Smithsonian Science Supports Costa Rican Cetacean Conservation

Research Contributes to Maritime Safety and Cetacean Protection in Costa Rican Pacific
May 15, 2018
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Humpback whale

The Directorate of Navigation and Safety at Costa Rica’s Ministry of Public Works and Transportation, with advice from Héctor M. Guzmán, marine ecologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, spearheaded legislation to establish two new maritime route systems, creating an Area-to-be-Avoided and a Traffic Separation Scheme to increase maritime security in the Costa Rican Pacific at the entrance of Golfo Dulce and the Gulf of Nicoya, respectively.

Decree No. 41003-MOPT-SP-MINAE, passed April 9, complements an Area-to-be-Avoided previously adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in March 2017 and implemented in January.

The passage of this important decree protects the marine environment, especially the migratory population of humpback whales and other species of cetaceans that could be affected by accidental collisions with an increasing number of large vessels weighing more than 900 tons. Such collisions result in significant injuries to the animals and even death, and may cause serious damage to boats, including cracks in hulls and broken propellers, structural components and rudders.

“We provide an important complement to marine policy by obtaining satellite tracking information to model the spatial distribution of individual tagged whales in southern Costa Rica,” Guzmán said. “This helps to define potential areas where collisions between cetaceans and large merchant ships are likely. New maritime transit routes should reduce collisions between large ships and whales and also protect areas for artisanal fishermen by increasing the distance of ships from the coast.”

Another factor requiring regulation of maritime traffic along the central and south Pacific Costa Rican coast is the continued increase in ship size and the density of their circulation, as a result of port improvements in the eastern Pacific. This consideration is reflected in IMO declarations such as the NCSR Document published in December 2016, stating that “the intensification of merchant maritime transport threatens to increase collisions with large migratory species, such as whales and turtles.”

The guidelines in the decree, which include the Gulf of Nicoya Traffic Separation Scheme and the two Areas-To-Be-Avoided, the Peninsula de Osa and Bahía Pavón, will soon be included in standard digital and printed navigation charts used by merchant mariners. This will enable them to be followed by all sailors, reducing the probability of collisions between merchant ships and cetaceans in Costa Rican waters as has been achieved in the Panamanian Pacific.

Guzmán’s whale-tracking project was undertaken, in part, with the constant financial support of Christy Walton’s Candeo Fund at the International Community Foundation.

The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, headquartered in Panama City, Panama, is a unit of the Smithsonian Institution. The Institute furthers the understanding of tropical biodiversity and its importance to human welfare, trains students to conduct research in the tropics and promotes conservation by increasing public awareness of the beauty and importance of tropical ecosystems. Website. Promo video.

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