Illegal fishing: 21st-century pirates plunder treasures of Costa Rica’s seas

Damian Carrington joins a patrol boat on a hunt for pirate vessels looting the Cocos Island’s natural wealth

It’s just after dawn and on the gleaming Pacific Ocean, 365 miles off the coast of Costa Rica, the hunt is on for pirates. But these 21st-century buccaneers are looting the treasure beneath the waves, not the gold and silver coins buried long ago on Cocos Island a few miles away.

Cocos, the remote emerald tip of a towering underwater mountain range which was filmed as the fictional Isla Nublar in the novel Jurassic Park, has served as a pirate hideaway, whaling station, penal colony and a pit stop for Colombian drug runners. It is the most shark rich island on Earth and its underwater flanks serve as a nursery for myriad marine species, many unique.

But these extraordinary riches are being plundered by illegal fishing, with many sharks, rays, turtles and mantas among the devastating collateral damage of longline tuna fishing. It is part of a global illegal fishing crisis worth $10-23bn a year that results in 100m sharks killed every year.

To combat the carnage, a new $1.5m radar system is being built – with backing from philanthropists including the actor Leonardo Di Caprio – that will pinpoint pirate vessels up to 70 miles out. This will help enforce a new enlarged marine protection area that entered into force on 11 April.

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