Waterfall nestled in the beautiful scenery of Cocos Island National Park.


Waterfall nestled in the beautiful scenery of Cocos Island National Park.

Photo by: Giordano Cipriani

Giordano Cipriani

Costa Rica's Protected 'Shark Island' Will Save Thousands of Species

By: Lucy Sherriff

Costa Rica began the year with a fresh green start after its president announced new protections for the country’s unique biodiversity and wildlife species, expanding a national park by 27 times its size.

January 25, 2022

President Carlos Alvarado signed a decree in January which dramatically increases both the Bicentennial Marine Management Area and the Cocos Island National Park – two protection zones where thousands of rare species endemic to the country are found.

Government officials hope the move will protect the ecosystems from coastal development, fishery impacts, and pollution, all of which have taken a toll on the region’s marine life.

The National Park was expanded from 785 square miles (2,034 square kilometers) to around 21,000 square miles (54,844 square kilometers) while the Management Area, which encompasses the park and the surrounding water, increased from 3,726 square miles (9,649 square kilometers) to 41,037 square miles (106,285.56 square kilometers).

Pacific Ocean, Coco Island, Costa Rica


Pacific Ocean, Coco Island, Costa Rica

Photo by: Jeff Rotman

Jeff Rotman

Pacific Ocean, Coco Island, Costa Rica

“Part of our global commitment is to help halt the accelerated loss of species and protect the vital ecosystems that are the source of our food and economic security,” the President said on signing the decree. “I also want to recognize the hard work of our national park officials and staff who protect our precious park daily.”

The decree is part of an ongoing fight by Costa Rica to combat climate change and highlights the country’s participation in the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, an alliance between Costa Rica, France, and the UK to conserve 30% of land and sea by 2030.

Cocos island shot with a local rainbow after some light rain. This image was taken from a boat after a dive.


A rainbow arches in front of Cocos Island after some light rain.

Photo by: by wildestanimal

by wildestanimal

A rainbow arches in front of Cocos Island after some light rain.

Cocos Island, which lies 300 miles off the coast of mainland Costa Rica, is a fully protected park that bans fishing and other extractive activities, created by the government back in 1982. It’s thought of as the little Galapagos of Costa Rica and is the tip of an ancient volcanic mountain that’s surrounded by the Pacific Ocean. It’s covered by dense tropical rainforest and boasts waterfalls, cliffs, sandy and rocky beaches, coral reefs, and mountains.

Many of the species on the island have evolved over the centuries, meaning they have distinct characteristics that are found nowhere else in the world.

The Cocos cuckoo, flycatcher, and finch are all bird species endemic to the island, which is also home to two endemic lizards, almost 100 endemic lizards, and numerous freshwater fish. It’s famous amongst divers, due to the ability to view large pelagic species such as sharks, rays, tuna, and dolphins.


School of fish, Costa Rica

Photo by: Rodrigo Friscione

Rodrigo Friscione

School of fish, Costa Rica

“The biophysical characteristics of Cocos Island National Park and its adjacent waters make this site a hot spot in the Eastern Tropical Pacific for marine fauna, so it is important to increase its protection,” said Rafael Gutiérrez, Executive Director of Costa Rica’s National System of Conservation Areas.

Costa Rica has been at the forefront of biodiversity protection. It’s home to half a million species, making it one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. The country channels friends from car stamp duty, fuel tax, and energy fees to pay for nature reserve management and environmental services like clean air, freshwater, and biodiversity protection, and so the latest announcement comes as no surprise.

Next Up

Bobcat on the Hunt

Nature photographer Ian Shive gets a rare close-up of a bobcat hunting ground squirrels in California's Central Coast.

Caves to Condors: Uncovering Pinnacles National Park

Photographer and conservationist Ian Shive explores one of the lesser known National Parks, Pinnacles National Park, finding rare wildlife and extraordinary landscapes along the way.

This Massive Stone Tower in the Middle of the Pacific Once Hid a Decades-Long Secret

Join Discovery about 350 miles off the coast of Australia where we visit Ball's Pyramid. At 1,844 feet above the Pacific, it's the world's tallest sea stack; it's also one of the last dry remnants of a sunken content. The monolithic natural structure formed after years of erosion from an ancient shield volcano about 7 million years ago, and it's home to what is arguably the rarest insect in the world.

Explore Colombia Where Few Have Trekked Before and Discover New Bird Species

The remote Serranía del Perijá mountain range, which divides Venezuela from Colombia, was once ruled by guerrillas, and near-impossible to access. But thanks to the Colombian peace agreement, which was signed in 2016, adventurers are starting to explore the formerly out-of-bounds forest-cloaked peaks.

Tanzania: Beyond the Wildlife

Most people know that Tanzania is home of the Serengeti and an amazing diversity of wildlife. The country is made up of 430 species of wildlife and 17 national parks. But did you know that it’s where 51 million people call home as well?

Do Dolphins Have a New Skin Care Routine?

A new study on Indo-Pacific bottle-nosed dolphins reveals that pods might rub themselves on coral as a way to keep their skin healthy.

Sea Turtle Escapes the Jaws of a Shark Attack

Sea turtles are less slow and steady than we have historically assumed. On the Ningaloo Coast of Australia, a photographer captured a heroic fight between a sea turtle and a tiger shark.

The Highest Animal on the Food Chain: Megalodon Sharks

The now-extinct megalodon and its ancestors may have been "hyper apex predators," higher up on the food chain than any ocean animal ever known.

Shark Week: The Podcast – The Epic Battles Between Swordfish and Mako Sharks

Luke Tipple chats with Joe Romeiro & Lauren Romeiro, shark experts and stars of the Shark Week special, The Dawn of the Monster Mako.

Two Orcas Are Hunting Great White Sharks in South Africa

A killer whale duo has been killing great white sharks off the Gansbaai coast, causing them to flee the area. These orcas have developed a taste for shark livers, transforming the local marine ecosystem.

Related To: