Restoring the World’s Oceans, One Bite at a Time

The Seascapes Workshop is a CI-led annual event that rotates between seascape locations and brings together marine practitioners from at least 10 countries. The 2013 Seascapes Workshop recently took place in Costa Rica within the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape (ETPS), a collaborative marine management program between Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and Ecuador. Dr. Boris Worm, a marine biologist and guest at the workshop, shares his field experiences while in Costa Rica.

Boris Worm dives with CI's Elizabeth Selig off the coast of Cano Island in Costa Rica.

Boris Worm dives with CI’s Elizabeth Selig off the coast of Costa Rica’s Caño Island. (© CI/photo by Laure Katz)

The Seascapes Workshop in Costa Rica was a welcome reprieve from the harsh realities of the Canadian winter. It was also a unique opportunity to gain firsthand insight into CI’s Seascapes Program and the seascapes approach — an innovative strategy for marine conservation and management around the world.

This program has helped to establish large, multiple-use ocean areas collaboratively managed by local decision-makers in four of the world’s most valuable marine regions. Ever since traveling in 2010 through the Bird’s Head Seascape in West Papua, Indonesia, I have been curious about the program and what it can achieve.

The week prior to the workshop I took the opportunity to visit some of the ETPS field sites, including an initiative on the Nicoya Peninsula, where Randall Arauz and his team from PRETOMA (a Costa Rican NGO and CI partner in the ETPS) work on sustainable fishing and protected area initiatives in order to restore both fish and turtle populations.

Here, the challenges are daunting (but where aren’t they?), as there is plenty of poaching, rampant turtle bycatch, and little government oversight. To my surprise, I learned that not a single stock assessment exists for Costa Rican fish resources. Hence, “do it yourself” is the order of the day.

I was impressed at how with minimal resources, the PRETOMA team was protecting turtle beaches, monitoring marine protected areas (MPAs), building a locally-run (yet to be certified) sustainable snapper fishery, fighting against shark finning and lobbying for a more strategic management regime.

school of fish in Costa Rica

School of fish in Costa Rica’s Caño Island Biological Reserve. (© CI/photo by Jason Philibotte)

The solutions implemented at this field site were similar to those we identified in a 2009 consensus paper that charted a way to rebuild fisheries on a global scale. Here it was in practice: community co-management, protected areas, gear and catch restrictions, as well as fisheries certification processes, all being used to rebuild depleted resources and transform impoverished coastal communities.

This need for a combination of diverse tools to achieve success was further supported by a scuba diving field trip I took with some CI folks to Caño Island Biological Reserve in the south of Costa Rica — a core MPA within CI’s Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape.

Going diving there, I appreciated right away that I was in a well-protected area. It`s a sad fact that you can always tell right away whether an area is fished or not. Large schools of snapper and jacks, and plentiful reef sharks are rarely found outside of MPAs these days, if at all.

I was struck by the average size of the fish, particularly some large amberjacks that mildly terrorized the schools of snapper. All fish were unafraid and obviously used to divers. Also, it was clear from the boat traffic around us that these fish provided important economic incentives to surrounding communities. Clearly, this is a success story.

Buoyed by these field observations, I attended the Seascapes Workshop itself. The seascapes approach makes a lot of sense to me, because it applies conservation solutions on a manageable scale while still encompassing large, functional ecosystems. It seems to be a good compromise between wanting to protect a large chunk of ocean and paying the necessary attention to local detail.

Attendees of the CI-led 2013 Seascapes Workshop, Costa Rica

Attendees of the CI-led 2013 Seascapes Workshop. (© CI/photo by Ashton Jones)

It’s clear that when it comes to restoring the health of our global fisheries, there is no silver bullet. It always takes a combination of tools and measures to lower exploitation rates, and initiate rebuilding of fisheries resources.

It’s not easy by any means. But it is absolutely possible.

Dr. Boris Worm is a marine biologist and a professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada. He is also the lead author of a recently published international study on the worldwide decline of sharks. This study was widely publicized via an infographic that was recently highlighted in the Huffington Post.

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  1. Pingback: A Conversation with Boris Worm, Marine Biologist + Shark Advocate | Human Nature - Conservation International Blog

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