By Joanna Nasar
Ocean conservation and research is being taken to the next level thanks to an innovative collaboration between Turtle Island Restoration Network, Costa Rica’s National System of Protected Areas (SINAC) and the Cocos Island Marine Conservation Area (ACMIC), and the companies Alucia Productions II, Precision Integrated and Aeroval.
Together we are taking to the air, the sea and the depths of the ocean to better understand and better protect the sharks, sea turtles and marine wildlife that surrounds Cocos Island, Costa Rica.
Using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), known more commonly as drones, we were able to test two ideas. First, we tested the ability of drones to find marine wildlife such as whale sharks, humpback whales, pilot whales, and manta rays; and second we tested the ability of drones to help in the surveillance of the fisheries-no-take area (12 miles around the Island is protected as a Marine National Park).
Using two small submarines known as ‘submersibles’ we put acoustic listening stations at 590 feet below the surface at the underwater summits of Las Gemelas (a seamount formation located about 40 miles southwest of Cocos Island). Now these deep listening stations will ‘ping’ whenever a tagged shark or sea turtle passes by providing valuable research on marine species behavior.
Acoustic telemetry like this has tracked over 100 sharks and sea turtles around Cocos Island since 2005.
The hope is that these two new listening station will provide more knowledge on the migratory movements and patterns of wildlife between Cocos Island National Park, Costa Rica and the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador.
The team used inflatable boats to tag sharks at the Island. The sharks were immobilized, brought next to the boat by a team of trained biologists, and then fixed with acoustic tags. Over 10 sharks were tagged including thresher, black tip, and silver tip sharks. One hammerhead shark was tagged underwater while scuba diving.
The hope is to continue to work together to protect the Island Jacques-Yves Cousteau called “the most beautiful island in the world.”
Stay tuned for exciting updates on our research and findings on our blog here on Nat Geo, or follow us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/seaturtles.org.