Follow-up interview with Goldman Prize-winning marine conservationist Randall Arauz about the state of our oceans, sustainability, and PRETOMA's shark and seat turtle conservation efforts heading into 2013.
Marine Investigator Randall Arauz
The Catch Conservation Fund recently caught up with Marine Investigator Randall
Arauz, Executive Director of Programa Restauracion De Tortugas Marinas (PRETOMA)
in Costa Rica, to get an update on the Cocos Island Shark and Sea Turtle Tagging
Expedition and the state of our oceans in 2013:
The Catch Conservation Fund: Randall, thank you for taking the time to meet with us today.
You recently got back from another successful expedition to Cocos Island. Would you mind telling
us a little bit about this initiative and what its goals are?
Randall Arauz: I started a hammerhead shark tagging project with my shark partner Alex
Antoniou in 2004. We began by using acoustic transmitters and receivers to track the movements
of sharks around Cocos Island. At that early stage, we had decided to coordinate our efforts with
colleagues from UC Davis, the Charles Darwin Foundation (Ecuador), and the Malpelo Foundation
(Colombia) who were also performing research on hammerhead shark movements. Over the
years we expanded the work in Cocos to include Galapagos, Tiger, and Silky sharks, and as of
2009 we have been tagging sea turtles with our partner Turtle Island Restoration Network. In
addition to over 200 turtles and sharks tagged with metal and acoustic tags, we have attached
satellite transmitters to 18 turtles and nine sharks. This group of collaborators grew into an
organization in itself, called Migramar.org, and it includes researchers from the United States,
Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and Ecuador.
The Catch Conservation Fund: This project began back in 2004. Have the past eight years of
tracking the movements of hammerhead sharks and sea turtles given you a clear picture of their
Randall Arauz: Well, not a clear picture, but we have an idea. Adult hammerhead sharks, to
some degree, migrate constantly between the three islands (Galapagos, Cocos, Malpelo), using
the magnetic submerged ridges to navigate. Sub adult and adult tiger sharks establish short term
temporary residence on the island, weeks to months, and then they continue their migrations
through the Pacific, with no specific pattern. Young green and hawksbill turtles also establish
temporary residence on the island for a matter of years, until they reach sub adulthood. Adult
turtles make their appearance and stay on the island for a matter of days or weeks, and
invariably have directed themselves toward the mainland.
The Catch Conservation Fund: One of the recent turtles you were tracking, Swift, was caught
by fishermen off the coast of Cocos Island. Would you please tell us about that and what
Randall Arauz: When we arrived to the island, the rangers informed us that the day before they
were decommissioning an illegal longline in park waters (12 mile no-take limit). It is not
uncommon to find turtles snagged on hooks. However, they pulled up a sea turtle with an
acoustic transmitter on it on this occasion. Fortunately, the turtle was lightly hooked, and it was
freed after release. The sad part is the presence of the illegal fishermen in the park.
The Catch Conservation Fund: Have you gathered enough information yet to make a formal
case for expanding the 12 mile Marine Protected Area surrounding Cocos Island? If not, what do
you think it will take to make that happen? Also, it seems like President Laura Chinchilla has been
sympathetic to your cause, so what has been going on legislatively on this front?
Randall Arauz: Absolutely! The Chinchilla administration has already expanded the Marine
Protected Area, but under a “Marine Management Area” category. The new MPA is shaped as a
rectangle, with the 12 mile no-take Cocos Island Reserve in the middle. It is like a buffer layer.
The foreign tuna purse seiners have been kicked out, and now we are in the process of
collaborating with the Costa Rican government in the design of sustainable fishery for the local
industry. At Pretoma, we want to promote the use of poles and “green sticks” to catch tuna. We
don’t support longlines in this area, because they will still catch turtles and sharks. The industry
will tell you they will use circle hooks, but that’s bogus.
President Chinchilla has been very receptive, but the challenges are overwhelming. The vice
president of Incopesca was recently fired because of a conflict of interests with his post. Now we
have a Vice Ministry of Seas. What we need now, is the total reform of Incopesca, or this will be
a never ending uphill battle.
The Catch Conservation Fund: Do you still believe then, that overfishing threatens the very
survival of our oceans?
Randall Arauz: Absolutely. The oceans can be harvested in a much more sustainable way. I’m
convinced that it’s the greed. PRETOMA has partnerships with organizations and researchers
around the world, including the Galapagos, Ecuador, and Colombia.
The Catch Conservation Fund: Do you have any expectations that more sustainable fishing
policies will be enacted throughout Central America as a result of your joint work?
Randall Arauz: I sure hope so. Sustainable fisheries are a topic at many political meetings - the
total failure of industrial fisheries to provide food security, and the need to support small scale
fishermen. This also allows for the general public to get involved, and hopefully will alter
consumer demand. Change is going to take a lot of work.
The Catch Conservation Fund: What are some of the major challenges you face?
Randall Arauz: The main challenge is political. Industrial fisheries have their grip on politics.
They have their own Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs). The industry is
organized and makes the calls on how international fishery resources are administered, not to the
public interest, but to their own interest. We should have one Regional Conservation
Management Organization, and have the conservation organizations decide! Why do the
industrial fishermen, who have done a terrible job administering our oceans, have priority over
academic, conservation, and public interest organizations?
The Catch Conservation Fund: You’ve said that shark finning is the biggest threat facing
hammerhead sharks today. Briefly, what are the current laws regulating shark finning, and has
there been any movement towards an international ban on the practice?
Randall Arauz: I’ll take that statement back. Certainly, shark finning is a BIG threat, possibly
the driving force that depleted the species. However, the main problem currently is neonatal and
juvenile hammerhead shark mortality in artisanal fisheries. With a depleted adult population, you
need to reduce pup mortality as much as possible. Along the coast of Central America
hammerhead pups are caught and sold in local supermarkets as bolillo. So, it’s bad to eat shark
Randall Arauz (cont): fin soup, but a lot of people think it’s OK to eat bolillo “ceviche.”
Hammerhead sharks are endangered, just like rhinoceroses. You shouldn’t go around eating
The Catch Conservation Fund: The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species
of Fauna and Flora (CITES) recently announced its intention to include hammerheads on
Appendix III of CITES. Please tell us what the significance of that is, and why it’s so important to
the survival of the hammerhead shark.
Randall Arauz: Hammerhead sharks have been included in Appendix III of Cites (last June) for
Costa Rica, which means that individuals in trade must be accounted for to improve stats, and
other countries where these populations exist MUST assist Costa Rica in this task. Recently (last
October), Costa Rica, Brazil, Netherlands, Honduras, and Colombia filed a petition with CITES to
include the species in Appendix II. This would allow commerce to be interrupted or suspended if
it affects current population levels. This would be major, because it would allow governments to
keep improved control on fisheries in general.
The Catch Conservation Fund: When we spoke last in 2010, the status of Las Baulas National
Park was in question, possibly placing several fragile Leatherback nesting grounds there in
danger. Laura Chinchilla had just been elected President of Costa Rica, and you were unsure if
she would decide to demote the park’s status and allow development there. What is the current
situation at Las Baulas?
Randall Arauz: The bill to demote the park was filed by the Environment Commission of the
Legislative Assembly. This project had quite a bit of support from the Oscar Arias administration,
but after Laura took over, the political will vanished.
The Catch Conservation Fund: PRETOMA has recently undertaken a new sea turtle
conservation project in Guanacaste. Please tell us more about this latest initiative.
Randall Arauz: We are tracking hawksbill sea turtles with acoustic and satellite telemetry. We
have identified a population of at least 15 juvenile hawksbills that live in Punta Coyote, and we
suspect that each rocky point has its own independent population of hawksbills. These turtles are
threatened by shrimp trawlers, so we are using them as part of the justification to create MPAs.
The Catch Conservation Fund: What can our readers do to help make a difference?
Randall Arauz: DONATE! Seriously though, help the researchers in the field and the political
activists achieve their goals. There are lots of groups out there - check their credibility. Good
activism should be backed by solid science.
The Catch Conservation Fund: Can our more adventurous ones still go on future expeditions
to Cocos Island? How much longer will you be conducting research out there?
Randall Arauz: We go to Cocos Island twice a year, and I’ll be going for as long as I can. I’m
only 51 now, so I’ll be going out there for a while. This is a long-term monitoring project. Please,
sign up to join a trip. It will be the experience of a lifetime!
The Catch Conservation Fund: The last time we talked, you were extremely pessimistic about
the state of our oceans. What is your current assessment? Are there any positive signs out there?
Randall Arauz: There is definitely a lot more awareness and concern. What we need to do is
change the way fisheries policies are established. People are starting to figure out that these
Randall Arauz (cont): RFMOS have done a terrible job managing our oceans, and that it can
be done in a much better way. Public awareness about these issues is a big start, but there is so
much left to be done.
The Catch Conservation Fund: Randall, we really appreciate you speaking with us today.
Hopefully, our readers will be able to use all this information to help make a difference.
Randall Arauz: I appreciate the opportunity. I hope everyone fully understands the gravity of
this situation. We can reverse these trends before it’s too late, but we all need to work together.
Thank you for reading our interview with Marine Investigator Randall Arauz. Find out
more about the global threats to shark and sea turtle survival and what you can do to
help by visiting the following websites:
The Catch Conservation Fund ● P.O. Box 369 ● Lincolnton, GA 303817