In July 2013, Pete, an Earthrace team of ex-services personnel and a volunteer support crew, plus the new Sealegs amphibious craft, headed for Costa Rica for a three month campaign helping tackle pirate vessels fishing illegally around the coast. Illegal fishing is like a plague for this small country, which is sandwiched between Nicaragua and Panama, with the Pacific Ocean to the west, and the Caribbean Sea to the east.
The country, which in many respects, has an enviable environmental record compared with neighbouring countries, has a number of marine protected zones around the coastline. Much of the work of Earthrace over the three month period focused on these areas, and they spent many days and nights observing and filming fishing activities around them. Footage obtained by Earthrace from Sealegs and from suspected illegal fishing vessels boarded by the team was passed to the relevant authorities. The offense of being caught illegally fishing mean’t anything from a small fine to imprisonment. Generally a first offense does not see substantial penalties imposed, but subsequent infringements usually see offenders spending time behind bars.
Why target illegal fishing? Going after the pirates that carry out illegal fishing activities is one of the most important issues in global ocean conservation today. The quantity of seafood caught illegally has been estimated to total 11 million to 25 million metric tons – the equivalent of around 20% of all seafood traded around the world. 260 million jobs are dependent on legal marine fisheries (source: http://oceana.org).
Whilst the widespread introduction of quotas, International agreements and an increase in marine protected zones around the world seeks to curb over-fishing by legitimate fleets, the effects of these are still almost impossible to accurately measure, and nor are there enough infrastructures available to monitor what exactly is caught and sold and in what quantities.
Illegal fishing impacts on the livelihoods of artisanal fishermen trying to earn an honest living and feed their families, as well as national commercial interests. It has a devastating effect on marine life in terms of the deliberate targeting threatened species like tuna, swordfish and rays for which the pirates can get well rewarded on the black market. Other species are simply are not being allowed to mature enough to keep populations growing and healthy. (read more)
Pirates perpetuate the reprehensible practice of shark finning. In addition, do you think that a poacher who is stealing millions of fish is going to be concerned with the whales, dolphins, porpoises, sea turtles, seals, sea lions, manta rays, sharks, sea birds or any other creatures that are unlucky enough to be entangled in a driftnet, hooked on a long line, swept up in a purse seine, caught by a trawler, or blown up by explosives?”
In 2013, 280 Kemp’s, Ridley and Black sea turtles were washed up dead in the Golfo Dulce off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. The Ministry of the Environment reported it believing they were the victims of illegal long line fishing.
Read more about the impact of IUU fishing here http://www.earthraceconservation.org/iuu-fishing.
Read more about long-lining and the impact it has on Costa Rica http://www.pretoma.org/sea-research/fisheries/responsible-fisheries/long....
The fruit of the sea: Shrimp trawling was big business in Costa Rica, but because of dwindling supplies and excessive by-catch, it has been phased out over five years. As permits expire, they will not be renewed.
Globally, shrimp trawl fisheries catch 2% of the world total catch of all fish by weight, but produce more than one-third of the world total by catch. It’s estimated that for every kg shrimp caught (legally or illegally), there are 5.7kg of by catch. (source: Wikipedia)
In July of 2014, all shrimp boats operating in Central America and the Dominican Republic, including Costa Rica, had to use turtle excluder devices, or TEDs, which allow caught sea turtles to escape from nets.
Whilst on patrol, the Earthrace team succeeded in finding a 70ft (21m) Costa Rican shrimp trawler it believed was fishing illegally. At night, the trawler was observed travelling at 8 knots into the marine protected area, where it turned off its lights, stopped and spent 40 minutes preparing its trawl gear. For the next seven hours, the trawler traversed in the same area at around 2-3 knots. It was deliberately operating within the protected area and at daybreak, he pulled in the trawl nets at which point the Earthrace team boarded the vessel.
The GPS was observed and filmed. It showed a history of fishing in both the north and south marine protected areas on a regular basis. There was in fact more data with him fishing inside the marine protected area than outside it! The only good news was that this particular trawler did have a turtle exclusion device fitted, although many do not.
Partners against crime: Earthrace Conservation worked closely with many people during their mission, in particular the Ministry of Environment, Energy and Oceans of Costa Rica (MINAE), and Pretoma, a Costa Rican non-profit that focuses on marine conservation and research working to protect ocean resources and promote sustainable fishing policies in Costa Rica and Central America. We'd like to congratulate them on the amazing job that both organisations do under often difficult and dangerous circumstances, and thank them for their invaluable assistance.
MINAE: http://www.minae.go.cr/ or http://translate.google.co.uk/translate?hl=en&sl=es&u=http://www.minae.g...
Before leaving Costa Rica, the Earthrace team donated some of the valuable equipment they used to MINAE to help them to continue their fight against the 21st century pirates that have become the scourge of the Costa Rican seas. This included weapons, radar equipment, VHF radios, binoculars, night vision goggles and an outboard engine.
Spreading the conservation net wider: It wasn't just illegal fishing on the agenda, there were sea turtles, marine reserves, poachers and much, much more...but you'll have to wait for the TV series to find out exactly what happened during the three month mission!
Have a look at some of the photos taken by the crew while they were in Costa Rica: http://www.earthraceconservation.org/mission-pirata-photos
An Example of a mission update from Pete Bethune: Throughout the preparations and the mission itself, here's a snapshot of what went on from Pete:
9 July: I arrived at the deployment location last night to prepare for the team's arrival here this Saturday. So good to be back in this wonderful country (Costa Rica), and so good to be back on a mission. 25 people about to hit the ground running here. I am nervous as hell really. It feels much like Earthrace in 2008 when we put everything on the line, but I won't go to the grave wondering 'what if?'.
12 July: On location with the Field Producer and a volunteer hatching cunning plans. The tactical team, film crew and volunteers all arrive here tomorrow. 25 people in all. So looking forward to getting them all working. I have that nervous energy like before a big race.
13 July: Unpacking the Sealegs Amphibious Assault Vessel today. And all going well we'll be on the water tomorrow. Last night we picked up a bunch of our gear from the container. And it looks like the $5k worth of Makita tools has disappeared somewhere between NZ and here.... hmmmm. And the posse of 25 peeps arrive today. A few trips to the airport for someone....
11 August: the team was involved in a gunfight last weekend, result was one arrest but the other poacher got away. Things here are improving daily too, team fully assembled. Tactical hardware all arrived, sorted, charged. Missions happening weekly. Everyone so excited to be part of this. Latest quote. "Marines run to chaos" some would say they create it as well. Haha, happy to be alive.
25 August: A second gunfight, this time with a team of 4 poachers. Amazingly no one injured. Two of the men were captured and arrested. Then our second team on patrols in another section of the Jungle managed one arrest at the time and another 2 arrests happening today from evidence gathered at the site. What a week! My body feels like it’s been run over by a bus. And I can confirm, after eating cold MREs for the last 4 days, that they do require SALT water to activate the heating element...
11 September: The team caught another poacher early this morning. So proud of them. Normally the poaching happens at night here. But this time it was in broad daylight. Another epic hour of TV in the can. And a tiny step forward in terms of protecting endangered species. Happy to be alive and in one of the most extraordinary countries on earth.
15 September: The team have just had their best bust of the campaign thus far. A 70 foot trawler fishing in a protected area. As per usual the Captain had all sorts of excuses. No he wasn't fishing. No it isn't a protected area. No your GPS coordinates are wrong. It is fantastic how success buoys up a team. Everyone really on a high now. Will post images as soon as the campaign here wraps up...
20 September: Today we all became the proud parents of 58 baby turtles that we rescued a while ago. The turtle lays her eggs in an area where they get regularly poached, so we dug them up and buried them in our own hatchery. And today, 58 cute baby turtles swam out into the ocean.
25 September: Heading out on patrols tonight. Sealegs 1 is all refueled and ready to go. The lads all doing final checks on their gear. And Alicia Snyder has sorted our meals. Looking forward to a safe and successful night with an awesome team, experience such things... Thanks Alicia Snyder for all your work on the hatchery. See photos: https://www.facebook.com/pete.bethune/media_set?set=a.10151887341830867&...
5 October: On the tail end of an epic voyage the lads caught 2 fishing boats in an area they are banned from. Still to look at video but really confident the two captains will be prosecuted. Happy to be alive and happy to be making busts...
6 October: One more week of blood, sweat and tears from an amazing team of people. One more week to savour one of the most amazing countries on Earth. One more week to deliver an amazing TV series. One more week and I'll hopefully be heading home to my family. I miss so many things, but I wouldn't swap my time here for anything.
6 October: It is with regret that we send one of our operatives back to the mainland today by boat. He has a horrid infection to his leg and the antibiotics we have here make little impact on it. He desperately needs an IV drip to sort it out. We will certainly miss him. Two more black ops guys left last month with injuries. These missions do take their toll.
12 October: Wahey. It is the last day of campaign for many of us. I've lost 5kg and am mentally and physically exhausted. And it is so good to be back on land sipping a wine. Well that was last night. This morning its coffee. My job today is get the Sealegs into a container. And hit the town tonight. Or maybe I'll just chill? Will post pics and vid from next week on what has been an incredible achievement from an amazing group of people.
TV series on the way. Jack is fine, back in NZ now. I'll be there soon.
13 October: Almost last day in paradise. Heading out for a lovely dinner, wine, and celebration with an amazing team. Not wanting a big night, just a relaxed night with some awesome peeps who give a shit about this planet... back soon.
15 October: Last day packing the container for shipment to New Zealand, 10 pallets to squeeze in behind a 30 foot Sealegs amphib. Hoping to have it all packed and closed for shipment by tonight. Then tomorrow I fly to Atlanta. It feels like an amazing chapter is drawing to an end...
16 October: My last job is done, well almost. The container is packed to the brim with the Sealegs amphib, tactical gear, dive gear, jungle gear, clothes, food... and it is all in there and about to head back to New Zealand. I'm flying tomorrow to Atlanta. Back to the good ole US of A....
OUR AMAZING TEAM: Earthrace campaigns on many different fronts but some are easier to garner support for than others. Getting a mission together to combat pirate fishing wasn't going to be easy.
Everyone loves whales and dolphins, seals are cute, sharks are 'jawsome' and dugongs may have a face only a mother could love, but they're pretty special too. So we'd like to thank everyone that helped with this campaign, whether with funding, donations, goods in kind, contacts, moral support and general goodwill. We couldn't have done it without you all. We'd specially like to thank our fantastic team of highly trained professional ex-services personnel and our filming and support crew - a group of amazing, passionate people, all there to play their own parts in this crucial operation:
Alicia Sneyder. USA. Camp Mum
Andrew Allen. UK. Cameraman
Anna Wloch. Poland. Photographer
Brian Mead. NZ. Series Producer
Bryce Mahoney. USA. Operative
Campbell Parlour. NZ. mechanic
Charissa Moen. USA. UAV Technician
Jack waldron. NZ. Operative
Jassim Jaffer. Oman / UK. Sound Technician
Larisa Kellet. NZ. Operations/Production Manager
Laurie Gibbs. UK. Production Coordinator
Matt Griffin. USA. Operative
Megan Stewart. Administrator
Michael Carey. USA. Camera Assist
Pete Bethune. NZ, Skipper
Raj Gupta, MD. USA. Doctor
Richard M. USA. Operative
Rick C. USA. Operative
Rob Barrett. UK. Head of Security
Rob McCaffery. UK. Multirotor Technician
Sam Osborne. UK. Director of photography
Tim Firkin. NZ. Cameraman