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Saturday, September 30, 2023

A Marine Conservation & Education Center opens in Costa Rica

Last November The Tico Times first reported on the growing initiative to establish a marine protected area (MPA) surrounding the Osa Peninsula.

Since that time a young upstart marine conservation and education group called Innoceana has emerged as a new champion for the establishment of an MPA in the coastal waters from Parque Ballena to Cano Island and the Terraba Sierpe National Wetlands to Corcovado. 

In early December, the world renowned ocean conservationist Sylvia Earle of Mission Blue designated a new Hope Spot off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica in the waters surrounding the Osa Peninsula.

As a result, Yulian Cordero Sanchez, Carlos Mallo Molina and Laura Vanopdenbosch of Innoceana are now designated “Hope Spot Champions” for Mission Blue calls the “Biological Marine Corridor of Osa Hope Spot” and are working from their newly established Marine Conservation & Education Center (MCEC) in Ojochal on the Costa Ballena to facilitate the establishment of an MPA and advance ocean conservation and science in the region. 

The group’s founder and CEO, Spanish born Molina, approached Mission Blue in 2018 to petition the group to designate this immensely biodiverse ocean/coastal region a Hope Spot. His hope was that one day the Costa Rica government would act to formally establish a marine reserve in an area the likes of Jacques Cousteau and National Geographic helped identify as a global biodiversity ‘hot spot,’—one of the richest in the world. 

“Most people don’t understand the value here,” says Molina. The result he explains is coral destruction, ocean trash, and agrochemicals wreaking havoc on the delicate coastal ecosystems along Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. 

While approximately 12 percent of the land area is conserved or protected less than six percent of the ocean is protected in any way. The Hope Spot designation is intended to bring attention to the value of thriving ocean ecosystems and the threats facecd from over-fishing, plastics trash, terrestrial erosion and agrochemical runoff.

As Molina sees it, conservation itself, funded by philanthropy alone is not economically sustainable. “We need to find a way to create a circular economy,” he says, “This is one of the ways to solve this.” 

Innoceana is not the first to take on the challenge of lobbying government officials and regional stakeholders to find support for an MPA.  The late Mario Boza who with Alvaro Ugalde created the National Park Systems in 1969 led a group of marine conservationists from 2016 through 2020. During this time the ad-hoc group submitted a well-justified plan to Congress in 2016 and secured the endorsement of then Minister of the Environment (MINAE), Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, in 2019.  

With the passing of the renowned Boza in October of last year, a group called “Frente para las Áreas Protegidas de Costa Rica” led by Jorge Serendero, CEO of For the Oceans Foundation has sought allies to support the establishment of an Osa Marine Reserve in Boza’s honor, adding his name to what was originally proposed to Congress in 2017, as the Alvaro Ugalde Marine Reserve. Molina and the Innoceana team share this aspiration and are bringing new energy and financial support to this growing and evolving initiative for an Osa Marine Reserve. 

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