Photo by George Duffield
Photo by George Duffield

Cocos Island Shark & Sea Turtle Research in the News

Since March 2009, STRP and PRETOMA have led research expeditions to study sea turtles and sharks to the Cocos Islands offshore of Costa Rica, forming the Cocos Island Monitoring And Research (C-MAR) project. Tracking individual sea turtles and sharks with satellite transmitters is necessary to learn about their use of the Cocos Islands and the open-ocean migration route between these productive islands and the Galapagos Islands offshore of Ecuador.

A recent expedition was featured in the Mill Valley Herald newspaper.

Parks and Rec supe holidays with sharks

By Herald staff, December 15

You might not guess it if you only saw him puttering about the Corporation Yard, but Mill Valley Parks Superintendent Rick Misuraca is the kind of guy who spends his time off poking large sharks with a sharp stick.

All in the name of science, of course. Earlier this year, Misuraca returned from a 10-day conservation research expedition to Cocos Island National Park in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, halfway between mainland Costa Rica and the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

“It’s so rich there, so abundant,” Misuraca said. “It’s just amazing — one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had.”

On the trip, led by the Marin-based Turtle Island Restoration Network and its sister organization PRETOMA in Costa Rica, Misuraca joined Randall Arauz, winner of the Goldman Environmental Award, and Todd Steiner, founder of TIRN, to study sharks, sea turtles and other marine life.

With 12 volunteer research assistants, the group traveled 350 miles west of Pacific mainland Costa Rica to tag hammerhead sharks with acoustic tags, place satellite transmitters on endangered green turtles and download information from permanent receivers placed around the waters of Cocos Island.

On one dive, Misuraca said he counted 105 sharks, mostly hammerheads, in the waters around him. “You’re diving literally with hundreds of sharks,” he said. “They cruise up in big schools; they’re really slow and graceful. They’re just huge, beautiful animals.”

When a shark was within reach, Misuraca would reach out with a little spear and quickly tag the animal. Frightening as it sounds, he said the sharks barely took notice of the nuisance.

In addition to hammerhead sharks, the crew spotted white tips, tiger sharks, Galapagos sharks and a whale shark, as well as eagle rays, marbled rays and manta rays.

“The goal of the research is to understand shark and turtle migrations between Cocos, Galapagos and Colombia’s Malpelo Island in order to better protect these species,” said Steiner, a biologist who co-led the expedition. “We’re working to create a bi-national marine protected area, as well as study the importance of Cocos Island as feeding and nursery grounds for these species.”

Similar studies on sharks are being conducted at Galapagos Island by a UC Davis research team and at Malpelo Island by Colombian researchers. The three research groups are sharing their data and coordinating their activities to better understand the dynamics of shark and other pelagic species in the eastern tropical Pacific.

Four species of sea turtles have been recorded inside the Park’s marine boundaries, though little else is known about the turtles of Cocos.

Asked what he enjoyed most about the work, Misuraca said, “Having a great experience but doing something that benefits the ocean. It’s just great to be involved in this part of the world.”