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Costa Rica Vows to Protect the World’s Sharks in International Meeting

Two weeks after being named the “Shark Enemy of the Year” by the conservation NGO Sharkproject International, Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís stood before a room of the world’s premiere shark experts and professed his commitment to conservation.

“I firmly believe that the double responsibility to conserve the environment and serve the people is the biggest challenge for government,” Solís said. “If we deny that consumption and protecting the environment need to go hand in hand then we are running a race with no ending, or at the very least running a race where the only end is unchecked consumerism.”

Solís’s speech came immediately after delegates from Costa Rica and more than 30 other governments voted unanimously to grant conservation protections to 22 endangered species of sharks and rays under the Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation of Migratory Sharks. The Costa Rican government’s decision to support these measures came as a pleasant surprise to the environmental groups behind Solís’s shark enemy award, which, following a series of anti-conservation policies, believed that the government planned to abandon its support for international shark protections.

The four-day meeting Memorandum meeting, abbreviated as MOS2, falls under the broader framework of the Convention of Migratory Species, an international agreement that requires its signatories to combat downward population trends of listed species. Though the CMS does not specify the conservation measures to be taken, following the MOS2 vote Costa Rica is now obligated to take action to protect the five species of newly listed sharks found in their ocean territory. Three of these shark species — two species of thresher sharks and silky sharks — are regularly captured by Costa Rican longline fishers.

The president’s decision to support new conservation measures, stands in stark contrast to his previous actions. Over the last two years, the president elicited the ire of international shark groups by approving shipments of endangered shark fins and making deals with fishermen that many viewed as anti-conservation. Though these actions earned Solís the Shark Enemy of the Year dishonor, his support for conservation at the MOS2 meeting has renewed confidence for some conservationists.

“The government’s position wasn’t clear until this last week and we were nervous about what would happen at this meeting,” said Randall Arauz, the president of the marine conservation organization Pretoma. “In the end they really stepped up.”

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