Costa Rica’s Cocos Island, known as the “most beautiful” island in the world, served as as dramatic illustration for actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio’s call for greater protection of the oceans and marine life Tuesday, during a speech at the Our Oceans conference in Washington, D.C.
DiCaprio, an avid diver, has swam in some of the world’s best known dive spots, including the Great Barrier Reef and the Galapagos Islands. The “Titanic” star said that diving has allowed him to see firsthand the challenges facing marine wildlife and habitat:
“And just last year, I got to visit Cocos Island, a national park off the shores of Costa Rica, where I had the opportunity to swim with 15 different species of shark – white tips, tiger sharks, and hammerheads – in one of the world’s largest natural shark sanctuaries, and I came out unscathed. … Recently on the Cocos Island dive, we stayed inside a marine-protected area where it was technically illegal to hunt sharks or other marine life within 10 miles of the sanctuary, but every night we hopelessly watched illegal fishing vessels invade the waters just one mile offshore.”
DiCaprio highlighted the lack of enforcement in protected areas around the world, including his experience in Cocos Island, in his remarks.
“Unfortunately today, there’s no proper law enforcement capacity and little accountability for violating the law. It’s the Wild West on the high seas,” the Hollywood activist said.
Illegal fishing at Cocos Island, especially of sharks, remains a pressing issue in Costa Rica, as The Tico Times has previously reported.
Before leaving office, former President Laura Chinchilla (2010-2014) signed a decree in April dedicating resources for the Costa Rican Coast Guard to patrol the 3,700 square-mile Underwater Mountain Marine Management Area that encompasses the park and surrounding seas. Costa Rica recently completed a radar station on the remote national park with financial assistance from the U.S. State Department that authorities hope will help deter and catch illegal fishermen in the protected waters.
DiCaprio pledged that his eponymous foundation would donate $7 million to ocean conservation projects during the next two years. Word of the contribution came on the heels of an earlier announcement that the actor’s charity would donate $3 million to the organization Oceana in support of its efforts to protect sharks, marine mammals and ocean habitat in the Eastern Pacific.
President Barack Obama announced a proposal Tuesday at the event that would create be the world’s largest marine sanctuary, doubling the area of ocean globally that is fully protected.
Watch Leo’s full speech here: