Turtle Tracks and Long Lines

Posted by Allan Bolaños Quirós

PRETOMA works with turtles. Four years ago, we started tagging turtles at Cocos and the tiny islands nearby to see if they stayed around or just passed by. We found out that, most of the time, they stay around the island—they’re residents here.

One thing that worries PRETOMA is that the tuna fishery is also catching turtles, sharks, and so many different species. So we’re trying to help protect this area and to show people how important it is for marine wildlife. We need to know more; we don’t know everything—we’re still learning.

How many turtles has PRETOMA tagged and why?

Right now, we’re tracking 12 turtles. It’s something new: We began with sharks, but we’ve seen that Cocos Island has a large sea turtle population, so we’re interested in following this population along with the sharks that we’re monitoring.

Have you seen anything during this expedition that surprised you, or that you’d like to follow up on?

Yes. The videographers filmed sea turtles mating. I’ve seen this outside in the open sea, but I didn’t think they did this here near the island. It’ll be helpful to find out if they lay eggs on the two beaches here at Cocos. We’re tagging them with additional markers to give us more information about this. It’s something I only just learned of from the videos being made here now—we wouldn’t know if it weren’t for this expedition.

You work closely with a number of fishermen working the waters just outside the park. Have they seen changes in their catch in recent years?

Yes. They know there is a big problem. They know there’s overfishing. You don’t need to be an expert to know that the population of fish is declining. Every day, it’s less and less and less. And that’s why there’s so much pressure on the island’s protected waters. It’s the only place where fish can reproduce and keep the rest of the population, you might say, half-healthy.

The pressure on the island’s marine life populations now is tremendously high because outside there’s almost nothing. There are too many boats with a thousand hooks, with a hundred lines, miles of lines outside pushing their way in. It’s a fight between some fishermen and coast guard and park rangers trying to protect the park and the future of the fishery. So yes, overfishing makes a difference here, and the fishermen know it makes a difference. But they need to keep alive, they have bosses, and they need money to keep living. So the push to fish both inside and outside the park keeps growing and growing.

Who fishes here?

You can see big tuna boats from Taiwan and lots of other countries. Costa Ricans are also coming out to fish the waters, but there are many other countries fishing here now.

Have you seen any encouraging changes in the park or the fishery?

I think the sort of work we’re doing now, that shows people in Costa Rica and in other countries what’s going on, can only help. I bet most people don’t even know what’s really happening in the open sea. The kind of programs and videos we’re making now will show people the reality of what’s going on in the ocean, things they need to know.

My hope is that people will see this and learn that we are in trouble, that the sea is in trouble. People can make a difference, make better choices, but only if they see what’s going on.

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