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Splash! You are in Costa Rica's Blue Eco Blog. Echoing Eco for Oceans and Waters. Giving voice to dolphins and whales, their waves and their waters, and all denizens of the deep. News they think you should use. Dive in.

Costa Rica Fish Farms are Back but Aqua Permaculture This TIme

clock August 17, 2012 08:41 by author BlueEcoBlog

Oceanic Farming Is Wave of the Future

From The Tico Times Thursday, September 16, 2008- By Shawn Larkin
THE BIG BLUE: The soil of the future is in the ocean

Costa Rica’s biggest and most bioproductive ecosystem, the offshore open-ocean pelagic, could be a shining blue diamond of economic productivity with a little management fertilizer.

Of course, pelagic or deep-sea fishing already provides big money, but many who have studied the situation think sustainability is being left out of the equation. Will Costa Rica’s oceans collapse like a tree stripped of leaves and fruit, or will it bloom for generations?

Ocean parks, refuges, sanctuaries and biological corridors clearly are part of any blue future. Costa Rica has demonstrated to the world the economic value of green protected areas, and hopefully we will follow our own lesson with our marine resources.

But parks are not all the future holds for our oceans. If history is any indicator, oceanic farming will become even bigger than the terrestrial kind. The soil of the future is the ocean.

If we know anything about the future, it’s that it will be hungry. By many estimates, more then half the world’s seafood is already farmed. And more than half the world’s fisheries have collapsed.

The future of open-ocean permaculture will be very different from the first crude attempts at ocean monoculture. As farmers around the world go green – meaning organic and sustainable – by demand, blue farmers get the advantage of being able to start off that way. Companies like Kona Blue Water Farms are already leading the way in sustainable seafood production. Blue farmers could literally save the world.

Future blue farms might be more like Indian milpas than monoculture banana plantations: multiple useful species growing in synergistic harmony, tended to by nearby local communities.

Imagine a giant shining blue diamond, bigger than your house, far offshore, out of sight of land – a giant diamond in the sea, half submerged. A pole runs from top to bottom. The sides of the diamond are made of a mesh that keeps fish in but lets water pass through. The waste from the fish feeds strings of shellfish around the bottom of the diamond. Algae and other life growing on the shellfish bring in a cloud of little fish that surround the diamond. Small holes in the mesh let the little fish dart through, feeding the big fish. And the big fish are harvested as needed.

Permaculture.

Local communities and businesses could tend their own, local blue diamonds. Other diamonds could be released offshore near the northern or southern border. With currents, nature and technology doing the work, the diamonds would get harvested at the other end of the country, full of fat fish. Sportfishers would increase their catches around the massive fish-attracting devices, divers and snorkelers would go below for a look, boats and kayakers would want to go around, guides would be needed, and even more money and livelihoods would be made.

Perhaps we could help lead the way to the future of blue farming, applying the age-old principles of permaculture and sustainability. Many cultures have sustainably harvested shallow coastal waters since ancient times. Now is the time to take it farther offshore and farm, as well as conserve, the big blue.

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Pelagic Park’ Would Help Save Spinner Dolphins

clock August 15, 2012 04:20 by author BlueEcoBlog

‘Pelagic Park’ Would Help Save Spinner Dolphins

From The Tico Times, Posted: Friday, September 05, 2008 - By Shawn Larkin

The most hightech, large-scale fishing in Costa Rica’s oceans is commercial tuna fishing.

From hardworking crew and helicopters to radar and satellites, these operations take catching fish very seriously.

They drop enormous nets bigger than a city block into the sea to catch vast quantities of an assortment of marine life. They are after mostly tuna, among the most valuable fish of any denizens of the deep.

When fishing boats find a big group of spinner dolphins, they find some of their ever-present sidekicks: giant yellowfin and bigeye tuna. Mostly seen only below the surface, the tuna would not be so easy to locate without the help of the dolphins, which must surface regularly to breathe. The giant tuna pack together around the dolphins that find their food for them. Here, offshore of southern Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, the big tuna and the spinner dolphins are always together.

I reckon the dolphins think: “Now that the  moon is full, the current is from the southwest at two knots and the wind is calm, a bigspaced swell is coming in from west-southwest, it rained last night and the layers of water temperatures changed a lot, it’s a sunny day, almost high noon, and I think I know where all those other dolphins are going, and the orcas will not hunt today, and the tuna boats will be busy for a few hours – hope my friends and family make it out! – we should go hunt the south end of the Osa drop-off upwelling.”

And I reckon the tuna are thinking just one thing: “Follow the dolphins.”

Follow the dolphins. Just as the seabirds, the sailfish and the marlin, the sharks and the whales, the sportfishing captains and the commercial tuna-fishing fleets do. Follow the dolphins; they have the best actionable ocean intelligence. The dolphins have the network. They are always with the food.

In the Osa drop-off upwelling, where dense, cooler and nutrient-rich water is pushed toward the ocean surface, the tuna, birds and other marine life are nearly always with the dolphins. All a commercial fishing fleet has to do is find the birds on a special radar, send up a helicopter or two to check it out and call in coordinates, start corralling the dolphins with the helicopter and explosives dropped from the helicopter, put down small, fast chase boats to further corral the dolphins, use the ship to corral the dolphins even more, and then put down a very big net around the dolphins and associated marine life with the help of a special net boat.

If you do this, you get a lot of tuna in the net below the dolphins, and it’s worth a lot of money.

Sadly, this kind of bonanza is unsustainable. The longer-lived, more slowly reproducing spinners will probably die out before the tuna are exhausted, perhaps giving the tuna a chance to recuperate, because once the dolphins are gone, no one will be able to find the tuna. But how will the tuna find food without the dolphins?

Fishing industry insiders have told me that dozens of spinner dolphins are killed every day by busy boats. They die most frequently when their narrow, smiling mouths get stuck in the holes of the nets. Hundreds more must be manhandled by diving crews and thrown out of the nets daily, lest the nets are damaged.

Other Osa dolphin species, such as bottlenose and spotted dolphins, are somewhat likelier to swim out if a small piece of one end of the net is put down for a while, a procedure known as a “backdown.”

Backdowns do not help Osa’s spinner dolphins, however; they stay in the net.

Tuna fishermen say the spinners are tontos, stupid, because they do not swim away from the ship and out of the net. They seem unable to stop surfing the ship’s waves. The same trait the tourist boats love dooms the poor spinners.

Time for ‘Pelagic Park’

The blue-water pelagic (open-ocean) ecosystem domain of the Osa’s spinner dolphins is probably the most productive ecosystem in Costa Rica, perhaps in the tropical marine world. According to former members of Jacques Cousteau’s legendary conservation ship, Calypso, and the BBC’s top “Blue Planet” underwater cameramen, offshore Osa is the richest tropical blue water they have seen anywhere on the planet (see sidebar).

The dolphins’ domain is an area between five and 20 nautical miles from Caño Island Biological Reserve. The reserve’s waters currently extend only about two nautical miles; this is not enough to protect large animals such as dolphins and tuna. To protect large marine animals, you need a Corcovado or Amistad-sized park at sea.

For many years, around the world, protected marine areas have proven to increase catches in surrounding areas. With a big enough pelagic park, or better still, parks and corridors, tuna-fishing boats could make money in the long term, not just short.

An astounding number of big, amazing  animals live in the Osa drop-off upwelling area and would be protected along with the spinners. Fin, sei, Bryde’s, humpback and blue whales and orcas frequent this little upwelling. Sailfish, marlin, tuna, manta rays, whale sharks, turtles, beaked whales, pilot whales, pseudorcas, bottlenose dolphins and spotted dolphins are found here in some of the highest concentrations in the world.

A special area of the Osa drop-off upwelling, the clearest waters in Costa Rica, would be an excellent place to prohibit commercial fishing, save the spinners and allow boaters and divers to see and snorkel with dolphins and other amazing marine life in the big blue.

Many people in Costa Rica, including yours truly, already benefit greatly from tourists visiting the giant dolphin pods and other marine life congregations off the Osa. But the commercial fishing fleet will end it soon for us all if some sort of pelagic park is not created.

The spinners are dying. There seem to be a lot fewer little spinners now then there were in the past. The pods no longer stretch to the horizon in every direction.

A park is the only solution. Just as Costa Rica has demonstrated to the world the value of protecting functioning terrestrial ecosystems, we can show the world the same goes for the ocean. Costa Rica needs to make peace with the ocean as well as the rain forest. It’s time to set aside a meaningful, not miniscule, part of Costa Rica’s biggest ecosystem: the open ocean.

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Tuna Fishing Endangers Dolphins in Costa Rica

clock August 7, 2012 12:25 by author BlueEcoBlog

Dolphins are Costa Rica’s most famous divers – and they have a problem. For decades, in the eastern tropical Pacific, the commercial fishing industry has hunted dolphin species that form enormous congregations, such as pantropical spotted, spinner, bottlenose, common and Risso’s dolphins.

Tuna always school beneath large groups of dolphins, so corralling the dolphins with helicopters and speedboats causes the tuna to form a more easily netted mass below. Unlike most sport fishers who catch a few fish in a sustainable way, many commercial operations set vast nets around dolphins in hopes of grabbing all the tuna possible. This technique has killed millions of dolphins, and continues to kill them as recently as last month off the Southern Zone’s Osa Peninsula.

Dolphin and tuna are often about the same size, and eat the same size of prey. The vast groups of yellowfin tuna constantly following large dolphin groups are led to lunch. The tuna seem to instinctively follow the dolphins, as do birds and other fish, because dolphins will find the food. The big brains of these marine mammals figure to look for chow a few miles offshore of an island, when the tide is high, the moon is full, the wind is clam, the water temperature is just right and the coast is clear, and the needlefish are schooling. The tiny brain of the tuna might just think: follow the dolphin.

Dolphins, being so social and traveling in such large groups, actually create a sort of structure, like a reef, in which smaller fish can hide as well as collect scrapes. Many species of fish, besides tuna, cruise in groups with the dolphins, including silky sharks, blue marlin and sailfish.

We call this famous phenomenon the tuna-dolphin association of the eastern tropical Pacific, not because it’s just tuna and dolphins but because huge commercial fishing fleets use dolphins breathing at the surface to find the tuna swimming below them. Many different species die in the nets of commercial fishing fleets. You may have heard of “dolphin-safe tuna”; this catchy phrase is better described as “some dead dolphin and mixed-species tuna.” The aforementioned catching method, sometimes still used, is “major dead dolphin and mixed species tuna.” As far as I know, none of the forms of massive-scale tuna fishing is even remotely safe for dolphins – some ways just kill less than others do.So, how do the methods differ? One is called a “backdown.” After netting all the tuna and dolphins through the normal process, the ship motors slowly in reverse. This, with the help of a few speedboats, lowers a part of the net down below the surface. Hopefully, the freaked-out dolphins will then swim out. Sometimes they do. Sometimes boats chase them out. But if the tuna follow them, the net is quickly yanked up. All the while, daylight is fading, the crew and workers are on the clock, and fuel is being guzzled. This is “dolphin-safe” tuna. Other methods don’t even use a backdown.

Waiting to catch the tuna when they are away from dolphins requires more time, effort and money, but is the only way to ensure dolphins are safe from slaughter. Reportedly, some boats do not set on dolphins, but until tuna consumers make this distinction, the prices of unscrupulous competitors will hurt the real “dolphin-safe” businesses.

Dolphin tourism can sometimes be at odds with commercial fishing interests. It makes it a little harder to surround a group of dolphins with helicopters, speedboats and a factory ship when a happy group of photosnapping tourists is in the way. On rare occasions, frustrated pilots in rickety helicopters that look more like lawn mowers than aircraft will attempt to drive off the people by buzzing a tourist boat near dolphins. If you are rooting for the dolphins, you can stay with them until there is not enough daylight for the time-consuming process of chasing and netting.

Why don’t the dolphins just smack a few boat captains on the head as they jump over the nets and swim away giggling? Because, like humans, dolphins, once they start to panic, are not so smart. Ancient instincts, such as freaking out, take over. And, as with humans, being in large groups makes panic worse. Dolphins are used to vast spaces; a net causes panic, and they just don’t think to jump over.

I wonder how commercial fishers will fare once the big pods are gone. This may sound distressingly familiar if you know about the vast herds or flocks of animals, such as American bison and passenger pigeons, which have disappeared on land and in the air. As the buffalo once did, the dead dolphins rot in waste or fall to scavengers, and, as with the passenger pigeons, a point may arrive when the population crashes suddenly to extinction.

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