A 36-hour boat ride from Puntarenas, nearly 600 kilometers off Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, the uninhabited Cocos Island is home to a celebrated array of marine biodiversity. Packs of hammerhead sharks, schools of dolphins and an endless variety of fish roam the deep waters around the island.
One of the most spectacular denizens in the waters within the nearly 200,000-hectare national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site is the sea turtle. Young green and hawksbill turtles spend many years of their early lives feeding in the rich waters around Cocos Island. Few people have had the opportunity to observe these endangered sea turtles in their natural habitat – at least until now.
Via the Internet, students from Colegio Los Ángeles school in San José can watch the progress of their very own adopted sea turtle as it moves through the Pacific Ocean. The school became the first educational institution in Costa Rica to adopt a Cocos Island turtle as part of the “Adopt a Satellite Sea Turtle” campaign organized by the Marine Turtle Restoration Program (Pretoma).
“We wanted to give the students of Colegio Los Ángeles the credit they deserve for helping us raise $1,400,” said Randall Arauz, president of the environmental protection organization.
Students from the school helped Pretoma raise money last year to support turtle nesting-beach conservation projects here in Costa Rica.
The adoption campaign allows corporations, schools and private donors to sponsor a satellite-tagged turtle and personally name it for $1,200. In addition, every time an adopted turtle surfaces for air, a transmitter sends information such as the turtle’s geographic position, the surrounding water temperature and the depth the animal dove, via satellite, to a personal website the sponsor can monitor daily. The monitoring period will last between two months and a year, based on the lifespan of the transmitter. All newly adopted turtles will be fitted with their transmitters during Pretoma’s next expedition to Cocos Island in September.
“The students decided to name our turtle Manuelita,” said Fabián Álvarez, a science teacher at Colegio Los Ángeles. “They really enjoyed helping out with the program, and it really piqued their interest in conservation science and biology.”
The campaign’s goal is to improve marine conservation policies in Costa Rica through scientific research. From the collected data provided by the transmitters, Arauz said, scientists can study the migratory routes of sea turtles and the dangers they face. He said Pretoma’s goal is to be able to purchase 30 tags for its September trip to Cocos Island. So far, Pretoma has tagged nine turtles.
“Important turtle nesting beaches on the Pacific coast have protection already,” Arauz said. “However, once they leave these coastal waters, it gets a lot more dangerous for them.”
Arauz said Cocos Island is where many of these turtles congregate and live as adolescents. He said the Chinchilla administration’s recent decision to expand the protected area around the island with the new Seamounts Marine Management Area (TT, March 18) was a step in the right direction; however, more protection is needed in both Costa Rican and regional waters.
“We are going little by little,” Arauz said. “We are getting close to 1 percent; our goal is to eventually establish 10 percent of Costa Rican waters as protected.”
Arauz said many Latin American countries have already gotten involved in a diplomatic initiative to protect marine biodiversity. Established in 2004, the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape project protects regional waters in Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and Costa Rica. However, the problem is that it is hard to translate diplomacy into action, Arauz said.
“We are trying to provide the scientific data needed to convince both governments and communities to take action,” he said.
In order to raise public awareness, Arauz said he hopes to get several schools involved in a sea turtle competition.
“We want to have five or so schools with [adopted] turtles so they can compete against each other to see whose turtle goes out farther, deeper, etc.,” he said.
For more information on the “Adopt a Satellite Sea Turtle” campaign, contact Pretoma at 2241-5227 or visit www.pretoma.org.