Supported by Rolex, an ocean conservation organisation protects Costa Rican seas

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  • Sunday, 23 Jan 2022

Humpback whales migrate to the warm waters around the Osa Peninsula to breed. Photo: Rolex

Humpback whales and other ocean giants may soon be able to breed peacefully in the warm seas off Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula after the announcement of a Hope Spot by Mission Blue.

The ocean conservation organisation, in partnership with watchmaker Rolex through its Perpetual Planet initiative, endeavours to explore, restore and safeguard the world’s oceans. This has been ongoing since 2014.

More than 130 Hope Spots has been established to date.

They give international visibility to local communities campaigning for legal protection of ecologically important areas of the oceans – those considered vital to the preservation of species or places where people rely on a healthy marine environment to survive.

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The new Hope Spot, named the Biological Marine Corridor of Osa, has a diverse cluster of ecosystems that are essential for the survival of marine life, including the coral reefs of Cano Island, several important breeding spots for marine species, mangroves and one of the largest wetlands of the Pacific coast of Central America.

The waters around the Osa Peninsula has also been described as “the most biologically intense place on earth”.

Every year, the whales swim 10,000km to Costa Rica from Antarctica. They join other migratory animals such as hammerhead sharks, manta rays and sea turtles that currently face deadly hazards in Costa Rican waters.

These range from plastic pollution, agricultural effluent and entanglement in ghost nets and long lines from industrial fishing.

“These areas host breeding and feeding areas for a number of species of whales and thousands of other organisms like sharks, tunas, and the little creatures upon which all the rest are based ...” says Mission Blue founder and Rolex testimonee Sylvia Earle.

“By supporting the full protection of this corridor of life along the Osa Peninsula, life itself will be enhanced.”

Legendary oceanographer Sylvia Earle, Founder of Mission Blue, photographed in the Azores. Photo: RolexLegendary oceanographer Sylvia Earle, Founder of Mission Blue, photographed in the Azores. Photo: Rolex

The waters already have some protection: there are Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) around the Marino Ballena National Park, Terraba-Sierpe National Wetlands, Cano Island Biological Reserve and Corcovado National Park.

However, greater protection is needed according to Carlos Mallo Molina, a Mission Blue Champion and founder of Innoceana, a marine conservation NGO in Costa Rica.

“The current MPAs need to be expanded to cover a corridor between them,” Molina adds.

National Geographic has described the waters off Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula “as the most biologically intense place on Earth”. Photo: RolexNational Geographic has described the waters off Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula “as the most biologically intense place on Earth”. Photo: Rolex“These MPAs don’t currently touch, leaving migrating marine life vulnerable between the gaps. If we want to establish effective protection for the marine life that migrate through Costa Rica’s waters, we need to apply thorough protection across the entire area.”

Molina is one of three Champions who nominated the Hope Spot and as such will coordinate advocacy events, meet government leaders and pursue scientific activities related to conservation, in collaboration with local organisations, community associations, businesses and authorities.

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Through Mission Blue, they are working to accelerate the creation of an MPA, Reserva Marina Alvaro Ugalde Víquez, as a step towards greater protection for the local ecosystem.

“Restoring the marine ecosystem off the Osa Peninsula will enrich the local community economically, physically and mentally,” explains Molina.

“Artisanal fishermen will be in a better place thanks to a healthy coral reef and mangroves. With the prohibition of industrial fishing, dive sites will be more attractive, strengthening the local ecotourism industry. It would mean a win-win for all life here, including for humans,” Molina adds.

Key to the way that Mission Blue works is the empowerment of local people to make change by creating a global wave of community support for ocean conservation. Innoceana plans to increase community understanding of the ocean through a marine conservation and education centre, the first of its kind in Costa Rica.

It will underpin marine education in the area and serve as a research facility.

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