Image via WikipediaCosta Rica sells itself as a tourist destination on its respect for nature....it is one the top ten destinations listed by the Ethical Traveller organsation for 2011(here) , after all.
Well, the Ethical Traveller organisation had better revise its opinions sharpish and revise its methods while it is about it.
No country that turns a blind eye to the practice of cutting the fins from live sharks and throwing them back in the sea to die in agony, unable to swim, can claim any ethical status....and this is what is happening in Costa Rican waters.
It is not a new practice.....it has been documented by Rob Stewart, filming illegal shark finning off Coco Island in 2002...and it centres on the Pacific coast port of Puntarenas whence the fins are exported.
I had always thought of shark fin soup as something rare and expensive, but with these new methods of obtaining fins it has become something cheap and widely available in Asia....thus the importance of the market.
The Costa Rican government responded to internal and external pressure to ban the finning by passing a law in 2008 which permitted the fins to be detached only if the shark were killed...and to decree that any fins landed must be attached to a shark and the boat concerned must tie up to a public dock.
End of problem?
Not at all.
Passing a law is one thing...enforcing it another.
Costa Rica has no navy...so a Central American version of the Cod Wars with Iceland is out of the question...
Costa Rica has a coastguard...but it is not well funded and can't be everywhere....its main priority seems to be tracking drugs being carried in its territorial waters.
Costa Rica has police forces....many and various police forces all with differing functions....but the government can hardly issue them with water wings and get them to swim out to suspected vessels.
Costa Rica turns a blind eye to this appalling practice for two reasons......
The first - the government has limited funds at its disposal and all too many responsibilities. The responsibilities which affect people who can affect the government get first priority.
The second - the government seems at a loss to know how to deal with any law breaking which involves anything more complicated than simple theft conducted in front of witnesses.
Is there a solution?
Nothing direct, I think, but there are things which could be done.
Tourism is very important to the Costa Rican economy and certain sectors of it...the luxury resorts....can certainly affect the government.
What a gesture it would be if they were to offer to help fund the coastguard to preserve the image of Costa Rica which they sell to their clients!
The virtuous circle in action.
But, as they are very unlikely to do anything of the sort, being dedicated to screwing the last penny out of their environment and giving nothing back, what about a ring fenced tax on their activities to provide funding?
Not very likely.....the government would not like to affect the revenues of those who have polluted the waters, ruined the mangrove swamps and excluded Costa Ricans from the beaches of their own country while the tourists live in the never never land behind the guarded walls.
So it's down to the tourists themselves.....
Costa Rica is a lovely country.....but until it gets its act together...
Take your holiday somewhere else.
And tell the Costa Rica Tourist Board why.