Cocos Island National Park
Costa Rica, Inscribed in  1997
Criteria : ix, x

Cocos Island National Park

Learn more about the state of conservation of this natural World Heritage site by scrolling down to read assessment summaries.More details can be found by navigating to the "Full references" tab, where conservation issues, benefits and projects are cited alongside values, threats, and protection and management.Sources of information are listed under references.

Finalised on 27 Oct 2014
Conservation Outlook

Significant Concern

The conservation outlook for Cocos Island is of significant concern due to the degree of threat to marine ecosystems from commercial and sport fishing, climate change (ocean acidification and temperature spikes), and physical damage to reefs (divers and anchors), as well as the continuing impacts of exotic species on terrestrial ecosystems. Even if level of individual threats might be not very high, they remain important threats that will become more significant if they continue to increase and/or when combined with natural climate variations and oscillations. Inadequate levels of staffing and financing render management programs ineffective in dealing with the key threats.

Values

High Concern Trend: Data Deficient
Current state and Trend of values
High Concern

On-going ecological and biological processes, biodiversity, and the habitats of threatened species are all currently threatened by degradation of marine ecosystems through illegal commercial and sport fishing and multiple impacts on coral reef formations (periodic elevations in ocean temperatures, ocean acidification, and diver and anchorage damage), as well as by threats to terrestrial ecosystemscaused by introduced species. The level of threat remains static due to the inadequacy of human and financial resource for management

Threats

High Threat
Overall Threats
High Threat

Threats to the Property are significant. The greatest immediate threats are illegal commercial and sport fishing and introduced species, but the effects of climate change on coral reefs (ocean acidification and temperature spike), and reef damage by recreational divers are also continuing concerns. Ocean acidification can be expected to have major impacts on near shore environments because it will impede the up-take of calcium carbonate by corals and shells.

Protection and Management

Some Concern
Overall Protection and management
Some Concern

Current levels of staffing and finance are low and make it difficult to implement the management plan for the Property. Of greatest concern are the inadequacy of marine equipment and personnel in support of law enforcement, and the lack of programs to eliminate exotic terrestrial species.

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Assessment Information
Finalised on 27 Oct 2014

Values

On-going ecological and biological processes, biodiversity, and the habitats of threatened species are all currently threatened by degradation of marine ecosystems through illegal commercial and sport fishing and multiple impacts on coral reef formations (periodic elevations in ocean temperatures, ocean acidification, and diver and anchorage damage), as well as by threats to terrestrial ecosystemscaused by introduced species. The level of threat remains static due to the inadequacy of human and financial resource for management

High Concern

World Heritage Values
High Concern Trend: Data Deficient

Outstanding and complex mosaic of marine environments
High Concern Data Deficient

The Property includes an outstanding and complex mosaic of land and marine environments in an area of only 202100 ha including estuaries, bays, waterfalls, sandy and rocky beaches, forests, mountains, rivers, rocky cliffs, coral reefs and pelagic environments. It also has the most diverse and extensive coral reefs of the entire Tropical Eastern Pacific. The existence of an oceanic emerged elevation, isolated for more than 500 Km from the continent, occupied in its most part by a rain tropical forest ecosystem, and on its highest point (above 500 m) by a cloud forest ecosystem, has allowed the biological and evolutionary processes in the Cocos Island National Park to be unique and irreplaceable, giving origin to countless endemic species in the most diverse taxonomic groups. Furthermore, its location at the point of contact of the North Equator counter current and the ecological interactions between the island and the surrounding marine ecosystems, make this place an exceptional natural laboratory for the study of marine biological processes, the Site also being an important cleaning station working as a mingling point of several migratory pelagic species, and at the same time, as a dispersion center of marine species larvae coming from the entire Pacific. On another hand, the small jutting and surrounding rocks around the island give support to nesting colonies and provide resting places for different bird species, both migratory and resident (draft retrospective SOUV).

Remarkable diversity of endemic species
High Concern Data Deficient

In its land component, the Property supports the only tropical forest ecosystems (rainy and cloudy) located on an oceanic island of the Tropical Eastern Pacific. This special condition allows shelter to a remarkable diversity of endemic species, including five endemic land vertebrate species: two reptiles (Norops townsendii and Sphaerodactylus pacificus) and three birds (Pinaroloxias inornata, Coccyzus ferrugineus and Nesotriccus ridgwayi). On its side, the plant species present an endemic level close to 30%, outstanding three endemic species: steel tree (Sacoglottis holdridgei), guarumo (Cecropia pittieri) and coconut palm tree (Rooseveltia frankliana). The Cocos Island National Park is the main site in the Tropical Eastern Pacific destined for the protection of the great migratory pelagic species, among them different species of sharks such as the silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis), the Galapagos shark (Carcharhinus galapaguensis), the white-tip shark (Carcharhinus albimarginatus), the black-tip shark (Carcharhinus limbatus) and the emblematic hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini) (draft retrospective SOUV).

Other Biodiversity values
High Concern Trend: NA

Other international designations
NA Trend: NA

Threats

Threats to the Property are significant. The greatest immediate threats are illegal commercial and sport fishing and introduced species, but the effects of climate change on coral reefs (ocean acidification and temperature spike), and reef damage by recreational divers are also continuing concerns. Ocean acidification can be expected to have major impacts on near shore environments because it will impede the up-take of calcium carbonate by corals and shells.

High Threat

Current Threats
High Threat

Impacts from illegal commercial and sport fishing, climate change (spikes in ocean temperatures), exotic species, and reef damage by recreational divers pose significant threats to the conservation of both marine and terrestrial ecosystems

Erosion and Siltation/ Deposition
Low Threat

Careless divers have damaged coral reefs through anchor damage and through physical contact with corals (Chasqui Velasco, 2007).

Other
High Threat

Overall, introduced species make up 27% of the flora of the island. Introduced fauna, such as the pig, cat, rat, and goat have had major impacts native species, though data are deficient with respect to specifics (WDPA Data Sheet, 2011; Cubero Campos, 2010; Onca Natural, 2007)

Temperature extremes
High Threat

The biggest documented impacts from climate change so far have been limited to the die-off of reefs during years in which the El Nino current brings warmer waters to the island; there may also be impacts from ocean acidification, and on the cloud forest habitat, but this has not been documented. (WDPA Data Sheet, 2011; Onca Natural,2007)

Fishing / Harvesting Aquatic Resources
Very High Threat

Illegal fishing of tuna and sharks within the protected area is seriously compromising its fauna and ecosystems, as well as the capacity to maintain reproduction levels and productivity. Sport fishing and extracting lobsters and seabass, which are endemic to the site add to the thrat (UNEP-WCMC Data Sheet, 2011; Cubero Campos, 2010; Onca Natural, 2007; Bolivar et al, 2000; Informe final, 2012).

Potential Threats
Low Concern

Ocean acidification can be expected to have major impacts on near shore environments because it will impede the up-take of calcium carbonate by corals and shells.

Ocean acidification
High Threat

Globally, ocean acidification is progressing much faster than had been previously been expected. This will potentially affect the marine components of the Park by impeding the uptake of calcium carbonate for coral and shell formation, which would in turn have a particular impact on near shore marine environments. (Zimmer, 2010).

Protection and management

Current levels of staffing and finance are low and make it difficult to implement the management plan for the Property. Of greatest concern are the inadequacy of marine equipment and personnel in support of law enforcement, and the lack of programs to eliminate exotic terrestrial species.

Some Concern

Protection and management

Sustainable finance
Some Concern

Finance for the Property is neither sustained nor adequate. The Central Government contributes about 30% of the annual budget for park protection and management. Entrance fees are collected but revert back to the central treasury. The Friends of Cocos Island Foundation, (FAICO) created in 1994, is an independent organization committed to the long-term management, protection and conservation of the island’s National Marine Park. It focuses on developing projects and obtaining funds (Onca Natural, 2007; Cubero Campos, 2010; Bolivar et al, 2000). Conservation International and Forever Costa Rica are investing nearly 2million dollars to provide the island with a radar system and develop the management plan of a new MPA that buffers Cocos Island NP (IUCN Consultation, 2014).

Research
Effective

Research has included studies of land birds, terrestrial flora, the biogeographic affinities of insects, and the impacts of introduced pigs and tourism. Benthic biodiversity assessments, seafloor mapping, electronic tagging and remote sensing technologies have been developed by the Tagging of Pacific Pelagics project. (Cuberos Campos, 2010) The National Park also collaborates with national universities. Research areas include fish biomass, coral reef coverage, new species identification, oceanography, plankton biology, benthic fauna, algae, etc.

Monitoring
Some Concern

Some monitoring programmes exist, however, a comprehensive monitoring system is lacking, mainly due to the lack of financial and human resources.

Tourism and visitation management
Some Concern

A number of interpretive materials, including brochures and videos, are available for the visitors.

Education and interpretation programs
Some Concern

While sporadic efforts to develop interpretive programs have been developed, there is no long-term program in place mainly due to financial and staff limitations. (Cubero Campos, 2010)

Sustainable use
Effective

Research and tourism are the only permitted uses, but both areas would benefit from improved management (Onca Natural, 2007; Cubero Campos, 2010

Boundaries
Data Deficient

Marine boundaries are established as coordinates and are unambiguous. (Onca Natural, 2007; Cubero Campos, 2010

Implementation of Committee decisions and recommendations
Data Deficient

Not applicable

Management system (for transboundary/serial properties, integrated management system should also be described/evaluated)
Some Concern

Management of the Property is guided by 6 year general management and public use plans, developed in 2007, and annual operational plans. A 2010 review of the management plan concluded that it could not be implemented because of inadequate human and financial resources. For example, the current staff level is 21 vs. the 33 contemplated in the management plan. (WDPA, 2011; Cubero Campos, 2010; Onca Natrual, 2007; Bolivar et al, 2000).

Integration into regional and national planning systems (including sea/landscape connectivity)
Highly Effective

The Park is well integrated into regional and national planning systems (Onca Natural, 2007)

Legal framework
Some Concern

While the legal framework is strong, enforcement is insufficient because of inadequate financial and human resources, and the distance from the mainland (Onca Natural, 2007). However, some progress in improving the situation has been achieved, e.g. a new radar system is planned to be installed by the end of 2014 (IUCN Consultation, 2014).

Relationships with local people (including stakeholder relationships, participatory management, rights, and access to benefits and equity)
Data Deficient

Not applicable

Management effectiveness
Serious Concern

The limited availability and poor maintenance of patrol craft is a constant problem that limits management effectiveness; marine patrols are carried out on a cooperative basis by the park staff and the coast guard. (Cubero Campos, 2010; Bolivar et al, 2000).

Staff training and development
Effective

A number of training and capacity needs have been identified (Onca Natural, 2007; Cubero Campos, 2010; Bolivar et al, 2000). Since 2012a local NGO Misión Tiburón has been carrying out capacity development with international financial support from UNESCO and with support from FAICO and BIOMARCC. The objectives of the programme include development of staff capacity in the fields of marine ecology and conservation of marine species, as well as biological monitoring.

Overall assessment of protection and management

Assessment of the effectiveness of protection and management in addressing threats outside the site
Some Concern

Addressing threats originating from outside the site is limited by the lack of financial and human resources; however, some progress has been made in improving legal enforcement.

Overall assessment of protection and management
Some Concern

Current levels of staffing and finance are low and make it difficult to implement the management plan for the Property. Of greatest concern are the inadequacy of marine equipment and personnel in support of law enforcement, and the lack of programs to eliminate exotic terrestrial species.

Best Practice Examples

Additional Information

Key Conservation Issues

Issues

Illegal commercial and sport fishing
Local

Illegal fishing of tuna and sharks within the protected area is seriously compromising its fauna and ecosystems, as well as the capacity to maintain reproduction levels and productivity. Sport fishing and extracting lobsters and seabass, which are endemic to the site add to the thrat (UNEP-WCMC Data Sheet, 2011; Cubero Campos, 2010; Onca Natural, 2007; Bolivar et al, 2000; Informe final, 2012).

Introduced species
Local

Overall, introduced species make up 27% of the flora of the island. Introduced fauna, such as the pig, cat, rat, and goat have had major impacts native species, though data are deficient with respect to specifics (WDPA Data Sheet, 2011; Cubero Campos, 2010; Onca Natural, 2007)

Reef damage by recreational divers
Local

Careless divers have damaged coral reefs through anchor damage and through physical contact with corals (Chasqui Velasco, 2007).

Benefits

Knowledge

The outstanding universal values of the Property make it an important site for research, especially with respect to regional marine processes, and endemic terrestrial species.

Health and recreation

The site is recognized globally as the second most important dive site globally, and supports tourism development of the Pacific coast of Costa Rica.

Nature conservation values

Conservation of endemic and threatened species, and protection of regional marine processes and productivity are of regional and global importance.

Projects

Active Conservation Projects

N0 Organization/ individuals Brief description of Active Projects Contact Details
1 Misión Tiburón Misión Tiburón está realizando dos proyectos con los funcionarios: 1- Fortalecimiento del programa de Control y Vigilancia, a través de la capacitación del personal y compra de equipos para agilizar la colecta de línea ilegal; 2- Monitoreo de las poblaciones de tiburones de arrecifes en las principales bahías de la Isla. Gracias a estos proyectos, los funcionarios han publicado dos artículos científicos en Revista Biología Tropical, y otros dos fueron recientemente sometido a evaluación.
2 Conservation International, Forever Costa Rica, ACMIC, MINAE, Coastguad, ICE A project to deploy a new radar system on Cocos island is ongoing and set to be concluded and operational by the end of 2014
3 CIMAR, Universidad de Costa Rica Marine research and monitoring

Compilation of potential project needs

N.O0 Organization/ individuals Brief description of Active Projects Contact Details
1 Elimination of introduced terrestrial species Study of impacts of introduced species to determine which are the greatest threat, and then introduction of control programs to eliminate those threats using the most cost-effective and efficient methods.
2 Enhanced enforcement of fishing ban Increases in staffing and marine patrol vessels, accompanied by improved maintenance.
Rn0 References
1 Bolivar, Antonio et. al. 2000. LA PESCA EN LA ISLA DEL COCO, Estudio integral para el mejoramiento del control pesquero en la zona de influencia del Area de Conservación Marina y Terrestre Isla del Coco. Fundación de la Isla del Coco y Area De Conservacion Marina Isla del Coco.
2 Onca Natural, 2007. Plan de Uso Publico, Parque Nacional Isla del Coco. MINAET.
3 Onca Natural, 2007. Plan de Manejo del Parque Nacional Isla del Coco. MINAET.
4 Chasqui Velasco, Luis. 2007. Plan de Monitoreo del Impacto de Turismo Marino en el Parque Nacional Isla del Coco. MINAET
5 Zimmer, Carl. 15.02.10. An ominous warning on the effects of ocean acidification. Yale Environment 360. http://e360.yale.edu/feature/an_ominous_warning_on_the__effects_of_ocean_acidification/2241/
6 Eco-index. Projects in Cocos Island National Park, Costa Rica. Rainforest Alliance. http://www.eco-index.org/search/results.cfm?ProjectID=658
7 Cubero Campos, Yamileth. 2010 Evaluación Rápida del Plan de Manejo, Parque Nacional Isla de Coco. Práctica Professional Supervisada. Universidad Nacional, , Escuela de Ciencias Biologicas.
8 UNEP-WCMC Data Sheet, 2011

Site Description

Cocos Island National Park, located 550 km off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, is the only island in the tropical eastern Pacific with a tropical rainforest. Its position as the first point of contact with the northern equatorial counter-current, and the myriad interactions between the island and the surrounding marine ecosystem, make the area an ideal laboratory for the study of biological processes. The underwater world of the national park has become famous due to the attraction it holds for divers, who rate it as one of the best places in the world to view large pelagic species such as sharks, rays, tuna and dolphins.

ⓒ UNESCO