“Alvaro Ugalde Víquez” Marine Reserve

~Von John Tresemer

”SOS ... SOS ... SOS ...: A plea to the Government of Costa Rica and all lovers of the ocean: dolphins, whales, turtles, sharks and all the extraordinary life in the sea of the Peninsula of Osa de Costa Rica is in danger”. This was Don Alvaro's alarm message in 2015 before he died. He said that tuna fishing and other commercial fishing activities are killing them, and that we have to do something to save these true miracles from the Creation of extinction.

“Tomorrow will be too late! It is time to act and save this extraordinary treasure, and we must act now!”

Marine Reserve Alvaro Ugalde Víquez Golfo Dulce in Costa Rica

At present, these living resources of the South Pacific continue to be indiscriminately extinguished by purse seiners, shrimp trawlers, long liners and gill nets, and are threatened by the growing presence of agrochemicals at sea.

Don Alvaro’s idea was to preserve everything by establishing a protected marine area. The proposed protected zone was chosen by national and international marine biologists for its unique biological richness, and as confirmed by dozens of top-notch scientific studies from many independent organizations such as the Tropical Science Center, Mar Viva, Keto, Pretoma, and Cascadia Research. It includes a region from Punta Uvita about thirty miles to the west offshore and southward off the coast of Caño Island, as well as the entire shoreline of Corcovado, along the mangrove and estuarine system of Terraba / Sierpe, which is the largest in Central America with protection internationally designated by RAMSAR and UNESCO. This initiative would strengthen the above-mentioned protected areas, promote tourism, artisanal and sport fishing, only prohibiting practices detrimental to the health and survival of populations not only of charismatic species such as dolphins, whales and turtles, but as well as other ecologically and commercially valuable species that wouldensure the long-term sustainability of artisanal fishermen and their families.

Don Alvaro Ugalde was my friend and a very special character

I think we met in the early eighties in a small office somewhere in a typically urban concrete box in San Jose, surrounded by huge masses of hurried human beings and noisy smoking vehicles, which are some of the reasons I’ve tried to avoid going there. He and his friend Mario Boza were avant-garde environmentalists and Alvaro’s dream, after decades of relentlessly protecting species, habitats and ecosystems, was to continue to do so. I met them crowded in their small cubicles belonging to the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, obsessed with the establishment, structuring and management of a Department of National Parks, doing somersaults to consolidate Corcovado, which included expropriating property from farmers.

Fortunately, most of these pura vida Costa Ricans seemed to understand the highest value of leaving the jungle majestically intact with its jaguars, peccaries, tapirs, monkeys, hundreds of species of birds, amphibians, reptiles and insects, including many forms of life, instead of cutting and burning to turn the ancient jungle into pasture.

At first, Don Alvaro and I did not understand each other very well. He saw me as an arrogant hippie idealist with little patience for the Costa Rican way of doing things, and I saw him as an academic bureaucrat with too much land bias, and a tendency to scientific studies and not to activism. After a few years we reluctantly learned to tolerate each other and to cooperate, and finally became good friends.

On one occasion, I sat in front of him and watched his earnest gaze as I tried to get his support to ban the harpooning of dolphins to be used as bait for sharks. Several times, I had witnessed these incidents from the peaceful and sometimes idyllic viewpoint of my coastal property between the “Cola de la Ballena” at Punta Uvita and Ballena to the south.

I also sought help to protect Caño Island from the excavators and chainsaws sent by some unknown international developer, who dreamed of his casino. The trees were being felled, while the bulldozer was ready to trample and scrape the wooded plateau and pre-Columbian archaeological sites containing exquisite figures of gold and jade. The surrounding reefs with underwater caves and pinnacles were pristine and replete with huge manta rays, hawksbill turtles, schools of barracudas, red snapper, tuna and various species of sharks and dolphins. None of this was protected.

I quickly realized how important and valuable Alvaro was, and what an honor and privilege it was to work with him and Mario on both governmental and nongovernmental committees that represented the shared interests of individuals and organizations. I had the pleasure of witnessing this dynamic duo with relentless bravery plowing through incomprehensible bureaucratic cloud forests, establishing the National Park Service, including Corcovado, Isla del Coco, Isla de Coco, Parque Nacional Marino Ballena and Las Baulas as legally protected areas.

The establishment of marine protection zones was very important at that time in the history of mankind when marine conservation was not yet considered as important and vital by almost all environmental organizations such as the Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club, World Wildlife Fund and others as terrestrial conservation.

Don Alvaro and Don Mario (neither of them liked to call themselves “don” or “sir” in English “although Costa Rican social customs dictated this formality, which I did not know at the time). Thanks to the recognition of their work obtained the highly respected and appreciated title of “Parents of National Parks of Costa Rica.” Also Don Mario would be internationally honored with the prestigious Getty Prize for Conservation.

Would you like to participate in this important marine reserve initiative, Don Alvaro’s dream, which would be of great benefitto humanity, conservation and more so for us who live in the South Pacific zone of Costa Rica?

Send an email to Ms. Hannia Durán (hduran@asamblea.go.cr) in the CR Legislative Assembly and tell her that you support the Bill, File No. 20.333, Law of Creation of the Alvaro Ugalde Viquez Marine Reserve!