Ways to coexist

In the mid-1970s, the famous movie Jaws (1975) featured sharks as fearsome predators of humans. Six years later, this idea was recovered by Rubén Blades in a musical theme entitled Tiburón, in which the figure of the shark was a metaphor for US colonialism in Latin America.

“If you see it coming (you have to give) a stick to the shark,” says Blades’ lyrics. “It is the shark that is stalking; it is the shark of bad luck”, he emphasizes a few lines later. In 1981, Blades presented the animal as the enemy. Today, 40 years later, we fight the shark not only in the symbolic world of movies and songs but, above all, in the territorial waters of Costa Rica.

In our country, the hammerhead shark is a species of commercial interest. This is how the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute (Incopesca) considers it, an entity that also grants permits to fishermen. In the eyes of anyone, this is a huge conflict of interest. Or, as Hamlet would say, it means that there is something rotten in the seas of Denmark.

Obviously, the shark is not a commercial species but a wild one that is also endangered. This is stated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES, for its acronym in English): the most important international treaty on this subject. As an added contradiction, Costa Rica promoted and signed that treaty.

False green speeches

The shark is the marine species at the top in the food chain. In other words, it has no natural predators, with the exception of humans. Biologists point out that when shark populations are affected, important imbalances are produced in their habitats, as populations of rays and other fish that serve as food grow. But the consequences do not end there.

In some cases, declining shark populations have led to the loss of coral reefs, beds of algae, and even some commercial fish species. As can be observed, the contradictions are increasing.

On the other hand, many of these effects are unknown and, above all, complex. Complexity is the key word here. As we reduce the complexity of the shark and continue to understand it without nuances, as we did 40 years ago, we will affect our ecosystems in a dramatic and even irreversible way.

The importance of the shark is recognized throughout the world by research institutions, non-governmental organizations and governments. The Shark Conservation Fund, which is one of the most important foundations dedicated to this cause, provides funding to 82 projects globally. Without the shark, our marine resources would be in grave danger. Many rulers know it. Many, except ours, who does not know or, worse still, appears not to know.

In January of this year, President Carlos Alvarado signed an Executive Decree that declared Incopesca the scientific authority on marine species. Yes: the same Incopesca that is in favor of trawl fishing, but that is another story. We are, once again, before one of our false green speeches.

The year the earth changed

Animals will remember last year as a happy year. Our mandatory confinement due to the COVID-19 pandemic allowed them, in various parts of the planet, to recover spaces and have the ideal conditions to communicate and reproduce. This is shown in the documentary The Year the Earth Changed, produced by the BBC and premiered on April 22, on the occasion of Earth Day.

The documentary shows the streets of cities such as New York, San Francisco, Shanghai, Barcelona or Berlin, which were suddenly emptied and allowed the return of animals that had been exiled for decades. It also takes us to a community in Assam in India, where elephants had looted crops for years, due to the loss of 95% of their habitat.

Taking advantage of the fact that many people returned to the area due to the confinement, the inhabitants of this community planted a strip of wild rice for the elephants, so that they did not invade their fields. Today, the elephants and the people of Assam are happy. “If we love elephants, elephants will love us,” says a young woman from the community in the documentary.

In some cases, the pandemic has allowed us to find better ways to coexist with nature. Even with those forms of wildlife that we have historically considered harmful or threatening. This has been achieved in countries that do not have a track record of environmental conservation such as India, Chile or the United States. Meanwhile, in Costa Rica, despite its track record, sharks are more threatened than ever.