Costa Rica News – Today on “This Week in Costa Rica” a show hosted by Corey Coates on the Overseas Radio Network, our editor Dan Stevens joined Corey in interviewing the founder of Sea Shepherd, Captain Paul Watson.
There has been a recent plea from Sea Shepherd to allow Captain Watson to again be allowed in Costa Rica and that the hope that the Costa Rican government will join forces with Sea Shepherd to help to fight the war against shark finning and turtle egg poaching in Costa Rican waters and and on Costa Rica beaches.
Corey and Dan get the opportunity to ask some in depth questions in regards to Captain Watson’s legal situation in Costa Rica and his thoughts on issues like the murder of Jairo Mora and shark finning in Costa Rican waters.
Below is the transcript from the radio interview found here.
Corey Coates: Captain Paul Watson, can you share some of your early days in activism before founding Sea Shepherd especially back when you were in Canada?
Captain Paul Watson: Well, I actually started activism when I was 11 years old freeing beavers from beaver traps and destroying the traps. And then I was the youngest founding member of Green Peace, and that was 1969, I was 18. And I was with Green Peace until ‘77 then I left and started up the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
Corey Coates: So, why did you found Sea Shepherd and what is the organization’s mission?
Captain Paul Watson:Sea Shepherd in different in almost any other organizations because we’re not a protest organization. What we want to do is uphold international conservations laws, intervene. We like to work with governments, we like to, you know, really under the direction of the United Nations, we’re the charter for nature which allows for non-government organizations and individuals to uphold international conversation law. And the reason we do this is that we have all the rules and the laws and regulations we need to protect life in our ocean. So, problem is we don’t have any enforcement. There seems to be a lack of economic and political will to enforce these laws. So that’s where we come into the picture.
Corey Coates: Interesting.
Captain Paul Watson: And we try to set equality and we’ve been working with governments throughout the years, for instance where in partnership for 13 years now with the Ecuadorian Government. The Galapagos National Park Rangers and Ecuadorian Federal Police, and then over the last 13 years we’ve provided patrol boats, like K-9 unit, we setup an AIS system for the entire national park, and our goal there is to that if we can’t protect the Galápagos what can we protect? So it’s sort of our line in the sand.
Corey Coates: Interesting, you know, we’re coming to you from Costa Rica right now if we’d appreciate if you could give our listeners a little bit of the background of your legal situation in Costa Rica.
Captain Paul Watson: Well, you know back, 14 years ago, we were … Like the first organization really there in Cocos Island, we were there before the Rangers were there. We’d constantly be chasing out poachers. In 2002, we arrested a vessel called the San Jose which is an Ecuadorian long liner. We did this in the partnership with the Cocos Island Rangers. And we turned it over to them. It became the first vessel that was confiscated by the Costa Rican courts for illegal fishing. Then we were going to do a partnership with the Costa Rican government. And on the way down, we were going through Guatemalan waters when we found a Costa Rican vessel that was shark finning in Guatemalan waters. We contacted the Guatemalan government and they asked us if we could stop them and we did. And we did so without, nobody was injured, we didn’t damaged any property, but we ordered them to leave, and when they didn’t do it, we turned some water cannons on them, but it didn’t hurt anybody. But they left. Well, when they got back to Puntarenas they accused us, they said that we tried to murder them. So I was charged with 8 counts of attempted murder. Well, we just went into court because we had a documentary crew on there, we made the movie Shark Water with that crew. And that documentary crew had everything on camera. So the prosecutors and the judge, they looked at it, and they dropped and they dismissed the charges. And then a couple of days later I was charged again, this time with 8 counts of assault. So we went back into the court, we showed all of the evidence and the charges were dismissed once again and I was given permission to leave Costa Rica. I never heard another thing from it until I landed in Frankfurt, Germany in May of 2012 and found myself arrested apparently on an extradition demand by Costa Rica, this time for endangerment of a vessel. My suspicion was all that, that warrant came because shortly after President Laura Chinchilla met with the Prime Minister of Japan. And Japan has been trying to stop us from intervening against their illegal whaling operations in the Southern Ocean. So I think that the two are connected.
Corey Coates: So is this why you think maybe Costa Rica has you in the Interpol red list?
Captain Paul Watson: I think so because I asked the previous government. I said, “Look, can you guarantee that if I come to Costa Rica that I will not be put into a common jail because there’s a price on my head from the people in Puntarenas who take shark fins. And also, will you guarantee that you won’t send me on to Japan?” And they wouldn’t give me any guarantee. So that’s one of the reasons I wouldn’t go.
Corey Coates: Okay, jumping over to another topic here that’s of great interest. We’ve just recently passed the one year anniversary of the death of Jairo Mora Sandoval, and I’m interested, what is the Sea Shepherd’s interest in this murdered consersvationalist?
Captain Paul Watson: Well, we’re concerned with the murder of conservationalist and environmentalists worldwide. You know, over the last 10 years, 908 environmental activist had been murdered through out the world, and nobody even hears about it. But I’d tell you, if we were to ever injure anybody on the other side; it would headlines in all the papers. So, when I heard that Jairo had been murdered, and then I heard somebody from the government made some sort of silly remark that it was an accidental death. Then I got quite angry about it and I put out a $30,000 reward for information leading to, you know, the arrest and conviction of these people. Anyway, I certainly was very vocal about it. And it ended up, people were apprehended. I guess they’re still awaiting trial. But, hopefully that we will go to a trial and see the justice is done here. I mean, Jairo is a 26 year old, very dedicated conservationalist, certainly an example to young people all over the world. So it was a very, very tragic situation.
Corey Coates: We just inaugurated a new president as you probably know. So what are you asking Luis Guillermo Solís to do for you and for Costa Rica right now?
Captain Paul Watson: Well, we would like permission to come back to Costa Rica and, you know, I’ve named a vessel after Jairo. The Jairo Mora Sandoval and that I would like to have it deployed off of Moin Beach to protect the turtles. I think it would be a fitting place for it, to offer it. Right now that vessel’s operating in Senegal going after poachers there. Also we would like to get involved, returned to be involved with Cocos Island and helping the rangers there. You know in 2002 we provided them with generators and radars and all sorts of equipment and everything and we really made a lot of progress working with them and that was all put to an end when, you know, these charges came out.
Corey Coates: We’ve covered your case fairly excessively here on the radio program and one of the emails that we get in quite frequently is people asking what can the public do here to help your situation legally in Costa Rica?
Captain Paul Watson: Well what I did the other was sent a letter to the president and also request people from around the world who are concerned to send messages to the president, polite messages asking him to intervene and to look into this. I mean, does he really want me to come to Costa Rica. And there might be an advance to it, I mean, we can shine the spot light on what’s going on and hopefully things will change. I’m really hoping that this president will undo a lot of the problems that we had with the, you know, with the former president, who despite what everybody says is hardly a conservationalist. So this president ran on a promise of, you know, dealing with corruption and also on environmental protection. I have no reason to doubt him. I think that he has a lot of potential and I would really like to work with him.
Corey Coates: Fantastic, great. And one last question for me before we move over to Dan if you don’t mind is where can the public go right now to learn more about Sea Shepherd’s work?
Captain Paul Watson: Sea Shepherd has numerous websites, www.seashepherd.org or, you know, that I also have a Facebook page with about 400,000 people on this so people could certainly sign onto that. It’s Captain Paul Watson on Facebook.
Dan Stevens: Okay, perfect. Well, thank you for answering those questions. Captain Watson I’m going to get into a little more depth on … I’ve been following you for awhile now and been in touch with several people in your staff. And in October 2012, Sir Richard Branson was on hand in Costa Rica to watch ex-president Laura Chinchilla signed a law “banning shark finning” in Costa Rica. What was your take on this decree?
Captain Paul Watson: Well, a lot … You know, she signed it, but nothing happen, and the fact that just before she left office she said she was going to stop tuna finishing coming into Costa Rican waters, but she didn’t bother to sign the bill, so it has absolutely no impact to it at all. Laura Chinchilla talked very tall about and big about conservation efforts, but she didn’t really do that much. 30 tons of shark fins are moved out of Costa Rica to China every year. That’s hardly, you know, can hardly be said to be good conservation efforts.
Dan Stevens: Right, many in Costa Rica feel justice has not been served in the Jairo Mora case. What’s your opinion on the investigation and the government’s response to the case?
Captain Paul Watson: Well, you know, I had predicted when these sick individuals were arrested we would hear nothing until the election, and sure enough it was the week, the first week of the new president that’s been in office, the you know, they say that they’re going to hold them on for trial. So I don’t think a trial date has been set, but we’re certainly looking forward to that and seeing what kind of evidence is presented. And this is not just about Jairo of course, but you know, other conservationalists had been murdered and most murders have been unsolved. So we have to really set an example, that you know, you can’t just go around killing people who are trying to protect the wilderness and endangered species and get away with it.
Dan Stevens: On that same topic, after the death of Jairo Mora, many of the conservation programs are finding that volunteers are fearing for their safety and reluctant to participate in Costa Rica. Is there something you feel that Sea Shepherd could help reinvigorate this vital part of turtle conservation in Costa Rica?
Captain Paul Watson: Yes, if given permission by the government Sea Shepherd would deploy people at the right time of the year when the turtles are there. We could put a boat offshore to patrol the waters and we can put people on the beach. And I’m not just talking about volunteers; I’m talking about volunteers who are experienced. You know former military people or whatever. You know, the head of our investigative department is a former head of enforcement for the EEPA in the United States. We have a lot of former coast guard people, a lot of former military people who have joined up as volunteers and want to get involved. These are not people who are easily pushed around. And so I would really love to deploy Sea Shepherd crew on those beaches. You know, we did in the past in Tobago and we effectively shut down the poachers on the beaches of Tobago while we were there. And all we had to do is just be there. You know, there’s really no confrontations. If we’re there, they’re not going to be there.
Dan Stevens: Right, I completely understand. Do you have a number of support or actually many of our listeners would like to get involved and help the Sea Shepherd cause. Do you feel there’s a way for them to become involved on a local level here in Costa Rica without putting themselves in danger with some of the powerful groups controlling turtle egg poaching and shark finning?
Captain Paul Watson:Well, we already have a Sea Shepherd group in Costa Rica. They’ve been involved in doing beach clean ups which by the way it’s something we do all around the world with Sea Shepherd groups. We have a project called the Vortex project, which we’re working to build up to collect plastic from the oceans and from the beaches and recycle that into usable materials. So that’s one project. So there’s so many projects with Sea Shepherd that do not involve confrontation or taking those risks. And so Sea Shepherd operates at all different levels, education, litigation, legislation, you know, direct intervention. So it’s not all just confrontations at sea.
Dan Stevens: And is there a way for them to get in contact with that group here in Costa Rica so they can forward that, we can forward that information onto our listeners?
Captain Paul Watson: Yeah, well, Sea Shepherd is a group and it’s in San Jose in other places through Costa Rica and probably the best way to get there is to go to seashepherd.org and there would be contact information there.
Dan Stevens: You have a number of supporters in the entertainment industry and in Hollywood with considerable influence and reach. Do you feel there’s a way to leverage that support further to raise more global awareness to some of the issues facing countries like Costa Rica?
Captain Paul Watson: Well, we have done that so in the past and, you know, we have many celebrities, spokes people, and the great thing about celebrities is that people listen to them. You know, people like Martin Shen. Just recently we had Shannon Dorothy was helping us with sharks on the west coast of Australia. Richard Dean Anderson has been very actively involved. Joe Perry and the group Aerosmith, Steven Tyler are very much involved with us. Red Hot Chili Peppers are very much involved with us. So we do have a lot of musicians, a lot of actors and they do help get the word about like, nobody else really can.
Dan Stevens: Okay, great. Recently a court case in Costa Rica found Cathy Tseng, basically a Taiwanese national interested in shark finning, she used a technique spining, which leaves the fins attached to the shark’s spine. Do you believe that this gave shark finners a legal loop hole in Costa Rica?
Captain Paul Watson: I don’t think … You know, the government has really good in there and start getting aggressive about protecting sharks and, you know, get rid of all of these loop holes. You shouldn’t be killing sharks at all for any reason. You know, you got a national treasure there at Cocos Island and you know when people go there today, they’re astounded and everything. I said, “Yeah, well go there 10 years ago, 20 years ago. And you will see the diminishment.” But unfortunately that we have this incredible ability as of, you know, as humans to adapt to diminishment and just think everything is all right until it just disappears. So, you know, I think Costa Rica really should take the initiative here and just make killing sharks illegal. That’s the only way we’re going to stop this.
Dan Stevens:Okay. And I’m going to have to do a hard hitter for this last one. During the Chinchilla administration China increased its influence in Costa Rica. They get to the national stadium, bought millions of Costa Rican bonds, donated police vehicles and much more. Do you feel that China purchased the right to continue shark finning in Costa Rica.
Captain Paul Watson: I know China, both Taiwan and the People’s Republic have had a lot of influence in Costa Rica. I remember back in 2002, I caught a Taiwanese long liners in Costa Rican waters. I contacted Claudio Pacheko as head of the coast guard at the time. And he said, “Well, there’s nothing we can do.” I said, “Well, they’re fishing illegally.” He says, “Well, take documentation. But there’s nothing we can do.” I said, “Why not?” He says, “I repeat, there’s nothing we can do.” And so as a head of the coast guard he could do nothing about it. So, what does that tell me? There’s obviously influence there.
Corey Coates: Well, Captain Watson, we really, really appreciate your time today. We know you’re super busy. And we have been following you very closely as of many of our listeners and of course we’re going to put all the links to everything that they can follow to get involved especially here in Costa Rica. We thank you for your time.