The Beacon

Sandy's Journal: Patrolling Coiba


[editor's note, by Jason]: This journal was written by Sandy on Monday, February 28.


These are skills I never thought I would need: the ability to drop an empty bucket over the side of a ship and have it hit the water at the perfect angle to immediately fill, so it can be pulled hand over hand back over the rail and poured over a head full of shampoo; the ability to spread my own back with sunscreen without missing a spot; the capacity to sleep for an hour or two at any time, day or night -- and rarely more. Also the ability to tie a clove-hitch knot, which is the simplest thing in the world when someone explains it and somehow impossible when the rope is in your hands alone. All these things are important, living on the boat.

But on to more serious matters: Yesterday was the first Coiba marine patrol since the implementation of the new fishing laws. We left in the afternoon on MarViva III. It was clear; as we moved northwest off the main island we passed other, smaller, bodies of land -- the islands Rancherita and Coibita. On patrol were two MarViva crew (Stanley Canales, the boat captain, and Miguel Delgado) as well as Rodrigo Rodriguez, Coiba's chief park ranger, and Rolando Ruiloba, the director of the park, from Panama's environmental agency (ANAM). We spent the way out talking about Coiba, the new fishing laws, and the collaboration between ANAM and MarViva, which has so far been seamless.

And a good thing, because there is clearly a need for it. The park rangers say that with the gradual closure of the prison camps emboldened fishing boats flocked to Coiba's shores. There was every manner of fishing -- commercial and artisanal, shrimp trawling, gillnetting, longlining, shark finning, diving for conches -- and in a few months an incredible amount of damage was done. It was only with the depletion of resources and the beginning of the patrols, the rangers say, that the boats backed off. There are far fewer now and the rangers hope to keep it that way.

At five o'clock there were dolphins next to us, many, but not for long. At six we pulled in a buoy. Longliners leave their buoys in the water to mark the sites where they fish and use them as anchors for their lines. This one Rodrigo hauled in and tied it at the stern.

And then, around seven, there was a boat. It was already dark. We could just barely make out the contours of a small islet ahead when a light appeared on the horizon. In a few moments it was two lights, then three, and suddenly, when I thought we must still be a mile away, the boat was beside us. It was an artisanal boat -- wooden, very small and very dark; it was because the lights were so modest that I had supposed them to be distant. It seemed to tilt in the water. Of the four-man crew some looked like boys, and they perched on the edge of the boat bare-chested. Rodrigo's voice came through the waves and rain -- "permit, they have a permit" -- and I was relieved. So this was the kind of fishing that can happen in the park. This was ok.

After that the patrol was uneventful, which is a very good sign.


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