Ensuring a future for coral reefs in Costa Rica

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Costa Rica
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Photo: Rising temperatures cause coral bleaching, making them more vulnerable. Credit: Rainer Von Brandis, istock.

Despite their vital benefits for nature and society, coral reefs are in danger of extinction worldwide. Costa Rica is no exception: 93% of its 970 sq km of reefs are threatened by human activities. The country must create a legal tool to protect them.

To help build a new future for these marine ecosystems, AIDA, with financial support from Conservation International, published Coral reefs in Costa Rica: Economic Value, Threats and International Legal Commitments to Protect Them (Spanish only). The report aims to serve as a foundation for introducing specific legislation on protecting coral reefs in Costa Rica, and to support their conservation in Latin America and the Caribbean, a crucial task.
In the first section, the report highlights the useful richness of the reefs. They protect cities and communities from the coastal erosion caused by hurricanes and storms (reefs absorb up to 90% of the impact of the waves). They mitigate climate change. They provide abundant fishing and valuable data for medical research (corals have been recognized as potential sources of cancer-fighting medicine). Reefs attract tourism for recreation and their beauty. And they maintain other habitats wealthy in biodiversity. Reefs are nurseries, homes and meal spots for countless creatures and supply tons of seafood for our consumption.
The report is backed by figures. It quantifies the economic value of a reef at more than $1 million per hectare. That equates to about $582 million for all of Costa Rica’s coral reefs. The calculation of damages to these underwater resources, however, could push that value up tenfold or more if we consider the legal actions related to reefs in countries like Belize and the United States.
Despite this rich assessment, many activities are eroding one of the most diverse and delicate ecosystems in the world. The report looks at the threats facing these living colonies -- live polyps encased in calcium carbonate deposits. These include destructive fishing practices, sedimentation (resulting from deforestation, agricultural mismanagement and river dredging), pollution runoff (wastewater and fertilizers), climate change, ocean acidification and irresponsible tourism (removal of pieces of coral and reef destruction by anchors and fins).
Our work doesn’t end with the report
“What follows is a process of educating decision makers on the importance of reefs and the need to protect them on the basis of international treaties signed by Costa Rica, and promotion for creating specific legislation”, said Haydée Rodríguez, an AIDA legal advisor.
Costa Rica has adhered to international obligations for safeguarding corals like those in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the FAO’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and others. The report addresses these treaties along with comparative law arguments within the legislation of other countries.
To prepare its report, AIDA analyzed international and comparative law and consulted extensively with national and international coral experts. The report highlights the urgency of creating a legal instrument in Costa Rica to protect coral reefs for the benefit of this and future generations. The new rules should coordinate responsibilities between government entities, regulate activities that damage coral, and promote research, the use of environmentally friendly chemicals and fertilizers, studies on the health and resilience of coral, and a zoning system. And to ensure its effectiveness, the new legislation should create a ministerial committee to resolve the lack of adequate sanctions for harmful practices.
Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla has voiced her commitment to conservation and environmental protection. We hope the government honors this commitment when it comes to coral reefs and boldly advances to protect these valuable ecosystems.

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Coral reefs in Costa Rica (AIDA's report/in Spanish)1.63 MB