In historic decree, Costa Rica legally protects its corals
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5 June 2019
On the occasion of World Oceans Day, Costa Rica issued a decree to protect its vast coral ecosystems. We congratulate the government for taking this important step and setting a legal precedent for the protection of marine environments in the region.
San José, Costa Rica. The Costa Rican government issued a precedent-setting decree today that legally protects its vast coral ecosystems from harmful human activities. Following years of work on the issue, the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) and Conservation International celebrate this important instrument for the conservation of these fragile and vital marine environments.
“We are very pleased with this advance, promoted by the Vice Ministry of Water and Seas, which guarantees the survival of coral reefs and the various species that contribute to their conservation—species like the parrotfish, which feed on the algae that can deprive reefs of oxygen,” said Gladys Martínez, senior attorney of AIDA’s Marine Biodiversity and Coastal Protection Program.
The decree provides a series of measures the government must adopt in order to preserve reef ecosystems and the species that depend on them, threatened by a combination of unsustainable use, climate change, inadequate management, and invasive species.
The measures include: the creation and implementation of science-based strategies and policies to confront the effects of climate change; and the restoration of degraded reefs. The law also prohibits harmful activities like the extraction and commercialization of reefs, dumping of waste, and anchoring.
“It’s our hope that the legal precedent established by this decree will be replicated in other countries of the Americas that, like Costa Rica, are bound by international treaties to safeguard their corals,” said Magie Rodríguez, AIDA attorney. “In the coming years, we will be closely monitoring the decree’s implementation.”
In 2012, AIDA and Conservation International joined forces with national experts to prepare a report detailing the economic and environmental benefits of corals, urging the creation of legislation in Costa Rica to protect them.
AIDA also supported the Vice Ministry in the preparation of the decree based on the organization’s experience in international law and understanding of regulations in other countries of the region.
“Costa Rica is a nation privileged by the dimensions of its marine spaces and biodiversity. The coral systems are incredibly productive, but they are also threatened by human activity and climate change,” said Marco A. Quesada Alpízar, director of Conservation International - Costa Rica. “By taking action on this issue, Costa Rica has assumed responsibility for the conservation and management of its marine ecosystems, and has set an example that can be replicated in other countries.”
The decree answers a years-long call for Costa Rica to comply with international obligations and protect its threatened marine ecosystems. Scientific studies have shown that a large part of the coral reefs in the country are at great risk due to human activities including land-based pollution and destructive fishing practices. Their conservation must be a priority.
“This decree fills an important gap in the regulation of coral reefs in Costa Rica. It recognizes, once again, that marine resources provide people with services and well-being, which requires they be adequately protected and managed,” explained Quesada.
“Costa Rica is globally recognized for its ecotourism and natural richness,” added Ana Gloria Guzmán of Conservation International’s Oceans Center. “With this decree, the nation is setting an example about the protection and management of essential marine ecosystems as a means to ensure the health of the oceans and safeguard the well-being of coastal communities that depend on the services they provide.”