Ofer Ketter
During the filming process, they saw something that looked like a small lake “…somewhere on top of the island” and to Mr. Ketter, that was the biggest surprise he had during the filming process. If he is given the chance to film the island again, he would try different angles and lower altitudes, he said. 
I was curious as to why he used that specific music and he told me that “Cocos Island reminds me of the planet of Avatar.” Ofer Ketter is a submersible pilot for M.Y. Pacific. 
The video did such a beautiful job of catching the majesty of the island, and the music really brought it all together wonderfully for the full four minutes. If you or someone you know has not visited the island, do yourselves a favor and visit it - it will be the memory of a lifetime; I can't wait to make my memory!

By Susana Navajas

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Keeping Paradise Safe

As an official Cocos Island volunteer, one of my routine duties is to accompany rangers on patrol.  We are searching for illegal fishing vessels lurking inside the Cocos Island boundary. Most often these patrols occur the middle of the night, and on the windward side of the island where the water can be very rough.   After spotting a boat, we first make sure the vessel leaves the park waters.  Since many fishermen have already cast their lines into the water, we must act quickly to remove them from the water.

Sometimes the lines are challenging to locate, but as soon as we find them, we haul out as fast as possible to stop the process of animals being hooked, and to hopefully save any animals already on the line.  This process can be heart-wrenching as you drag out the struggling and often dead animals and it is a contradiction that this process happens against the beautiful background of the gleaming bioluminescence in the ocean that continues until it meets the clean, clear starfilled night sky.

Dolphin surround the boat and we can see the faint glimmer of the island in the distnce.  Once the net hauling is completed all is quiet and I am immersed in nature and realized that once, long ago, the entire earth was this beautiful, this pure.

I appreciate the many people who offer their lives to protect this beautiful place, this final bastion of purity, this drop of heaven.  We will continue to protect Cocos Island!

Una de las tareas de los voluntarios en la isla ,es acompañar a los guardaparques a las patrullas , donde lo que se intenta es sacar las embarcaciones de pesca ilegal  fuera de la zona de proteccion de la isla ( 12 millas ) en algunos casos nos encontramos con botes dentro de la zona y ya Han lanzado su linea de pesca en las aguas...ahi es donde empieza nuestro trabajo , sacar las lineas del agua lo mas rapido possible , para que los menos animales possibles se vean atrapados , y si es así poder rescatarlos ... hay una parte de la patrulla que es lindissima entre tanto dolor   y es que de repente te ves navegando donde la bioluminiscencia une cielo y mar , llenando todo cuanto ves como si una manta de estrellas nos rodeara, despertando con delfines jugueteando alrededor del bote , visualizando la isla desde fuera , y asi... vigilando sus aguas para que siga siendo asi de linda por mucho mas tiempo y para que no nos olvidemos de que un dia , todo el mundo fué así... Grandes guardaparques y personas que ofrecen parte de su vida a esta dedicación, doy gracias por coincidir con ellos en mi camino. Seguimos conservando la isla del coco.