Five features that can improve conservation efforts within marine protected parks
Good intentions are never enough and when it comes to biodiversity conservation it can become painfully evident.
In a new study published in Nature, centre researcher Stuart Kininmonth, together with an international team of marine experts and conservationists, show how the current structure of many marine parks designed for conservation, or Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), are largely inefficient with little or no difference in protection between fish living within these areas and those living in fished areas.
Kininmonth and his colleagues counted numbers and sizes of over 2000 fish species along underwater transect lines set at 1986 sites in 40 countries. The study, unprecedented in its global scale – included the efforts of over 100 recreational divers collecting data in their spare time for the Reef Life Survey programme, a new concept in marine conservation where scientists, marine managers, and recreational divers work together to collect and analyse broad-scale biodiversity information.
They then used this information to measure how fish communities in 87 MPAs worldwide differed from those in nearly fished areas.
"Our study reveals the need for more efficient marine protected areas. Indeed many of them today are only 'paper parks' – areas drawn on the map with no measurable benefits for conservation," Kininmonth says.
Those areas that were considered effective were typically:
1. no-take areas
3. more than 10 years old
4. large in area
5. isolated by deep water or sand from fished areas
MPAs with these characteristics had on average eight times more large fishes, nine times more groupers, and 20 times more sharks than fished areas, the study shows.
Not reaching full potential
Professor Graham Edgar, the lead author of the paper, highlighted the importance of establishing more effective MPAs.
"The need for protected areas that safeguard whole communities of marine species has never been greater given the huge changes now occurring in out-of-sight underwater and our poor knowledge of exactly what is happening. At present, coastal zoning maps are confusing, with the few conservation gems hidden amongst protected areas that are ineffective because of inadequate regulations or poor enforcement," Edgar says.
Stuart Kininmonth says that global conservation targets based on area alone will not optimize protection of marine biodiversity.
"MPAs often fail to reach their full potential because of issues such as illegal harvesting, regulations that legally allow detrimental harvesting, or emigration of animals outside boundaries because of continuous habitat or inadequate size of reserve," he says.
“More emphasis is needed on better MPA design, durable management and compliance to ensure that MPAs achieve their desired conservation value.”
Edgar, G.J., Stuart-Smith, R. D., Willis, T.J., Kininmonth, S., Baker, S.C., Banks, S., Barrett, N.S., Becerro, M.A., Bernard, A.T.F., Berkhout, J., Buxton, C.D., Campbell, S. J., Cooper, A.T., Davey, M., Edgar, S.C., Forsterra, G., Galvan, D.E., Irigoyen, A. J., David, Kushner, J., Moura, R., Parnell, P. E., Shears, N. T., Soler, G., Strain, E.M.A., Thomson, R.J. 2014. Global conservation outcomes depend on marine protected areas with five key features, Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature13022
By Dr. Gerald Goeden
A big part of the problem in conserving sharks is that we don't understand them. We see them as a threat and of no real benefit.
My interest in sharks was like everyone’s – morbid. A shark attack with photos was front page news and each sparked debate in the dive clubs over the best way to avoid becoming the next victim. I sometimes carried a ‘bang stick’ so I could fight these villains if it came to the worst.
When I started work on the Great Barrier Reef back in the '70's, I got a surprise. The sharks seemed bigger, more numerous, and very brave compared to their Caribbean brothers. Australian shark attacks were front page stories and dominated the news for days.
And yet there I was working for hours every day, year after year within metres of these predators and all I had to do to avoid trouble with the tropical species was respect their territories and not swim around with speared fish on my belt.
The November issue of Conservation Biology published a review of media coverage of sharks. According to Meredith Gore, MSU assistant professor of fisheries and wildlife, Australian and U.S. news articles were more likely to focus on negative reports featuring sharks and shark attacks rather than conservation efforts. "The most important aspect of this research is that risks from - rather than to -- sharks continue to dominate news coverage in large international media markets," said Gore.
So how real is the case against sharks?
Every year about 100 shark attacks are reported worldwide. In 2011, just 17 fatalities were recorded as having being caused by sharks, out of 118 attacks. Although shark attacks are infrequent, there is a heightened awareness due to occasional serial attacks; “it’s out there and it’s after me”. Horror fiction like Jaws appears on TV just often enough to keep this fear alive and even “nature” shows only show sharks in frenzied feeding.
Shark attack experts are adamant that the danger has been greatly exaggerated. According to the International Shark Attack File (ISAF), between the years 1580 and 2011 there were 2,463 confirmed unprovoked shark attacks around the world, of which 471 were fatal. Surprisingly, that’s only 1.09 fatalities per year for the last 431 years
Australia is ranked second in terms of global shark attacks with 877 attacks since colonial settlement in the 18th century; it’s ranked the highest in terms of shark fatalities, with only 217 during this long period.
According to Time/ CNN : Zoologists today estimate elephants around the world kill 500 people a year while the great white sharks (Jaws) kill only 4 people.
Incredibly, there are about 24,000 lightning deaths (one every 20 minutes) and 240,000 injuries worldwide annually (Royal Aeronautical Society, 2003). When was the last time we read stories of the lurking danger above or watched a movie where people were struck down like dominoes by searing thunder bolts?
Why is shark conservation so important and why is it being neglected?
The first part of this question is easy. Sharks are in big trouble. "Overfishing of sharks is now recognized as a major global conservation concern, with increasing numbers of shark species added to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's list of threatened species," say Mizue Hisano, Professor Sean Connolly and Dr William Robbins from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University.
On March 1, 2013, "Global Catches, Exploitation Rates and Rebuilding Options for Sharks," was published by Dr. Worm and other researchers from Dalhousie University, the University of Windsor in Canada, as well as Stony Brook University in New York, Florida International University (FIU) in Miami and the University of Miami. A very powerful team indeed.
Their shocking findings put the carnage at 97 million in 2010. The possible range of mortality is between 63 and 273 million annually. This equates to somewhere between 7,200 and 31,000 sharks per hour.
Now in March, 2013; "This is a big concern because the loss of sharks can affect the wider ecosystem," said Mike Heithaus, executive director of FIU's School of Environment, Arts and Society. "In working with tiger sharks, we've seen that if we don't have enough of these predators around, it causes cascading changes in the ecosystem, that trickle all the way down to marine plants." Such changes harm other species, and destroy commercial fisheries, Heithaus explains.
Why we are neglecting shark conservation is harder to answer. First, there have been powerful economic reasons to turn a blind eye to shark fishing and shark finning. These may not have been good reasons but greed is a characteristic of human behaviour and we make lots of poor decisions because of it.
A second explanation comes from deep in the primitive part of our brains. Our prehistoric ancestors had the very same fears that we do according to Psychology Today. We were ‘designed’ to be afraid; fear was our operating manual for things we didn’t understand or that could do us harm. Fears protected our ancestors. “Our distant ancestors who were afraid of heights didn’t fall off cliffs, those that feared wild animals didn’t get eaten, those that ran the fastest left the rest behind---and they survived.”
Surveys of people show different fears for different cultural groups but amazingly many fears are of animals never encountered by the people who fear them. Top of the list is spiders and number 10 are alligators and crocodiles. Sharks come in at number six according to Animal Planet.
Elephants are not on our list of feared animals and we donate millions of dollars each year to protect them even though they kill thirty times more people than sharks. Why can’t we see that the health of our ocean hangs in the balance and that we are making decisions with our ancestor’s fears and not with our future in mind?
This report is based on similar articles by myself published in Epoch Times. It is posted here for educational purposes only. I wish to thank my friends Ellen Cuylaerts and Shawn Heinrichs for their amazing photos.
"More than 100 divers agreed to donate their time, learning scientific underwater survey techniques, using their weekends and holidays to collect new data, and spending long hours afterwards identifying species and entering data onto computer spreadsheets”
Marine protected areas have been created across the globe to stem the loss of biodiversity in our oceans. But are they working? Now, thanks to a six-year survey involving over one hundred divers, we know that the global system of marine protected areas still has much to achieve.
The marine environment lies out of sight and is expensive to survey, so its true condition is very poorly known. What we do know is that multiple threats—most notably introduced pests, climate change, fishing and pollution—are pervasive.
We also know that conditions are deteriorating. Numbers of many Australian marine species have collapsed since European settlement. Some species haven't been seen for decades, such as the smooth handfish, which was once sufficiently abundant to be collected by early French naturalists visiting Australia but hasn't been seen anywhere for more than 200 years.
If this were a mammal, bird, reptile, frog or plant, it would be listed under Commonwealth and state threatened species acts as extinct. As a marine fish, it has not been considered for any list.
We also know that marine species that build habitat for other species are declining. Coral cover across the Great Barrier Reef has been reduced by about 25% between 1986 and 2004. Global seagrass and mangrove cover have declined by 30% over the past century, with losses accelerating. And oyster reefs have largely disappeared worldwide, as have giant kelp forest ecosystems on the Tasmanian east coast.
Fishery catch statistics also show major population declines in commercially important species such as scallops, rock lobsters, barracouta, trumpeter, abalone, warehou, gemfish and sharks.
These snapshots all consistently indicate major detrimental change in our oceans.
Twenty years ago, in a bid to understand the magnitude of this change, I and my Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies colleague Neville Barrett began regularly surveying rocky reef communities in collaboration with management agencies across southern Australia. These surveys were focused inside and outside marine protected areas, to disentangle effects of fishing from broader environmental changes.
We found that each marine protected area was different. Recovery within protected areas depended on a variety of local factors, including protected area size and age, how much fishing had occurred prior to regulation, the type of regulations, and whether they were enforced.
To separate these individual factors properly required investigation of tens to hundreds of protected areas, many more than we could logistically cover with our limited scientific resources.
Enlisting citizen divers
This led to the idea of enlisting support from the recreational diving community, and our new study was born.
With pilot funding from the Commonwealth Environment Research Facilities program, and on-ground direction from colleague Rick Stuart-Smith, we sought help from experienced recreational divers across Australia who are passionate about marine conservation.
More than 100 divers agreed to donate their time, learning scientific underwater survey techniques, using their weekends and holidays to collect new data, and spending long hours afterwards identifying species and entering data onto computer spreadsheets.
To facilitate this program, an independent organisation called Reef Life Survey was established. It aimed to train and support member divers during field surveys, and to distribute information collected to improve knowledge and management of marine species. An incredible amount has been achieved over the past six years through the generous efforts of Reef Life Survey divers.
Most importantly, we have established a quantitative baseline describing the current state of inshore biodiversity around Australia. Numbers of more than 2500 species of fish, seaweeds and invertebrates (such as lobsters, abalone, sea urchins and corals) at more than 1500 sites have been documented.
This is the largest marine ecological baseline for any continent worldwide. It provides an invaluable reference that can be referred to through the future for tracking impacts of climate change, pollution, introduced species, and fishing.
The Reef Life Survey baseline has also now extended globally through collaboration with scientists in 18 countries, and with additional survey data collected by trained volunteer divers during their overseas holidays.
Parks on paper, not in the ocean Still the question remains: how effective are marine protected areas at conserving marine life?
We recently analysed data from 40 countries to understand better the underlying factors that make marine protected areas effective as conservation tools, with results published in the journal Nature today.
We found no difference between fish communities present in most of 87 marine protected areas studied worldwide, when compared with communities in fished areas with similar environmental conditions.
Many protected areas thus seem to be "paper parks" — lines on the map that fail to achieve desired conservation outcomes.
However, some protected areas are extremely effective, with massive numbers of large fish and extremely high conservation value. These effective protected areas are typified by the same recurring features: no fishing, well enforced, more than 10 years old, relatively large in area, and isolated from fished areas by habitat boundaries (deep water or sand).
Protected areas with these characteristics, such as Middleton Reef off northeastern New South Wales, had on average twice as many species of large fish per transect, eight times more large fish, and 20 times more sharks than fished areas.
NOAA study finds high levels of pollutants in Guánica Bay ‘represent serious toxic threat’ to corals, fish
Effort creates ecological baseline to improve watershed management
The pollutants measured in the sediments of Guánica Bay, Puerto Rico, in a new NOAA study were among the highest concentrations of PCBs, chlordane, chromium and nickel ever measured in the history of NOAA’s National Status & Trends, a nationwide contaminant monitoring program that began in 1986.
Researchers from the National Ocean Service’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) studied the reef’s ecology to help establish baseline conditions that coastal managers can use to measure changes resulting from new efforts to manage pollution. Among the items studied were habitat types, coral cover, fish and pollution stressors such as nutrients, sedimentation, toxic contaminants in Guánica Bay.
“These concentrations of pollutants represent serious toxic threats to corals, fish and benthic fauna -- bottom dwelling animal life and plants,” said David Whitall, Ph.D., the report’s principal investigator and NOAA ecologist. “We also observed lower indicators of biological health, such as how much of the coral covers the sea floor offshore from Guánica Bay when compared to an adjacent study area, La Parguera. Further research is needed to determine if this is the result of the toxins or some other cause. At this point, we cannot definitively link it to pollution.”
The new measurements demonstrate the importance of long-term contaminant monitoring programs like National Status & Trends, which allow new data to be placed in national and historical perspective. Funding was provided by NCCOS and NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program. NOAA is the co-chair of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force, which had designated Guánica Bay as a priority watershed. Project partners included: NOAA’s Restoration Center, and the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez.
NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and our other social media channels.
por Fabiola Enríquez
Es octubre de 1863. Los morenos Santiago Biñon y Miguel Ponnata piden permiso para establecer una Hermandad de la Virgen del Carmen en la ciudad de San Juan. La contestación oficial llega dos meses más tarde, expresando lamentos de que no se pudiese hacer nada por ellos. La Confraternidad de la Virgen del Carmen había existido en la ciudad desde la fundación del Convento de Monjas Carmelitas en el 1651. La Arquidiócesis de San Juan de Puerto Rico no podía permitir la existencia de otra institución con una misma advocación dentro de su ciudad. Armándose con una bula papal publicada en el siglo XVII, la Iglesia negó el pedido a sus laicos. El privilegio de ser las únicas adscritas a la Señora del Carmen permanecería con las monjas carmelitas.
La historia de Santiago y Miguel es solo una dentro de la larga historia de la devoción a la Virgen del Carmen en Puerto Rico. Historia que va más allá del establecimiento de ese primer convento carmelita, historia que comienza con los primeros marinos españoles que pisaron estas costas. Declarada patrona de la Armada Española en 1902, la Virgen del Carmen ha sido patrona personal de sus marinos por mucho más de un siglo. Patrona de varios pueblos españoles, fue traída a bordo por los jóvenes que crecieron con ella. Los testimonios de marinos salvados por la Virgen del Carmen forman parte de la tradición de la Armada mucho antes de su adopción oficial como protectora de sus empresas. Esa devoción ha quedado marcada en las antiguas colonias españolas con largas tradiciones marítimas. La devoción a la Virgen del Carmen en Puerto Rico se observa a lo largo de su historia.
No tenemos evidencia de que Santiago y Miguel hayan obedecido la orden oficial, o de que su Hermandad de la Virgen del Carmen no estuviese ya formada para el momento en que enviaron su carta. Quizás esperaban solo formalizar una asociación que se había formado naturalmente con anterioridad, compuesta por personas que reconocían entre ellas una misma advocación y buscaban el permiso para honrarla con mayor ceremonia. Sin duda, su devoción personal estaba ahí. La negación de un obispo que no vivía el día a día junto a la Virgen no quebrantaría la devoción de Santiago y Miguel. Deconocemos con exactitud en qué consistía ese día a día, pero sabemos que sus protagonistas eran morenos, hecho recalcado en la correspondencia oficial sobre su particular caso, lo que nos provee una pista sobre sus posibles oficios. Moreno, para referirse a una persona de color, automáticamente los distingue del personal eclesiástico que retenía los privilegios sobre su devoción. El moreno en San Juan hubiese tenido trabajos duros de poca paga. Una ciudad portuaria como San Juan dependía de marineros, de trabajadores de muelle y de pescadores que suplieran a los barcos y a la población. Podemos asumir que las vidas de Santiago y Miguel, sin miras a un oficio que debió haber estado relacionado al mar, estuvieron marcadas por éste. La Virgen del Carmen, patrona de la gente de mar, del pescador, del trabajador de muelle, incluso alguna vez llamada patrona de los morenos, se encontraba entre la gente que trabajaba y temía y se encomendaba a ella todas las mañanas. Santiago y Miguel no querían tener que asistir a la catedral para hacer valer su devoción; la Virgen del Carmen, estrella de los mares, no necesitaba un altar, necesitaba estar rodeada de su elemento.
Nota: Este escrito es el primero de una serie de escritos sobre la Virgen del Carmen, aclamada patrona de las gentes de mar. El mismo es producto de una jornada de investigación realizada el verano pasado entre visitas al Archivo Histórico Arquidiocesano y trabajo de campo, persiguiendo a la Virgen del Carmen en sus viajes por el litoral puertorriqueño durante su fiesta, celebrada alrededor de la Isla durante el mes de julio. Lo que comenzó como una búsqueda de sus apariciones terminó siendo una conmovedora colección de historias de vidas; la recolección de los lazos entre la Virgen del Carmen y sus seguidores a través de la historia.
Una bibliografía completa y anotada de los trabajos revisados para la redacción de esta serie se encuentra en el archivo del Centro Interdisciplinario de Estudios del Litoral en Mayagüez, Puerto Rico. Una copia electrónica de la misma le puede ser enviada, si así lo desea.
Favor de escribir a email@example.com
Corregido y editado por Cynthia Maldonado.
 Archivo Histórico Arquidiocesano de San Juan, Gobierno, Correspondencia Gob. Ecco., 1807-1864, G-36, Legajo 1860-1863: “…según la Constitución de Clemente VIII de 7 de diciembre de 1604 y varios decretos de las sagradas congregaciones está prohibido que en una misma población haya más de una hermandad o cofradía de una misma advocación e instituto.”
 La carta al obispo reconoce a Santiago y Miguel como vecinos de San Juan. No sería atrevido asumir que estuviesen asentados en el área de Santurce, pero existe la posibilidad de que hubieran vivido en alguno de los barrios extramurales de la ciudad de San Juan, facilitando aún más el acceso a sus trabajos. En todo caso, el San Juan amurallado no era una ciudad blanca, dependiendo de las personas más pobres, que muy pocas veces eran blancas, para sus trabajos pesados. Véase: Women in San Juan de Félix V. Matos Rodríguez y el trabajo de Aníbal Sepúlveda para más información sobre el asentamiento de las áreas aledañas a la ciudad amurallada.
 La historiadora Haydée Reichard reproduce la siguiente nana: “¿Para qué quieres niño rubio el cabello si la Virgen del Carmen lo tiene negro?” Haydée E. Reichard de Cancio, Quinientos años de la mano de María. San Juan, Puerto Rico: Editorial Tiempo Nuevo, 1988, p.154.
Así mismo, en las conversaciones que tuve con sus devotos, escuché que la Virgen del Carmen es lo más cercano que los puertorriqueños tenemos a la Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre. Patrona de Cuba, famosamente representada sobre la barcaza de tres marinos y reconocida por su piel negra; también es devoción de la gente de mar. La unión de ambas vírgenes sugiere una transculturación del catolicismo hispano-caribeño, adoptando sus devotos en Puerto Rico a la Virgen del Carmen, en vez de importar una devoción escasamente practicada en la Isla.
 Cabe notar que pidieron inscribir su Hermandad bajo la Capilla de la Tercera Orden Franciscana. Independiente de cómo quisieran honrar a su patrona, cualquier hermandad o cofradía necesitaba estar inscrita bajo una parroquia, a modo de supervisión.
El DRNA determinó esperar por estudio del gobierno antes de explorar si hay este recurso natural en el país
Por Gloria Ruiz Kuilan / firstname.lastname@example.org
La secretaria de Recursos Naturales y Ambientales (DRNA), Carmen Guerrero, indicó que el gobierno determinó retomar la posibilidad de explorar y explotar gas y petróleo en Puerto Rico al cabo de aproximadamente un año, cuando debe estar listo el informe final del estudio que hizo el Servicio Geológico de Estados Unidos (USGS, por sus siglas en inglés).
“Todavía hay unos datos adicionales que necesitamos. El Servicio Geológico estableció que el informe preliminar y los datos finales van a salir de aquí a un año y eso nos dará los elementos para tomar una decisión informada”, dijo Guerrero a diario.
En noviembre pasado, un estudio del USGS encontró que en Puerto Rico era “técnicamente posible” recuperar petróleo y gas natural, combustibles esenciales para generar energía eléctrica. Ante ello, el gobierno decidió, encabezado por Guerrero, crear un consejo asesor para evaluar el tema y proveerle la información al Primer Ejecutivo, Alejandro García Padilla. La movida es lo que dicta la Ley de Minas de Puerto Rico, que data de 1933, la cual tiene total injerencia con el estudio del USGS.
La secretaria del DRNA indicó que el consejo asesor se reunió con el personal del USGS y determinó esperar por el estudio completo.
“En esencia hay que esperar a que todos los estudios que trabajó el USGS finalicen para tomar acciones más concretas”, dijo.
Sin embargo, enfatizó en que el consejo se mantendrá activo para fortalecer la Oficina de Geología de su agencia, ante los recientes eventos de su incumbencia como los deslizamientos de terreno ocurridos en la urbanización Villa España, en Bayamón, y en Alto Apolo, en Guaynabo.
“No solo se va a enfocar en esto que salió de posibles yacimientos, sino que identificamos otras acciones que hay que darle continuidad para evaluar este y otras temas de Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico necesita actualizar sus mapas de geología, riesgos geológicos… es parte de lo que identificamos”, sostuvo Guerrero.
De acuerdo con el estudio preliminar del USGS, “técnicamente posible” significa que desde un punto de vista de ingeniería se puede hincar un pozo en el lecho marino para extraer hidrocarburos. El estudio del USGS no consideró los aspectos económicos ni ambientales de esta acción, algo que debía ser analizado por el consejo asesor, según dijo Guerrero.
El estudio del USGS concluyó que existirían 19 millones de barriles de petróleo, 244,000 millones de pies cúbicos de gas natural (en estado gaseoso) y 6 millones de barriles de gas natural (en estado líquido) técnicamente recuperables.
By Stephen Messenger
In 2009, the nation of Palau, made up of 250 tropical islands stretching across the western Pacific Ocean, made history by creating the world’s first shark sanctuary -- but now, in a move welcomed by marine conservationists, that protection will soon be extended to all species.
In a keynote address to a UN meeting on the health of the world's oceans, Palauan President Tommy Remengesau Jr. announced plans to outlaw commercial fishing across the nation's 230 thousand square miles of ocean -- declaring the entire region "a 100 percent marine sanctuary."
The ban, which will take effect once existing contracts have expired, is part of a plan to promote tourism by focusing on the preservation, and not exploitation, of Palau's "pristine environment."
The massive sanctuary, which will cover roughly the same area as France, will help aquatic life to recover from overfishing elsewhere, says Remengasau, benefiting the ocean at large while reaffirming Palau as a haven for eco-tourists.
“We will do our part of making sure that there's a healthy stock of fish in Palau that then can migrate to other places," he said.
Remengesau cited a study which found that a single shark alive in the wild can generate at $1.9 million in tourism revenue alone, as opposed to a dead shark caught by fishermen which is worth no more than a few hundred dollars.
By Terrell Johnson
Scientists who study climate change and skeptics of human-caused global warming can agree on at least this: Global temperatures haven't risen nearly as much this century as model projections say they should have.
At least, that's the way it looks today. But according to a recently published study in the scientific journal Earth's Future, the greenhouse gas-fueled heating of the planet hasn't stopped at all during the global warming pause or "hiatus" widely touted in recent years.
"Global warming is continuing, it just gets manifested in different ways," says Dr. Kevin Trenberth, a scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research who co-authored the study with NCAR's Dr. John Fasullo.
Since the 1970s, when scientists first began to detect the signal of a rapidly warming Earth against the background noise of natural variability, global temperatures spiked until about 1998. After that, warming began slowing down in big way, a trend that continues today:
Though warming didn't stop completely – global temperatures have risen by an average of about 0.05°C per decade since then, a far cry from the 0.15°C to 0.3°C per decade once projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – the slowdown has prompted climate change skeptics to claim we're actually in a period of global "cooling."
If you watched CNBC's Lawrence Kudlow show this week, you even heard commentators like Steven Hayward, a visiting scholar at the University of Colorado-Boulder, say things like this:
This has been a thorny question for climate scientists to answer, because humans have continued to pump ever-increasing amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. (Some studies have proposed that this is due to a lack of historical temperature data – more on that here.)
Trenberth acknowledged this – noting in an interview with weather.com, “the question is, where does that energy go, and how is it manifested?" – but added he and Fasullo found reasons to think global warming could begin to accelerate again soon:
1) Global averages hide a LOT of variation.Most of the surface temperature slowdown has occurred only within a narrow band of time during the year, and only in certain parts of the world.
As this graph shows, the period from December through February has seen the sharpest slowdown, thanks in part to some big outbreaks of cold, wintry weather over the past few years in North America and Europe:
Plus, most of Earth's warming over the past 15 years has spared the subtropics and middle latitudes – which spans most of the U.S. and Mexico, as well as much of Eurasia – while areas like the Arctic have warmed dramatically, evidenced by the rapid shrinking of its late summer sea ice since the 1970s.
"There are these other signs of a warming planet," Trenberth notes, pointing out that melting has accelerated on Greenland's ice sheet and glaciers around the world. "One doesn’t just have to use the global mean surface temperature."
And as NCAR communications officer Bob Henson notes, "these two factors imply that what's been seen as a global pause in warming isn't really a worldwide phenomenon."
2) Human-produced greenhouse gases and natural variability work together.The graph below couldn't be clearer: when El Niño is in effect, global temperatures tend to go up; when its close cousin La Niña dominates, it has a dampening effect on warming.
This is a key insight, because often skeptics claim that we can't blame global warming on human causes. Rather, they say, climate change should be chalked up largely – or only – to natural variability in weather and climate patterns.
Instead, Trenberth says the two can't really be separated. “There’s a tremendous amount of natural variability that goes on," he said.
“When human-induced climate change is influencing things in the same direction that the weather, or the natural variability, is already going – that’s when we break records," he added. "That’s when we really see the effects standing out."
3) The 1997-98 El Niño may have triggered the current warming pause.The El Niño that appeared from 1997 to 1998 was one of the strongest of the 20th century, and captured the public's imagination in a way few weather phenomena (outside hurricanes and tornadoes) ever have. It was even the subject of a Saturday Night Live skit with Chris Farley:
When El Niño is in effect, it usually lasts only a year or two. But other ocean patterns, like the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, can last for periods of 20 or 30 years.
The PDO can have a big influence on El Niño and La Niña, Trenberth says, a fact that likely means it's largely responsible for the current warming pause. "There was a major phase change [in the PDO] in 1976, and from 1976 to 1998, the planet warmed," he said.
After the big 1997-98 El Niño, the oscillation changed from a warm to a cool phase.
"So that may have actually triggered the change," Trenberth added. “Since then, we’ve had more La Niña events, the cold events in the tropical Pacific ... under this negative phase, it tends to bury more heat deeper in the ocean, and so [warming] is not manifested as much at the surface."
That change in phase from positive (warmer) to negative (cooler) parallels the speed-up and slowdown in warming we've seen in recent decades:
4) The pause 'can't keep going on forever' – and perhaps not much longer.No matter what phase it's currently in, sooner or later the PDO corrects itself and changes back. And there are signs that this may be about to happen soon, Trenberth says.
Globally, sea levels have risen about 2 1/2 inches since 1992. But in parts of the western Pacific like the Philippines – slammed by record-breaking Typhoon Haiyan last November – sea levels have risen over 8 inches, as PDO-influenced winds have driven a "piling up" of water there.
"At the same time, sea level has gone up less in the eastern Pacific," said Trenberth. “This can’t keep going on forever."
"It can’t continue to build up the sea level and the heat in one part of the ocean at the expense of another," Trenberth said. "At some point all of that water wants to slop back to the east – and so we start to go into this other phase."
That means there’s a slope in the global ocean across the Pacific that’s building up over time, he added. "And that’s what actually causes the end of these kinds of oscillations."
This year or later, it's possible that El Niño will occur again in the Pacific. Will that trigger another change in the PDO, that in turn could trigger a resurgence in global surface temperature warming? Only time will tell, Trenberth explained.
It all hinges on how long the imbalance in sea levels between the western and eastern Pacific can be sustained. "My suspicion is that it can’t go for that much longer," Trenberth said.
Each spring on Costa Rica’s desolate Caribbean coast, endangered leatherback sea turtles come ashore at night to lay and hide their eggs. Poachers steal them for cash, and as Matthew Power reports, they’re willing to kill anyone who gets in their way.
By: Matthew Power
T WAS ONLY eight o'clock on the evening of May 30, 2013, but the beach was completely dark. The moon hadn't yet risen above Playa Moín, a 15-mile-long strand of mangrove and palm on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast. A two-door Suzuki 4x4 bumped along a rough track behind the beach. The port lights of Limón, the largest town on the coast, glowed six miles away on the horizon. There was no sound except the low roar of surf and the whine of the engine straining through drifts of sand.Riding shotgun was Jairo Mora Sandoval, a 26-year-old Costa Rican conservationist. With a flop of black hair and a scraggly beard, he wore dark clothes and a headlamp, which he used to spot leatherback sea turtle nests on the beach. Mora's friend Almudena, a 26-year-old veterinarian from Spain, was behind the wheel. The other passengers were U.S. citizens: Rachel, Katherine, and Grace, college students who had come to work at the Costa Rica Wildlife Sanctuary, a nonprofit animal-rescue center. Almudena was the resident vet, and the Americans were volunteers. By day they cared for the sanctuary's menagerie of sloths, monkeys, and birds. Working with Mora, though, meant taking the graveyard shift. He ran the sanctuary's program rescuing endangered leatherbacks, which haul their 700-plus-pound bodies onto Playa Moín each spring to lay eggs at night.
The beach's isolation made it both ideal and perilous as a nesting spot. The same blackness that attracted the turtles, which are disoriented by artificial light, provided cover for less savory human activity. In recent years, the thinly populated Caribbean coast has become a haven for everything from petty theft to trafficking of Colombian cocaine and Jamaican marijuana. For decades, Playa Moín has been a destination for hueveros—literally, "egg men"—small-time poachers who plunder sea turtle nests and sell the eggs for a dollar each as an aphrodisiac. But as crime along the Caribbean coast has risen, so has organized egg poaching, which has helped decimate the leatherback population. By most estimates, fewer than 34,000 nesting females remain worldwide.
Since 2010, Mora had been living at the sanctuary and patrolling the beach for a nonprofit organization called the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network, or Widecast. His strategy was to beat the hueveros to the punch by gathering eggs from freshly laid nests and spiriting them to a hatchery on the sanctuary grounds. This was dangerous work. Every poacher on Moín knew Mora, and confrontations were frequent—he once jumped out of a moving truck to tackle a huevero.
Rachel, Grace, and Almudena had accompanied Mora on foot patrols several times over the previous weeks. (Out of concern for their safety, all four women requested that their last names not be used.) They had encountered no trouble while moving slowly on foot, but they also hadn't found many unmolested nests. On this night, Mora had convinced Almudena to take her rental car. She was worried about the poachers, but she hadn't yet seen a leatherback, and Mora was persuasive. His passion was infectious, and a romance between the two had blossomed. Almudena was attracted by his boundless energy and commitment. Something about this beach gets in you, he told her.
The sand was too deep for the Suzuki, so Mora got out and walked toward the beach, disappearing in the night. Moín's primal darkness is essential to sea turtles. After hatching at night, the baby turtles navigate toward the brightest thing around: the whiteness of the breaking waves. Males spend their lives at sea, but females, guided by natal homing instincts, come ashore every two or three years to lay eggs, often to the same beaches where they hatched.
Around 10:30, Almudena got a call—Mora had found a leatherback. The women rushed to the beach, where they saw a huge female baula backfilling a nesting hole with its hind flippers. Mora stood nearby alongside several hueveros. One was instantly recognizable, a 36-year-old man named Maximiliano Gutierrez. With his beard and long reddish-brown dreadlocks, "Guti" was a familiar presence on Moín.
Mora had forged a reluctant arrangement with Guti and a few other regular poachers: if they arrived at a nest simultaneously, they'd split the eggs. After measuring the turtle—it was nearly six feet long—Mora and Rachel took half the nest, about 40 cue-ball-size eggs, and put them into a plastic bag. Then Guti wandered off, and the turtle pulled itself back toward the surf.
When they returned to the road, a police patrol pulled up. The cops warned Mora that they had run into some rough characters earlier that night, then drove off as Mora and the women headed south, toward the sanctuary, just six miles away. Soon they came upon a palm trunk laid across the narrow track—a trick the hueveros often played to mess with police patrols. Mora hopped out, hefting the log out of the way as Almudena drove past. Just as Mora put the log back, five men stepped out of the darkness. Bandannas covered their faces. They shouted at everyone to put their hands up and their heads down. Then they grabbed Mora.
"Dude, I'm from Moín!" he protested, but the men threw him to the ground.
Masked faces crowded into Almudena's window. The men demanded money, jewelry, phones, car keys. They pulled Almudena out and frisked her, and the Americans stayed in the car as the men rifled through it, snatching everything of value, including the turtle eggs. Almudena saw two of the men stuffing a limp Mora into the tiny cargo area. The four women were jammed into the backseat with a masked man sprawled on top of them. As the driver turned the Suzuki around, Almudena reached behind the seat and felt Mora slip his palm into hers. He squeezed hard.
The driver pulled off next to a shack in the jungle, and the men, claiming to be looking for cell phones, told the girls to lift their shirts and drop their pants. Mosquitoes swarmed them. After being frisked, Almudena caught a glimpse of two of the men driving off in the Suzuki. Mora was still in the trunk.
The four young women sat on logs behind the hut with two of their captors. The guys seemed young, not more than 20, and were oddly talkative for criminals. They said they understood what the conservationists were trying to do, but they needed to feed their families. One said that Mora "didn't respect the rules of the beach."
The men announced that they were going to get some coconuts, walked away, and never came back. After an hour, the women decided to make a break for it. Huddled close together, they walked down to the beach and headed south toward the sanctuary. They were terrified and stunned, barely speaking and moving on autopilot. Two hours later they finally reached the gate but found no sign of Mora. Almudena started to sob. A caretaker called the police in Limón, and soon a line of vehicles raced north along the beach track. At 6:30 a.m. the police radio crackled. They had found Almudena's car, buried up to its axles in sand. There was a body beside it.
MORA WAS FOUND naked and facedown on the beach, his hands bound behind him and a large gash on the back of his head. The official cause of death was asphyxiation—he'd aspirated sand deep into his lungs.
The news spread quickly. A chorus of tweets cast Mora as an environmental martyr akin to Chico Mendes, the Brazilian rain forest activist who was assassinated in 1988. The BBC, The New York Times, and The Washington Post picked up the story. An online petition started by the nonprofit Sea Turtle Restoration Project called on Costa Rican president Laura Chinchilla for justice and gathered 120,000 signatures. Paul Watson, the founder of the Sea Shepherd Society and the star of Whale Wars, offered $30,000 to anyone who could identify the killers. "Jairo is no longer simply a murder statistic," Watson wrote. "He is now an icon."
There was a sense, too, that this killing would be bad for business. Long the self-styled ecotourism capital of the world, Costa Rica relies on international travelers for 10 percent of its GDP. "What would have happened if the young female North American volunteers were murdered?" wrote one hotel owner in an open e-mail to the country's ecotourism community. "Costa Rica would have a huge, long-lasting P.R. problem." Not long after, President Chinchilla took to Twitter to vow that there would be "no impunity" and that the killers would be caught.
That task fell to detectives from the Office of Judicial Investigation (OIJ), Costa Rica's equivalent of the FBI, and Limón's police department. The OIJ attempted to trace the victims' stolen cell phones, but the devices appeared to have been switched off and their SIM cards removed. Almudena, Grace, Katherine, and Rachel gave depositions before leaving the country, but it was clear that finding other witnesses would be a challenge.
Moín is backed by a scattering of run-down houses behind high walls. It's the kind of place where neighbors know one another's business but don't talk about it, especially to cops. The hueveros met OIJ investigators with silence. When detectives interviewed Guti, he was so drunk he could barely speak.
Not everyone kept quiet, though. Following the murder, Vanessa Lizano, the founder of the Costa Rica Wildlife Sanctuary, dedicated herself to fighting for her fallen colleague's legacy. I e-mailed her and asked if I could come visit, and she welcomed me.
I flew to San José two weeks after the killing, arriving at the sanctuary after dusk. Lizano, 36, unlocked a high gate adorned with a brightly painted butterfly. "Welcome to Moín," she said in a theatrical voice, her auburn hair pulled back in a ponytail. The property covered about a dozen acres of rainforest and was dotted with animal pens. Paintings of Costa Rica's fauna adorned every surface. Lizano opened a pen and picked up a baby howler monkey, which wrapped its tail around her neck like a boa. "I keep expecting Jairo to just show up," she said. "I guess I haven't realized it yet."
Lizano had been running a modeling agency in San José in 2005 when she and her parents decided to open a butterfly farm near the beach. She leased a small piece of land and moved to Moín with her infant son, Federico, or "Fedé," her parents, and a three-toed sloth named Buda. They gradually transformed the farm into a sanctuary, acquiring rescued sloths and monkeys, a one-winged owl, and a pair of scarlet macaws seized from an imprisoned narcotrafficker. Fedé pulled baby armadillos around in his Tonka trucks and shared his bed with Buda.
Lizano operated the sanctuary with her mother, Marielos, and a rotation of international volunteers, who paid $100 a week for room and board—a common model for small-scale ecotourism in Costa Rica. The sanctuary was never a moneymaker, but Lizano loved working with the animals.
Then, one day in 2009, she discovered several dead leatherbacks on the beach that had been gutted for their egg sacs. "I went crazy," she says. She attended a sea turtle conservation training program in Gandoca, run by Widecast, a nonprofit that operates in 43 countries. There she met Mora, who'd been working with Widecast since he was 15. Lizano arranged for the organization to operate a turtle program out of her sanctuary, and in 2010 Mora moved to Moín to help run it.
They soon developed something like a sibling rivalry. They'd psych themselves up by watching Whale Wars, then compete to see who could gather more nests. Normally a goofball and unabashed flirt, Mora turned gravely serious when on patrol. He loved the turtles deeply, but he seemed to love the fight for them even more. Lizano worried that his stubbornness may have made things worse on the night he was killed.
"Jairo wouldn't have gone without a fight," she said. "He was a very, very tough guy."
Lizano told me that her mission was now to realize Mora's vision of preserving Playa Moín as a national park. She had been advocating for the preserve to anyone who would listen—law enforcement, the government, the media. It was a frustrating campaign. The turtle program had been shut down in the wake of the killing, and poaching had continued. Meanwhile, Lizano seemed certain that people around Moín knew who the killers were, but she had little faith in the police. On the night of the murder, when Erick Calderón, Limón's chief of police, called to inform her that Mora had been killed, she screamed at him. Since 2010, Calderón had intermittently provided police escorts for the sanctuary's patrollers, and by 2013 he'd suspended them because of limited resources. Prior to the killings, Lizano and Mora had asked repeatedly for protection, to no avail. The murder, Lizano said, was Calderón's fault.
But there was plenty of recrimination to go around. The ecotourism community blamed Lizano and Widecast for putting volunteers at risk. The family of one of the Americans, Grace, had demanded that Widecast reimburse her for her stolen camera, phone, and sneakers. Lizano told me the accusations were unfair. "The volunteers knew what they were getting into," she said. "We would say, 'It's up to you if you want to go out.' "
Still, she was overwhelmed with guilt. "I know Jairo was scared, because I used to tease him," she said. "We'd make fun of each other for being afraid. We'd always kidaround that we would die on the beach." She'd tell him that she wanted her ashes carried into the surf by a sea turtle. Mora was less sentimental. "He always said, 'You can do whatever, I really don't care. Just drink a lot. Throw a party.' "
We sat in the open-air kitchen, and Lizano held her head in her hands. "If you've got to blame somebody, blame me," she said. "I was the one who took Jairo and showed him the beach, and he fell in love."
MORA WAS BORN in Gandoca, a tiny Caribbean town near the Panama border. He caught the wildlife bug early, from his grandfather, Jerónimo Matute, an environmentalist who helped found the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, a sea turtle nesting area. Jairo began releasing hatchlings at age six. Once
he became a full-time Widecast employee, he sent much of his salary home every month to his mother, Fernanda, and completed high school through a correspondence program.
By 2010, Mora had moved to Moín, living in a tiny room over the sanctuary's kitchen. Some days, Mora and the volunteers—college students, mainly, from all over the world—counted poached nests or monitored the sanctuary's hatchery; some nights they'd go on patrol. Mora was clear about the risks involved, and some chose not to go, but others joined eagerly. It didn't seem that dangerous, especially in the early days, when the Limón police accompanied the patrols.
Still, there were tensions from the beginning. During nesting season, the hueveros squatted in shacks in the jungle. Most were desperately poor, many were addicts, and all considered Lizano and Mora competition. Lizano had no qualms about reporting poachers to the police.
A leatherback typically lays 80 fertilized eggs and covers them with about 30 yolkless ones. Poachers consider the yolkless eggs worthless and usually toss them aside. Lizano and Mora often placed those eggs on top of broken glass, causing a poacher to cut himself while digging for the good ones. Lizano even set volunteers to work smashing glass to carry in buckets to the beach. She sometimes found obscene notes scrawled in the sand. She'd write back: Fuck You.
Lizano got caught in shootouts between police and poachers at the beach four times, once having to duck for cover behind a leatherback. In April 2011, she was driving alone at night on Moín when she came across a tree blocking the road. Two men with machetes jumped out of the forest and ran toward her truck. She floored it in reverse down the dirt road, watching as the men with the machetes chased, their eyes full of hate.
In the spring of 2012, Calderón suspended the police escorts. Limón had the highest crime rate in Costa Rica, and the police chief was spread too thin trying to protect the city's human population, never mind the turtles. Mora and Lizano shifted to more conciliatory tactics. They hired ten hueveros and paid each of them a salary of $300 per month, using money from the volunteers' fees. In return, the men would give up poaching and work on conservation. Guti was one of the first to sign on. The hueveros walked the beach with the volunteers, gathering nests and bringing them to the hatchery. It was a steep pay cut—an industrious huevero can make as much as $200 a night—so Lizano pushed the idea that the poachers could eventually work in the more viable long game of ecotourism, guiding tourists to nesting sites. But the money for the project quickly ran out, and Lizano wasn't surprised when poaching increased soon after.
Around the same time, a menacing poaching gang showed up on Playa Moín. They seemed far more organized than the typical booze-addled hueveros. The group dropped men along the beach by van, using cell phones to warn each other of approaching police. They were led by a Nicaraguan named Felipe "Renco" Arauz, now 38, who had a long criminal history, including drug trafficking and kidnapping.
In April 2012, a group of men armed with AK-47's broke into the hatchery, tied up five volunteers, and beat a cousin of Mora's with their rifle butts. Then they stole all 1,500 of the eggs that had been collected that season. Mora, out patrolling the beach, returned to find the volunteers tied up. He went ballistic, punching the walls. Then he exacted vengeance, going on a frenzy of egg gathering, accompanied once again by armed police protection. Mora collected 19 nests in three nights, completely replacing the eggs that had been stolen. But a few weeks later, Calderón once again suspended escorts, and no arrests were made.
A month after the hatchery raid, in May 2012, the dangers became too much even for Lizano. She was at a restaurant in downtown Limón when she spotted a man taking Fedé's photo with his cell phone. She recognized him as a huevero and confronted him angrily: "It's me you want. Leave the kid out of it." The man laughed at her. That was the final straw. She moved with Fedé back to San José, returning to Moín alone on weekends.
Mora remained, however, and when the 2013 season began in March, he returned to his patrols—mostly alone, but occasionally with volunteers. By this point, the volunteer program was entirely Mora's operation. The Americans, who arrived in April, knew there were risks. But according to Rachel, Mora never told her about the raid on the hatchery the year before. She entrusted her safety to him completely. "I had gone out numerous times with Jairo and never really felt in danger," she told me. "I knew he was there and wouldn't let anything happen to me."
But just a few weeks before his death, Mora told a newspaper reporter that threats were increasing and the police were ignoring Widecast's pleas for help. He called his mother, Fernanda, every night before he went on patrol, asking for her blessing. When Lizano saw Fernanda at Mora's funeral, she asked for her forgiveness.
"Sweetie," Fernanda replied, "Jairo wanted to be there. It was his thing."
The cop next to me, young and jumpy in the darkness, pulled his M4's slide back, racking a cartridge. As I crouched down, I saw two green dots floating—the glow-in-the-dark sights of a drawn 9mm. About 100 yards off, the police had spotted a couple of shadowy figures. Hueveros.
I was on patrol. Following Mora's killing, the sea turtle volunteer program had been suspended, but two of Mora's young protégés, Roger Sanchez and his girlfriend, Marjorie Balfodano, still walked the beach every night with police at their side. Sanchez, 18, and Balfodano, 20, were both diminutive students, standing in bare feet with headlamps on. They weren't much to intimidate a poacher, but Sanchez was fearless. Before we set out, he told me with earnest bravado that he planned to patrol Moín for the rest of his life. When we saw the hueveros, we'd been walking for three hours alongside an escort of five officers from Limón's Fuerza Pública, kitted out with bulletproof vests, sidearms, and M4 carbines. Perhaps it was just a publicity stunt by Calderón, but it was a comforting one. We had encountered a dozen plundered nests, each one a shallow pit littered with broken shells. The hueveros, it had seemed, were just steps ahead of us.
Then the cop on my right noticed two figures and pulled his gun. Three of the police told us to wait and confronted the two men. After several minutes we approached. The cops shone their flashlights on the poachers and made them turn out their pockets. One wore a knit cap, and the other had long reddish dreadlocks—Guti. They were both slurry with drink, and the cops seemed to be making a show of frisking them. The men had no contraband, so the cops let them stumble off along the beach.
After a while the radio crackled. Another police truck had found two nesting leatherbacks. We rushed to the spot. In the darkness, a hump the size of an overturned kiddie pool slowly shifted in the sand. The baula's great watery eyes looked sidelong toward the sea as it excavated a nest in the beach with back flippers as dexterous as socked hands. With each labored effort, it delicately lifted a tiny scoop of sand and cupped it to the edge of the hole. Sanchez held a plastic bag in anticipation, ready for her to drop her clutch.
Then Guti's drunken companion stumbled up to us, knelt beside Sanchez, and offered a boozy disquisition on sea turtle biology. The cops ignored him, and the spooked animal heaved forward, dragging her bulk away without laying any eggs. A few more heaves and the foaming waves broke over the turtle's ridged carapace.
The night wasn't a complete loss, though. A short distance away, the second leatherback had laid its nest. Soon a second patrol truck pulled up and handed Sanchez a bag of 60 eggs. We hitched a ride back to the sanctuary and a wooden shed packed with styrofoam coolers. Sanchez opened one, sifted beach sand into the bottom, then began placing the eggs inside. I noticed that a pen had been stuck into one of the coolers. Next to it, a set of stylized initials was scratched into the styrofoam: JMS. Altogether, there were perhaps 1,000 eggs in the coolers. Almost all of them had been gathered by Mora.
A COUPLE OF DAYS later, I went to see Erick Calderón at the police headquarters in Limón. With his small build and boyish face, he seemed an unlikely enforcer, and he'd clearly been affected by the pressure the killing had brought on his department. Since the murder, Calderón said, the police had patrolled Moín every night. "I want to make the beach a safer place, control poaching of eggs, and educate the population so the demand isn't there," he said. But it was unclear how long he could sustain the effort. He said that only a dedicated ecological police force would make a lasting impact. They'd need a permanent outpost on Moín, a dozen officers supplied with 4x4s and night-vision goggles.
Then Calderón insisted that Mora's murder was an anomaly and that Costa Rica was "not a violent society"—an assertion belied by the fact that the previous afternoon, a shootout between rival gangs had happened just a few blocks from the station. He seemed ashamed that the murder had happened on his watch, that Lizano had screamed at him. "I know Jairo was a good guy," he told me.
That afternoon I met up with Lizano's father, Bernie. His means of processing his sorrow had been to turn himself into a pro bono private investigator. A former tuna fisherman, Bernie was 65, with a full head of white hair and a pronounced limp from an old boating accident. As we drove around Limón, he seemed to know everyone's racket, from the drug kingpins behind razor-wire-topped fences to a guy on a corner selling drinks from a cooler. "He keeps the turtle eggs in his truck," Bernie whispered conspiratorially. At one house he stopped to chat with a shirtless, heavily tattooed man. The guy offered his condolences, then said, "Let me know if you need any maintenance work done." As Bernie pulled away he chuckled: "Maintenance. That guy's a hit man."
We drove to a squat concrete building with dark-tinted windows on the edge of town—the office of the OIJ. After Bernie and I passed through a metal detector, one of the case's detectives, tall and athletic, with a 9mm holstered in his jeans, agreed to speak with me anonymously. He said that OIJ investigators in Limón were the busiest in the country due to drug-related crime. I asked whether he thought the killers were traffickers, and he shook his head wearily. "If they were narcos, it would have been a disaster," he said. "Every one of them would have been killed."
Like Calderón, he promised that Mora would not be a mere statistic. He insisted that they were closing in on serious leads. Walking out, Bernie told me he had spoken in private with the detective, to whom he'd been feeding every scrap of information he'd gotten. "He told me, 'We are very close to getting them, but we don't want them to know because they'll get away.' "
Bernie's PI trail led back to Moín, where he had tracked down a potential witness—a man who lived near the beach. The man had been the first to find Mora early on the morning of May 31. He walked Bernie to the spot where he'd found the body. As he described it, there were signs of a struggle from the footprints around the car. It looked to him like Mora had escaped his captors and dashed down the beach. Another set of tracks seemed to show a body being dragged back to the vehicle.
Bernie had begged the man for some clue, mentioning Paul Watson's reward, which had now swelled to $56,000. "He said, 'No, no, I don't need the money. It's not that I don't need it, it's just that they did something very bad.' " If he talked, he was sure that he and his family would be killed.
ON JULY 31, the OIJ conducted a predawn raid, called Operation Baula, at several houses around Limón. Dozens of armed agents arrested six men, including Felipe Arauz, the 38-year-old Nicaraguan immigrant suspected of being the ringleader of the violent hueveros. A seventh man was caught ten days later. The suspects were Darwin and Donald Salmón Meléndez, William Delgado Loaiza, Héctor Cash Lopez, Enrique Centeno Rivas, and Bryan Quesada Cubillo. While Lizano knew of the alleged killers, she was relieved that she hadn't worked with them. "Thank God none were my poachers," she said.
Detectives from the OIJ had been talking to informants and quietly tracking Mora's stolen cell phone. According to court documents, one of the suspects, Quesada, 20, had continued to use it, sending incriminating texts. One read: "We dragged him on the beach behind Felipe's car and you know it."
To Lizano, the motive was clearly revenge, but the authorities cast the crime as "a simple robbery and assault." They also laid blame on Mora and Lizano's failed attempt to hire poachers for conservation. An OIJ spokesman claimed that the program had bred resentment among hueveros. The accusation infuriated Lizano. "They're just looking for a scapegoat," she said.
Lizano thought that the authorities were deflecting blame. It turned out that on the night of the murder, a police patrol had encountered several of the suspects—they were the same men the cops had warned Mora about. A few hours later the gang lay in wait. Whether or not they intended to kill Mora will be argued at the trial later this spring.
Even so, the arrests haven't brought much closure to those closest to Mora. Almudena, back in Madrid, was deeply depressed when I reached her. "Jairo is dead," she said. "For me there is no justice." The only positive outcome, as she saw it, would be for a preserved beach. "In ten years, there have to be turtles at Moín," she said. "If not, this has happened for nothing."
Lizano, meanwhile, redoubled her efforts to protect Moín. Any legislative change to preserve the beach is far off, and the turtles now face an additional threat—a massive container-port development project that a Dutch conglomerate hopes to build nearby. Still, Lizano told me, "I really believe it has to continue. I can't stop and let the poachers win. For me it's not an option."
In July, Lizano brought Fedé back to Moín. She woke him up one morning before sunrise, and together with a group of volunteers they walked to the beach. The night before, at the sanctuary, the first turtle hatchlings had broken up through the sand in their styrofoam-cooler nests. Lizano showed Fedé how to lift the tiny flapping things out and set them gently on the sand. The people stood back and watched as the turtles inched down the beach, making their way toward the breaking waves and an uncertain future.
Reporter Ari Daniel
There’s no shortage of lovely places in Palau, but perhaps none as remarkable as Nikko Bay. It’s a patch of turquoise water tucked inside a ring of tropical jungle in this tiny Western Pacific island nation. And it’s where Anne Cohen, a scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the US, gets to do her fieldwork — with a snorkel on.
“This is the easiest snorkeling you’ve ever done,” Cohen says as she slips on her mask and fins.
And some of the most rewarding. There’s coral everywhere.The bottom is carpeted with fan corals, big boulder-shaped corals, long green tendril-y corals, even squishy corals, all jockeying for position.
There are bright, colorful fish too. It’s a parade of life.
But here’s the thing — Cohen says this raucous coral ecosystem shouldn’t even exist. The water is way too acidic.
“We started taking water samples,” she says, casting back to an earlier visit here. “We analyzed them, and we couldn’t believe it. Of the 17 coral reef systems (around the world) that we’ve been monitoring, this is the most acidic site that we’ve found.”
The higher acidity of the water here is natural, but it defies all expectations. Conventional wisdom is that corals don’t like acidic water, and the water in Nikko Bay is acidic enough that it should dissolve the animals’ calcium carbonate skeletons.
Even weirder, Cohen says, is that the acidity goes up as you move from the barrier reefs offshore into Palau’s island bays, and that as that happens, the coral cover and the coral diversity increase as well.
From everything we know about corals, Cohen says, this just shouldn’t happen.“There’s something different about Palau.”
That’s what Cohen's team is trying to figure out — what is it that allows these corals to thrive in such acidic waters?
It’s an interesting scientific challenge, not to mention a nice excuse to spend time basking in this tropical playground. But it’s hardly just an academic question, because humans are altering the acidity of the oceans around the world, a consequence of the same process that’s causing climate change.
It’s a distressingly simple process, says oceanographer Katie Shamberger, a member of Cohen’s team: “As we put more and more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, we end up with more carbon dioxide mixing into the ocean.”
More carbon dioxide in the sea makes the water slightly more acidic. It’s a small increase, Shamberger says, “but it still changes the chemistry of the ocean, and marine organisms are very sensitive to the water surrounding them.”
Organisms like corals. Some scientists have predicted that the growing global acidity could wipe out all the corals on the planet by the end of the century. Here in Nikko Bay, the water is already as acidic as the entire western Pacific could be by the year 2100. So the team here wants to know whether these reefs might just be the corals of the future — corals that can survive ocean acidification.
This expedition is the researchers’ sixth in Palau. On their dives they collect water in small bottles along with coral samples that they take with a hollow underwater drill that pushes into the corals’ skeletons like a straw pushing into a snow ball. The team corks each hole with a concrete plug, which Cohen says eventually gets covered in new coral tissue.
Cohen’s team examines the cores for growth rates and any signs of strain from the higher acidity. They also search for other clues about what allows these corals to thrive — things like genetic adaptations or unique characteristics of the local environment.
Whatever the reason or reasons might turn out to be, Cohen says these reefs should move to the top of the global coral conservation list.
They are the ones that are going to survive climate change, she says, so they need every bit of help they can get.
They’re also very important locally. Not only are Palau’s coral reefs a big tourist draw, but like healthy corals around the world, Palau’s provide vital habitat for fish and other sea life, and help protect the shoreline from storms and erosion.
The day before Cohen leaves Palau, she and her team visit a spot on a barrier reef several miles from shore.
It’s high tide, and the water’s rushing across the reef crest. As she looks back toward land, across water that gets more and more acidic, Cohen says it’s like looking into the future, to a more and more acidic global sea. It’s a sobering reminder of what’s at stake here, she says.
“Climate change is really happening. You come to Palau, we go into these areas where we’re seeing conditions of the future, right there. And yet, we have these communities that appear to have figured it out. That’s like the biggest diamond in the desert.”
Cohen says there’s no certainty that what’s learned from these corals will help others survive the changes ahead. Still, she says, they offer hope that at least some corals will be around to keep us company in the future.
This report was supported by the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.