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Andy Mann

Randall Arauz is a co-founder of the organization MigraMar, a scientist-led nonprofit working to research and protect migratory marine species in the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP) Seascape, a beautiful and biodiverse region off the Pacific coast of Central and South America. In May 2021, our incredible monthly donor community, The Tide, is supporting a round-trip MigraMar expedition, following the rich waters from Cocos Island to Galápagos, to help protect crucial migratory species like sharks, rays, sea turtles, tuna, swordfish, billfish, dorado, and whales.

Read on for Randall’s story and become a member of The Tide today to support Tide Turners like Randall and organizations like MigraMar.

Costa Rica’s Cocos Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with unique geography and biodiversity. It is connected to the Galápagos Islands of Ecuador by a “marine superhighway” · Andy Mann

Randall Arauz first went to Cocos Island, located off the western coast of Costa Rica, in 2004 to figure out how to best track marine animals. He’s since been back 48 times.

This sheer amount of travel, with expeditions sometimes lasting weeks on end, is a testament not only to Randall’s dedication to the natural world, but also to his urgency to protect it.

“From a very young age,” Randall says, “I wanted to be a marine biologist. Like so many people of my generation, I was inspired by The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. When I was eight or nine years old, I would watch that show and get mesmerized. Ever since then, that’s pretty much what I wanted to do.”

Having started his career as a sea turtle biologist, Randall Arauz eventually expanded his focus to many different marine species. Turtles remain at the core of his conservation work · Randall Arauz

From childhood to academic and professional trajectories, this aquatic proclivity held true. Randall became a turtle biologist and studied them most of his career. But it was while he was researching the effects of long-line fishing on sea turtles that he stumbled upon another troubling issue—shark finning—which modified the direction of his career.

“I would come to port and see all these shark fins—30 tons of shark fins—and I didn’t know how to wrap my head around the issue,” Randall says.

Shark finning is the practice of catching sharks, removing their fins, throwing the rest of the shark back into the sea, and then selling the fins at a high price ($100 per kilo for fins, as opposed to 50¢ per kilo for shark meat) to foreign exporters for distribution throughout Asia for consumption. “What was happening was atrocious. So we were able to get a law passed in Costa Rica, just by talking to the congressmen, that helped regulate the industry by mandating that sharks must come into port with their fins still naturally attached.”

A pivotal moment in Randall’s career was when he stumbled upon the troubling issue of shark finning, causing him to start enacting change in the courtroom to help protect marine species · Shawn Heinrichs

In addition to the shark finning legislation, Randall has other major environmental victories under his belt. The issues and dates and decrees spring from his memory effortlessly, the mark of an afflicted biologist who can’t put his mind at ease, a true indicator of his devotion to the sea.

There was his victory in 1999, having it deemed unconstitutional for Costa Rica to commercialize endangered green turtles. Then there was a mandate Randall obtained in 2013 stating that the practice of shrimp trawling, a commercial fishing method that has detrimental impacts on both endangered species and small-scale fishers who depend on healthy ecosystems, goes against sustainable democratic development. Through this victory and its subsequent phase out, the last Costa Rican shrimp trawler went out of business in 2019.

Since the 1990s, unsustainable and illegal fishing practices have reduced scalloped hammerhead shark numbers by 50 percent · Andy Mann
In 1999, Randall was involved in a key conservation victory when Costa Rica deemed it unconstitutional to commercialize endangered green sea turtles · Cristina Mittermeier
Randall was able to help regulate the shark finning industry in Costa Rica by mandating that sharks must come into port with their fins still naturally attached · Andy Mann
“One of the strongest reasons I was able to phase out the shrimp fishery was because we had the full support of the small-scale fishermen. Once they saw that this was working, they all came behind us.”

“I believe truly that the future of fisheries is in the small-scale guys, the ones who can fish sustainably. We’re already seeing an increase in the snapper catch by 40 percent,” Randall says when reflecting on the absence of trawling, “and when you talk to the fishermen, anecdotally, they say, ‘Man, the fishing is better than it’s been in years.’ So now the small guys are seeing their catch increased and they’re super happy—more snapper! That’s probably one of the biggest impacts so far. One of the lessons that I’ve learned is that most of the time the policy change comes in court. But before we go to court, we have to do our homework. We have to win the public opinion.”

One of the strongest reasons Randall was able to phase out the Costa Rican shrimp fishery was because he had the full support of the small-scale fishers · Lucas Bustamante

Despite his triumphs, Randall is still a self-proclaimed old, frustrated activist. He has seen positive change come slowly to the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP) Seascape—a remarkable region of the Pacific Ocean that spans more than 2 million square kilometers within the marine territories of four sovereign nations: Ecuador, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Panama.

It is here that various endangered species follow “marine migratory highways,” such as the Cocos-Galápagos Swimway, which takes them in and out of marine protected areas (MPAs) along the way. The problem is that once they leave an MPA, they become susceptible to major threats—in particular, large-scale commercial fishing.

“A big change during my years of research has been the schools of hammerheads around Cocos Island. They’re not as frequent as they used to be. Before they were uncountable… and now I can count them.”