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Pura vida.

In a move celebrated by conservationists, Costa Rica has expanded a marine protected area surrounding Cocos Island National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, by 1,003 nautical square miles. The new Seamounts Marine Management Area will now safeguard 2,900 nautical square miles of a largely intact ocean ecosystem that is home to endangered sharks and sea turtles.

Located 340 miles off the coast of Costa Rica in the Pacific Ocean, the waters around Cocos Island support more than 30 endemic species found nowhere else in the world. This is partially because of the unique underwater geography of the area, including a chain of underwater mountains southwest of Cocos. "Seamounts host endemic species, and the deep water that upwells along their sides brings nutrients that support the right feeding grounds for sealife on the surface," says Marco Quesada, a Costa Rican staffer for Conservation International. "Seamounts serve as stepping stones for long-distance migratory species, including sharks, turtles, whales, and tuna."

The sea around the island boasts an abundance of sharks, including the white tipped reef shark, enormous whale sharks, and scalloped hammerhead sharks.

Environmental advocates and Costa Rican officials hope the new reserve will help stem the losses of endangered leatherback turtles. The population of Costa Rican leatherbacks has declined by 40 percent in the last eight years, and by 90 percent in the past 20 years, due in part to eggs that are illegally harvested from beaches. Scalloped hammerhead sharks are also endangered; fishermen target them for their fins, which are used in shark fin soup. Both species suffer from being accidentally captured in commercial fishing operations.

A fully protected nonfishing zone will cover nearly one-fifth of the reserve. "We want to establish the legal foundations for the fishing in this zone, so that the fishermen extract with intelligence only fish of a suitable age and weight using technologies that do not impact other species," Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla Miranda said upon inaugurating the new protected area.

--ENS, 3/4

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Title Annotation:SOUTH AMERICA; Cocos Island
Publication:Earth Island Journal
Geographic Code:2COST
Date:Jun 22, 2011
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