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Costa Rican Sea Hero and Shark Champion

Given Costa Rica’s global reputation as an environmentally progressive country, this contrary track record may seem shocking: as recently as 2004, it was the largest exporter of shark products, including 8,000 tons of shark fins. And sadly, in 2017, to evade Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) regulations, Costa Rica declared that it does not recognize sharks as wildlife. 

But since 2001, one man has been a relentless force on behalf of Costa Rica’s sharks  Randall Arauz is a Costa Rican marine biologist and ocean conservationist who founded the Association for the Restoration of Sea Turtles (PRETOMA) in 1997 to help protect Costa Rica’s marine species.

Brutality exposed

It wasn’t until a friend of his got a job as a cook aboard a shark finning boat and took some undercover video footage that Arauz got his first glimpse of an industry sustained by horrific acts of inhumanity. It was at this moment, that his life’s purpose became crystal clear. 

Shark finning vessels hull in thousands of sharks at a time that have been baited and caught on long-hooked lines. Fishermen slice their fins off while the sharks are still alive, then dump them back into the ocean to drown in agonizing pain. An estimated 100 million sharks are brutally stripped of their life in this manner every year.  

In 2003, Arazu exposed a Taiwanese ship illegally bringing 30 tons of shark fins — roughly 30,000 sharks’ worth — into Puntarenas under the cover of night. Video footage of this event helped him gain public support from 80,000 Costa Ricans and 35 deputies of the legislative assembly. 

Over the next few years, Arauz helped bring into fruition a law prohibiting the entry into Costa Rican ports of sharks without intact fins. His activism didn’t stop there, though.  

Arauz has represented Costa Rica at several pertinent United Nations meetings and participated in the UN Convention of Migratory Species. He has called for, and been involved with, scripting the language for an international ban on shark finning. He has been continually involved in shark and ocean conservation research, education and advocacy through organizations such as MigraMar, CREMA and Fins Attached, among others. Arauz was also a key player in the 1999 closure of a green turtle slaughterhouse, the dismantling of a tuna farm in 2007 and the shutdown of Costa Rica’s shrimp trawl fishery in 2013.  

Internationally recognized for his tireless marine conservation efforts, Arauz was awarded the Goldman Prize in 2010, and Scuba Diving magazine’s “Sea Hero of the Year” title in May 2019. 

Call to action

As a frontline defender of the sea and all her inhabitants, he is quick to point out that shark protection is more than a one-person effort. “Sharks need all the help they can get from all sectors of society.”  

A sharkless and predominantly dead sea is a real possibility, but it certainly doesn’t have to be. Oceans the world over, and all their extraordinary creatures, need more people like Randall Arauz speaking up for and defending them. At the same time, there’s a great deal that people the world over can do in their everyday lives to learn from and follow the example of sea heroes like him. We need sharks just as much as the rest of the ocean does.

From Flush With Fish to a Dire Future

There were once walls of scalloped hammerhead sharks so thick around Costa Rica’s famous Cocos Island that you couldn’t see through them nor accurately count them. Mainland fisheries thrived and supported the local coastal communities. The eastern Pacific Ocean as a whole was a vastly rich marine ecosystem where megafauna, like sharks and sea turtles, were abundant. 

Unfortunately, when word spread that the waters around Costa Rica were flush with fish, influxes of Chinese, Taiwanese, and Indonesian fishing vessels started coming to ceaselessly plunder the treasures of this tropical and productive sea.  

Globally renowned Randall Arauz regards overfishing as the major contributor to the rapid decline of sharks, sea turtles and other pelagic fish and marine species. Illegal and unregulated commercial fishing is unsustainable and detrimental to the entire ocean environment, as well as small coastal communities that depend on the ocean for their livelihood and survival. What’s more, as apex predators, sharks are widely responsible for keeping ocean ecosystems in balance. And, whether living by the sea or not, every human on the planet is intricately connected and dependent on a healthy ocean.

Six Shark-Saving Steps

We can all do our part to help save shark populations in Costa Rican waters and around the world. Here are six ways to make a difference.

  1. Don’t purchase any shark products. 
  2. Support local legislation that bans shark fishing and finning. 
  3. Avoid eating unsustainable seafood or fish caught using unsustainable methods. Access Oceana’s Sustainable Seafood Guide for more information: oceana.org/living-blue/sustainable-seafood-guide
  4. Share with friends and family what you learn about sharks and marine conservation. 
  5. Donate to non-government organizations like Fins Attached, CREMA Costa Rica, MigraMar, MarViva, and Mission Blue. 
  6. Participate in coastal and open water cleanups.
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