Yellow fin Tuna Project Threatens Golfo Dulce, Costa Rica
The Golfo Dulce in Costa Rica is one of three tropical fjords in the
Pacific Ocean . This unique aquatic habitat is home to a great
diversity of marine life including dolphins, sea turtles, tropical
fish including marlin, parrotfish, dorado, red snapper, over 87
species of stomatopods and decapods, and is an important place for
humpback whales and whale sharks to both breed and give birth. The
beaches surrounding the Golfo Dulce also serve as a nesting ground for
hawksbill, Olive Ridley and leatherback ocean turtles.
The topography of the Golfo Dulce is such that the mouth of the gulf
has a depth of 50 m, while the interior region of the gulf reaches
depth of over 200 m. These inner regions of great depth are highly
saline and anoxic. Anaerobic sulfur-reducing bacteria, whose
metabolism produces highly toxic by-products, thrive in these regions,
while nitrates also become concentrated at these depths. It is
therefore crucial that currents from the open ocean dilute these toxic
compounds such that the gulf does not become uninhabitable.
The abundance of wildlife in the Golfo Dulce is thought to be
attributed to its unique topography, which makes it a sanctuary for
marine life. The shallow mouth of the gulf is subject to open ocean
currents and circulate more rapidly than the inner regions of greater
depth, the latter having an estuary-like pattern of water circulation.
This inner region of estuary-like water circulation and great depth
provides an ideal breeding ground for both mollusks and large animals
such as the humpback whale as they are protected from the dangers of
the open ocean.
The mouth of the Golfo Dulce is therefore crucial both for the
circulation of the purifying currents entering the gulf and for the
passage of marine life that uses the gulf at various times throughout
the year. The company Granjas Atuneras S.A. has proposed to the Costa Rica
government to place over 100 cages to farm yellow fin tuna in the
mouth of the Golfo Dulce. These cages are circular and 50 m in
diameter with a depth of 22 m, and will be placed in the coastal
current entering the gulf. These cages will therefore interfere with
the current that cleanses the Golfo Dulce, while becoming a lethal
barrier to the wildlife entering the gulf and the turtles that use the
adjacent beaches as their nesting grounds.
A no-fishing zone will be placed around the cages, prohibiting local
fisherman from being able to fish in their most fruitful waters. The
proposed project will be directly off the coast of the Guaymi Indian
Reservation. There as been no consultation with the Guaymies regarding
the project and the impact it will have on their way of life and their
ability to fish their waters.
Marine life in the area will be attracted to the cages as there is a
concentrated source of food in the form of the uneaten sardines used
to feed the tuna. Fish, turtles, whales, sharks and dolphins
constantly get caught in the cages to which they are attracted. This
will also have a large adverse affect on local fish populations as
they will be concentrated in a no-fishing zone before being
The proposed project also includes importing the large volumes of
sardines needed to feed the tuna from Peru . This creates a tremendous
risk of introducing novel diseases to the area. Caged fish are under a
great deal of stress and immune compromised. Together, these two
factors create a prefect setting for an epidemic which could
compromise the entire marine ecosystem of the Golfo Dulce. If their
plans change to take fish from the local area to feed the tuna, the
food chain will be disrupted locally and again the Golfo Dulce will be
The Environmental Impact Study submitted by Granjas Atuneras S.A.
(which was approved by a corrupt series of government officials)
failed to properly assess the project in many aspects. The Golfo Dulce
is a very dynamic ecosystem with tremendous seasonal fluctuations.
There is no data on the changes that occur with the currents in the
region throughout the year, and this will directly affect the
dispersal and removal of wastes from the tuna farm. It as well makes
no provisions for any sort of environmental monitoring of the farm,
nor any remedial actions for the negative impacts it will have on
local fishing or otherwise.
Over 1000 local fishermen rely on the gulf for their livelihood. The
Corcovado National Park , which has been described by National
geographic as the most biologically intense place on earth has a large
area of sensitive mangrove along the coast of the Golfo Dulce. As
well, thousands of tourists enjoy this region annually through visits
to the various ecolodges. The world-famous surf destination of Pavones
is also downstream of the ocean current where the tuna cages will be
placed, such that this largely popular area could become laden with
the waste from this farm. All these industries, which are acting in a
sustainable fashion, will be adversely affected by these proposed
large-scale tuna operations. This is only the second yellow fin tuna
farming project to have been proposed (the first of which failed in
Panama ), and there is no scientific data having studied the
environmental impact or success of such an operation.
This tuna is not destined for domestic consumption, rather is to be
transported to Japan and the United States for sushi. There will be no
added social benefits to the area as a minimum people will be employed
to operate the tuna farm.
Local community organizations are working on this issue, the
municipality of Golfito , the municipality of Puerto Jimenez, the
Chamber of Tourism of Golfito and many small NGO´s are trying to
raise awareness. Unfortunately, many of these places do not even have
a phone and our efforts to co-ordinate have been very difficult. We
are trying to raise awareness internationally to pressure the
government based on their green image for tourism to be true to their
word. There are currently no international organizations working to
help us with public awareness.
So far a law suit we presented has managed to halt the project for the
time being, while the courts review the facts of the proposal. It is
during this time that we believe pressure should be applied to the
appeals court with a letter writing campaign from the international
community expressing concerns over this proposal. This project has
already been approved by the Costa Rican government without any public
consultation as is required by law. Despite this deplorable display of
corruption and lack of consideration for environmental sustainability,
for which Costa Rica prides itself, this tuna project has been
temporarily halted as it is being re-evaluated by an appeals court.
Input from the international community will be extremely valuable
during this appeals court process. The court is evaluating information
it receives, and letters expressing your opinion can influence this
process. As a member of the international community, tourism is the industry
that is most affected by your opinion. For this reason, we request
that you write a letter to both the President Oscar Arias and the
Costa Rican tourism board ICT. The addresses are written below.
Please emphasize your concerns for the environment and the impact this
will have on your potential to support Costa Rica by choosing it as a
Here you can find helpful pointers on how to write an effective letter: http://globalresponse.org/letterwritingtips.php
Please visit PRETOMA (http://www.tortugamarina.org/) for updates on
If you have any further questions or concerns please do not hesitate
to contact me. We sincerely appreciate your help by voicing your opinion.
Addresses for letters:
Instituto Costarricense de Turismo (ICT)
Fax (506) 220-3555
Oscar Arias Sanchez
The President of Costa Rica
San Jose, Costa Rica
Thx. Have a nice day !
Yves Van den Meerssche
ASTV eBay Shop / ASTV Media
+27(0)72 289 58 07
From A.M. Costa Rica's Newsite - http://www.amcostarica.com/wednesday.htm
Facts wanting on disease implications
Salmon have deadly lice, but what of farmed tuna?
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Critics of an undersea tuna farm in southwestern Costa Rica have not stressed the disease issue, but such farms could be the source of deadly viruses that could ravage Costa Rica's diverse fish and animal populations.
Although not a disease, a report from the University of Alberta Tuesday said that salmon farms were causing the death of up to to 95 per cent of migrating wild juvenile salmon that pass by.
The caged salmon are a source of a natural parasite called a salmon louse. These are small crustaceans (Lepeopshtheirus salmonis). The primary sea lice hosts are adult salmon. Under natural conditions, according to a university release, the adults are far offshore when the juveniles are migrating out to sea. Fish farms put adult salmon in net pens along the migration routes, and the result is a cloud of sea lice through which the juveniles must migrate, said the release.
"It takes only one or two sea lice to kill a juvenile pink or chum salmon," said Martin Krkosek. "The juveniles are so vulnerable because they are so small — only one to two inches long." He is a Ph.D. student at the University of Alberta's Centre for Mathematical Biology.
The study, done in coastal British Columbia, is being heralded as the first to provide confirmation that sea lice from fish farms kill wild salmon and to what extent. However, the problem is well-known enough to have been featured on a 2005 segment of the television series "Boston Legal," starring William Shatner and James Spader.
Not so for possible diseases promoted by tuna farms.
Krkosek said in an e-mail exchange Tuesday with A.M. Costa Rica: "I would guess that the possibility of disease problems due to tuna ranching have been completely unstudied."
The researcher did cite a report that a herpes virus showed up in Australian waters in 1995, killing many of the small fish there. Sardines imported to feed nearby fish-farmed tuna got the blame.
"The virus whipped across the ocean like a brushfire front, moving at 30 kms. a day and leaving behind it a sea of dead fish," said Rex Dalton, the U.S. West Coast correspondent for the magazine Nature in a Sept. 29, 2004, online report. "Eventually, it was estimated that 75 percent of pilchards in the region died. Seabirds, from Australasian gannets to penguins, starved in the wake of the disaster. In 1998, another virus attack knocked out many of the remaining
pilchards." Pilchards are herring-like food fish important to the birds.
In addition to Australia, tuna farms are operating in the Mediterranean and along Mexico's Baja Peninsula.
Dalton credits biologist Dr. John Volpe of the University of Victoria, who happens to be a co-author with Krkosek of the sea lice study, with being one of the first scientists to issue warnings about potential environmental damage from salmon pens off British Columbia in the mid-1990s. "The opportunity for large-scale environmental disasters is enormous," Volpe has said of plans to install fish farms off the U.S. coast.
In Costa Rica two scientists told lawmakers last week that the environmental impact study provided by Granjas Atuneras de Golfito S.A. for the Golfo Dulce project was lacking. Gerardo Umaña Villalobos, a biologist at the Universidad de Costa Rica, told the legislative Comisión de Ambiente that the study has deficiencies. For example, the impacts on turtles, dolphin and sharks were not considered, he said.
Ricardo Jimenez of Universidad Nacional agreed that there were flaws in the study, particularly relating to contaminants.
The tuna farm project has received a green light by governmental agencies, but the approvals are being appealed to the Sala IV constitutional court. Environmentalists are joined by residents of the area and tourism officials in opposing the plan.
The size of the project is staggering. The tuna firm wants to construct underwater holding cages 7.4 kms. (4.6 miles) long and 2.1 kms. (1.3 miles) wide. The cages would be down 22 meters into the water, some 70 feet. The tuna farm would be about a kilometer (six-tenths of a mile) off the coast.
The farm would be stocked by young yellowfin tuna purchased from local fishermen. Most of the existing tuna farms fatten the bluefin tuna that is much in demand in Japan for sushi.
We need to pressure the government to stop this, we need to make more people aware of what is going on, all the permits were obtained very quietly. We need everyone´s help to stop this. Letters to President Oscar Arias, ICT, Minister of Tourism, letters to your embassy, letters to the Tico Times firstname.lastname@example.org and $$$ to fight. There is big $$ and politics involved, so we have a hard fight. Any and all your support is greatly appreciated. Thanks Chichi ....
HELP US SAVE THE GOLFO DULCE
Granjas Atuneras de Golfito S.A. has been given the necessary permits to start a yellow fin tuna farm project just past Punta Banco, Pavones. These permits were obtained violating national law, under questionable methods, that are presently under investigation.
Local fishermen, sport fishing operators, tourism groups, conservation organizations and local community leaders were all kept uninformed about the project and out of the process. Tourism and traditional fishing are two of the most important industries in the Golfo Dulce.
The project's first stage is to establish no less than 10 cages (interior dimensions of 50mt diameter x 20 mt. depth each) enclosed in a mesh structure of 1200 mts. x 500 mts. Several more such groups would follow down the coast to Punta Burica. Each cage is weighted down by ten anchors weighing 1.3 tones each, for a total of 130 metric tons in reduced area. The company would be provided with live tuna (30 to 80 kgs.) by tuna clippers fishing up to 250 nm out to sea. These live tuna would then be slowly towed in a cage for 15 to 45 days to the project's site.
Tuna, along with certain other marine life school under dolphins and follow them around in search of food. The tuna clippers use helicopters to spot large pods of dolphins breathing on the surface, knowing tuna will be beneath them. They then use dynamite and speed boats to corral the dolphins into an easily netted mass. They circle the dolphins with a huge net to catch all the tuna beneath. Millions of dolphins are killed world wide by tuna clippers every year using this method. This tuna is traditionally used for canning. There is no such thing “dolphin safe tuna” from tuna clippers; some fishing practices just kill fewer dolphins than others.
In the waters where these tuna clippers will be operating there are many different dolphin species among which we find spinner, spotted, bottlenose, common and Risso's.
Slowing towing a mesh cage 15 to 45 days from the open ocean to the coast will cause hundreds of marine life to get entangled and die a useless death. Endangered sea turtles, dolphins, whales, fish and even some to the tuna within the cage will all die and rot on their way in. Sharks will be attracted to this cage and follow it in to the coastal waters. They will then check out what else is available on the second longest left point break in the world.
The tuna that manages to survive will then be put into the cages and fed frozen, imported sardines. Though the sardines are frozen this does not eliminate the possibility of introducing a virus or other sickness that would cause a disaster on the local fish population. There is a well documented case of exactly this happening in Australia.
The amount of sardines to feed all this tuna is astronomical, and even though it will be imported, the impact on the sardine fishery in another country will be high. Tuna is migratory and comes from the South; Costa Rica will be helping to deplete the tuna stocks of the world.
The cages will be lit for navigational safety. Each light will be visible for a radius of 5 miles. This in an area where over 200 turtles come to nest every year. It is well documented that turtles use the natural light over the water to orientate themselves. The females, heavy with eggs, will be guided towards these cages and can easily get stuck and die. A few may make it in to lay their eggs. Once the babies hatch, the few that survive other obstacle and make it to the water, will be attracted by the light and swim straight into the jaws of the hungry tuna.
In Costa Rica the Olive Ridley turtle has only being registered nesting in Punta Banco and a beach in Guanacaste, it is very rare. The Hawksbill turtle also nests in Punta Banco.
Spotted and bottlenose dolphins live in the pristine Golfo Dulce. It is established that the main cause of dolphin deaths is entanglement in nets. Both the Southern and Northern Humpback whales use the gulf to feed and give birth to their young during their annual migrations. Placing these cages as a net wall in the entrance of the gulf is a sure death sentence.
The organic waste produced by the marine life that entangles in the nets, plus the tuna feces will not only attract sharks to the area, it will also cause red tides and pollute the beaches all along the coast line. The red tides could destroy all the marine environment of the gulf. The smell from all this organic matter will scare all the tourists away and the income all the communities depend on.
The fish guts, bones, skin, and other wasted (approximately 360 metric tons every harvest) will be “frozen and stored” on the factory ship for later proper disposal.
The Golfo Dulce is one of only three tropical fjords in the whole world. Its marine environment is not only very special, it's very fragile. The mangroves within the gulf are a crucial nursery for corvina, shrimp and other marine life. The coral reefs are already threatened by sedimentation from logging. The fecal matter and other organic waste would surely destroy what is left. The proposed project represents a threat to the biodiversity of the entire Gulf, and the livelihoods of all who depend on it.
The delicate ecology and unique status as a tropical fjord of the Golfo Dulce is the last place on earth where we should be developing an experiment like this (no other yellow fin tuna farm exists in the world).
The communities of the whole area do not want this project to go forward, where it is proposed or anywhere else on Costa Rica's environmentally friendly coast line. We need your help to pay for lawyers and ads to pressure the government to stop it. Every penny counts, and if you can't help us economically, please write a letter. We will collect all letters sent and get them to the President of Costa Rica.
Thank you for your help.
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Those who opposed an undersea tuna farm in the Golfo Dulce plan a surf championship Saturday near the community of Pavones in southwest Costa Rica.
The environmental groups sponsoring the event oppose the project proposed by Granja Atunera de Golfito S.A. and have appealed permits to the Sala IV constitutional court.
The opponents object to the mess that would be created by raising yellowfin tuna in two-kilometer-long cages beneath the pristine gulf.
Opponents of an underwater tuna farm in southwest Costa Rica brought their arguments to the Asamblea Legislativa Thursday for a hearing of the Comisión Especial de Ambiente.
Opponents have filed a Sala IV constitutional court appeal to stop the project. They argue that the environmental studies were incomplete.
That is the same argument that Denise Echeverría of Vida Marina gave the committee Thursday.
Noah Anderson of the Asociación Protectora de Tortugas Marinas said that his group also has filed a complaint with the Tribunal Ambiental y Secretaría Técnica Ambiental of the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía, the environmental ministry.
A man identified as Guillermo Baltodano of Punto Bravo said that the residents of the area were never notified of the project and that publication of legal notices in the official La Gaceta was not sufficient.
A representative of the Cámera de Turismo also said that this group opposes the project. The firm Granjas Atuneras de Golfito S.A. plans on having underwater cages of some 2 kilometers long below the ocean surface to feed captive yellowfin tuna.
Opponents argue that the tuna will generate waste and scrap food, attract predators and generally degrade the pristine Gulfo Dulce.
Committee members said they would call in government environmental workers to add more information. The committee has the option of creating legislation related to such projects.
Tuna firm spokesman defends project as taking advantage of nation's potential
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
A representative of the firm that wants to put a tuna farm underwater in southwestern Costa Rica said Thursday that the country should take advantage of its undersea resources.
The representative is Eduardo Velarde Silva, and he spoke to the Asamblea Legislativa's Comisión Especial de Ambiente. China has 174,000 square kilometers of territorial waters and it is the No. 1 aquaculture producer, he said, noting that Costa Rica has 600,000 square kilometers and great potential.
The commission heard a series of environmentalists speak
against the project last week. As news of the project by Granjas Atuneras de Golfito S.A. spread, a firestorm erupted among tourism officials and nature lovers.
The project would put two-kilometer long cages beneath the sea to raise yellow fin tuna.
Opponents say the project will litter the Golfo Dulce with dead sardines used to feed the tuna and cause a host of other problems.
Velarde said that the project would be run in an environmentally conscious manner and that if the ocean were degraded, so would be the tuna business.