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Famous Marine Conservationist Arrested as Government Seeks to Protect Coastline... WTF?

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Dallas Boyd
Dallas Boyd

It goes against the grain these days to screw people over in favour of the environment. Usually it’s the other way around.  Rainforests, the “lungs” of the earth, are cut down. The ocean is depleted. All to feed and house just a tiny fraction of the earths human population… the 20% of the earths population that consume about 80% of the worlds resources. So it seems abnormal to me that the Costa Rican government would shit on their very humble taxpaying citizens over a short strip of sand while at the same time, trying to arrest a man dedicated to Costa Rican marine conservation.

At first glance, conservationists may applaud the Costa Rican government for announcing that certain homes and businesses (restaurants, hotels, bars and a supermarket) must be demolished as they are situated within protected Maritime Zone. The areas concerned are two tiny, coastal towns, located in the poorest province of Costa Rica - Puerto Viejo and Cahuita. Both stunningly beautiful Caribbean-influenced, sleepy tourist destinations. But if the government had its shit together, then maybe such infrastructure would never have been constructed there decades ago. Or they could just say, “alright, no one’s allowed to build anything more within 50 meters of the high tide line.” Instead the government advised the citizens that their homes and businesses would be reduced to rubble, that they would become homeless and lose their livelihoods, and obviously there was no mention of compensation.

Despite being soooo concerned about the environment, that taxpaying citizens are sacrificed for a wee strip of sand, the Costa Rican government is simultaneously demonstrating a huge double standard on protecting marine resources. In 2002, Captain Paul Watson from Germany, was happily sailing to Costa Rica with the “Sea Shepherd” crew, to sign an agreement with the Costa Rican government which would grant them permission to protect the Costa Rican Island of Cocos, a very special, hugely bio-diverse area, that was experiencing intense illegal fishing. Along the way to Costa Rica, Watson’s crew encountered a boat in Guatemalan waters, that was Costa Rican owned with a Costa Rican crew, and they were illegally fishing for shark, to take their fins. Watson’s crew filmed what they saw and later used the footage in their award-winning documentary “Sharkwater.” However, based on untrue accusations from the illegal fishermen, Watson was arrested upon arrival in Costa Rica on charges of attempted murder and attempted shipwrecking. The attempted murder charge dropped, but the Captain was formally charged with attempted shipwrecking. Watson left Costa Rica and now, 10 years on, found himself in a German jail cell (he just got out on bail on Tuesday) awaiting extradition orders to face the charges in Costa Rica where, if convicted, he could face up to 15 years in the klink. Watson is seeking that the extradition charge be dropped, he offers to cooperate with the Costa Rican government, and work to do what he wanted to do all along - protect the Cocos Island National Park and the sharks.

On paper, Costa Rica presents itself as a world leader in environmental sustainability and peace* yet in reality it seems that the government often suffocates under mountains of archaic, outdated bureaucracy, falling short of potentially being able to be an amazing example to the whole world. The government is capable of resolving both the Puerto Viejo/Cahuita problems and the Paul Watson case while the eyes of the world look on. This challenge could be a political wet dream - an opportunity for a strong leader to show how a progressive nation can support both a healthy society and environment. If not - both people and the environment are screwed and nobody knows what to believe in.

*Home to more than one prestigious one-of-a-kind university, the Costa Rican Earth University Foundation focuses solely on resolving environmental and social challenges of today, “while focusing on essential human values… and a commitment to social and environmental service.” The United Nations mandated “University of Peace” serves to "provide humanity with an international institution of higher education for peace…” Additionally, Costa Rica is home to the World’s First Carbon Neutral Airline (Nature Air) and has changed the face of eco-tourism by implementing a “green leaf” ranking system for sustainability, much the same way the Five Star system awards for luxury and amenities.


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