Sunday, April 29, 2007

"Billie" the turtle wins Costa Rica sea race


SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (Reuters) - A leatherback turtle called Billie won the first Great Turtle Race from Costa Rica to the Galapagos Islands, swimming at a leisurely 5-6 kph, organizers said on Friday.

Satellite tracking of 11 tagged turtles showed Billie sprinting away from the main group to make it first to the finish zone. Two turtles failed to get past the starting line, and another, Purple Lightning, veered miles off course.

Some 600,000 people logged on to the web site of the two-week Pacific Ocean marathon (www.greatturtlerace.com), aimed at drawing attention to the endangered species whose numbers have plummeted 95 percent over the past 20 years.

The coffee table-sized turtles, which were around at the same time as dinosaurs, are dying in accidental captures by long-line fishing boats and losing nesting areas because of coastal development, said Lisa Bailey, spokeswoman for Conservation International, one of the race organizers.

At Playa Grande, a key nesting ground in northern Costa Rica where the race started, only 50 turtles showed up to lay eggs this year, down from 1,500 in 1989, Bailey said.

The 805-km race was a virtual replay of the tracks of turtles that were tagged and released at different times last February for their annual migration.

Sponsors paid $25,000 to back a turtle, $10,000 of which went for the satellite tracking tag. Some of the money will be used to buy nesting land and save it from developers.

Winner Billie was sponsored by the Offield Center for Billfish Studies in Oceanside, California. The runner-up turtle was Stephanie Colburtle, named after comedian Stephen Colbert who followed its progress on his Comedy Central show.

Bailey said the information gathered in the race would have a scientific purpose. "This is no publicity stunt," she said.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Costa Rica's energy supply in state of emergency

By Blake Schmidt and Dave Sherwood
Tico Times Staff

One week after a massive blackout swept the country, Presidency Minister Rodrigo Arias declared yesterday that the nation's energy crisis has reached a state of emergency.

Pedro Quiros (pictured), president of the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE), announced that rolling blackouts will begin today and continue until there is enough rain to feed Costa Rica's hydroelectric plants, which are currently low on reserves due to a drier-than-normal year and a growing demand for energy.

ICE representatives said the institute would also begin posting daily schedules of blackouts on its Web site, www.grupoice.com.

Some parts of the country will also experience interruptions in water service, according to Ricardo Sancho, Executive Director of the National Water and Sewer Institute (AyA). About 40% of the San José metropolitan area's water pumping systems depend on electricity provided by ICE, and will therefore be affected by the blackouts, he said.

These systems, which provide potable water to 100,000-150,000 of the city's 1.2 million inhabitants, will be shut off for periods of about six hours, coinciding with the ICE-programmed blackouts.

Sancho shied away from offering specific times and dates, explaining that the situation is still unclear due to conflicting information from ICE. AyA is very dependent on the electricity institute holding to its schedule for the blackouts, he said.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Four monkey species decreasing in Costa Rica

Costa Rican biologist Idalia Valierio, left, and biologist Ronald Sanchez, right, take measurements and stool and blood samples of captured Congo monkeys at the Nogal Reserve near Sarapiqui, Costa Rica, Saturday, April 14, 2007. Scientists from two Costa Rican universities are studying effects of climate change such as cataracts caused by damage to the ozone layer, loss of pigmentation due to pesticides and other diseases in a primates' genetics and general health study. (AP Photo/Kent Gilbert)San Jose, Costa Rica (La Nacion) - Four monkey species drastically decreased during the last five years in Costa Rica due to deforestation, agrochemical use, global warming and their capture to use them as pets, denounced Costa Rican biologists Monday.

Spider Monkeys for example decreased from 25,000 to 7,000 since 2000 and Congo Monkeys decreased in almost 50 percent, from 70,000 to 36,800, according to biologists from the University of Costa Rica (UCR) and National University (UNA).

Ronald Sanchez, UCR specialist, admitted that there is no precise information on the decrease of Titi and White-face monkeys, but he coincided with other experts on the great difficulties they confront due to primary forests reduction.

Costa Rican scientists discovered in these years several health problems that affect monkeys like: eye cataracts, loss of melanin (responsible for the skin color) and diseases like malaria and tropical encephalitis, this last one causing the death of dozens of monkeys at the Corcovado National Park in 2003.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Blackout hits entire Costa Rica

(Inside Costa Rica) - Costa Rica fell into darkness last night shortly after 8:00 p.m., due to an electrical blackout that affected every corner of the country for more than three hours.

The problem, it appears, was caused by a failure at a the Arenal Power Station that takes hydro, thermal and wind generated power from all over Guanacaste and distributes to the entire country.

Geovanni Bonilla, a spokesman for ICE, said last night that an explosion in a transformer at the Arenal station was the cause and not related to the rationing.

The only lights visible in San Jose were in buildings that had generators and the lights of vehicles stuck in traffic intersections, as the majority of traffic lights were out as well.

The event occurred a few minutes after 8:00 pm. Although initially many believed this was part of the rationing announced earlier in the day by the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) soon the realization was that the entire country was in darkness and it wasn't until 11:30 p.m. when power was restored to all areas.

ICE had been cutting power throughout the day, rotating the affected areas. The rationing is to continue until Saturday between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. as ICE makes repairs to its three thermal plants in Limon, San Antonio de Belen and Puntarenas.

However, ICE officials were quick to say that last nights blackout was a separate incident and it was not due to the lack of maintenance.

Salvador Lopez, director of the National Center of Energy Distribution said that once the Arenal station goes out it is difficult to avoid a total collapse of the energy system.

Lopez added that before the blackout the resources of the institution had been at the limit, as the three thermal plants that are under repairs are the backup for the main network.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Costa Rica hosts regional aviation conference

Aviation experts from Central America, the Caribbean and South America are in Costa Rica for a conference aimed at improving air travel in Latin America, according to a statement from the Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MOPT).

During the conference, which started yesterday and runs through Friday, participants will be discussing topics including air security, infrastructure, deficiencies in the planning and implementation of air travel and environmental challenges facing this industry, the statement said.

Their conclusions will be evaluated by the World Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization and could be included in a document the organization is preparing to update world norms for navigation of air space.

Viviana Martin (pictured), who serves as Costa Rica's Vice-Minister of Public Works as well as the president of Civil Aviation, is representing Costa Rica at the conference. She said in a statement that she is "honored" that Costa Rica was chosen to host the event.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Virginia Tech massacre: Costa Rican recalls ordeal

Eduardo Pinto born in Escazu, San Jose, and VA Tech campus resident was in a building next to the one where the first shooting took place.

By Alfredo Gonzalez
La Nacion

Translated by Uri Ridelman



Name: Eduardo Pinto
Age: 19
Country: Costa Rica
Ocupation: Engineering student

Since when are you a student of Virginia Tech?
-I enrolled in August 2006 so this is my second semenster.

Where were you when the shootings took place?
-I was in a building named McBryde Hall, next to the one where the first shooting took place. Suddenly we saw SWAT officers arrive and search the building. We were very afraid because we didn't know what was going on.

What have you heard about the cause of this tragedy?
-Rumors have it that the first victim was the girlfriend of the alleged shooter. Apparently it started as an argument and then when a university official arrived he shot them both, but I have no idea what led him to shoot the people at the second building.

What security measures have been adopted by the university?
-There's a huge number of police officers patrolling the campus and we have been advised to stay in our rooms. Also the dorms have been locked the whole day and entrance is only allowed with a student ID. Furthermore, it appears that most of the university buldings have been searched and most of the streets leading to the university have been blocked.

How many Costa Ricans study at Virginia Tech?
-We are three and fortunately, as far as I know, none of the others where in the buidings where the shootings took place.

Did you know any of the victims?
-As of now we don't know who all the victims are. Only the name of one victim has been released and it wasn't anyone I know. The phone lines have collapsed because everyone is trying to contact their loved ones.

Usually, what is campus security like?
-This is a small town where usually nothing big happens. Most of those here are students and there aren't many violent incidents. The dorms have controlled access, you can't go in or out without a student ID. The campus has its own police force and you do feel safe here, but apparently it isn't as secure as we thought.

Last week there were two bomb threats. What security measure were adopted? Were students informed of this?
-The first threat, on April 2, was announced in a letter that was found in a building. The building was locked down and classes there were cancelled while an investigation took place.
The second threat took place last Friday and mentioned three buildings. Not much was said of it only that police was offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible for the threats.

Due to those threats did the university practiced any evacuation drills or was security reinforced across campus?
-As a result of the second bomb threat several buildings were locked the whole weekend as they were searched by police officers and trained dogs, but apparently they didn't find any explosives. As for reinforced security, nothing worth noting took place. You didn't see more police officers on campus or anything.

What was the reaction of the students to these threats?
-A lot of us took these threats as nothing important, we just thought it was someone who was trying to get some attention and left the letters in the buildings.

Serious monkey business

Costa Rican biologist Ronald Sanchez measures a captured Congo monkey at the Nogal Reserve near Sarapiqui, Costa Rica, Saturday, April 14, 2007. Scientists from two Costa Rican universities are studying effects of climate change such as cataracts caused by damage to the ozone layer, loss of pigmentation due to pesticides and other diseases in a primates' genetics and general health study. (AP Photo/Kent Gilbert)

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Great turtle race kicks off in Costa Rica

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) — Biologists will switch on satellite trackers strapped to the backs of 11 female leatherback turtles on Monday, starting what conservationists have dubbed the "Great Turtle Race" to raise awareness of a species threatened with extinction.

Sponsored by U.S. and Costa Rican environmental groups and businesses, the race will track the turtles on their annual 1,200 mile journey from Costa Rica's Pacific coast to the Galapagos Islands.

Environmentalists say 90% of the leatherbacks have vanished and the species may disappear within 10 years due to illegal poaching of their eggs, ocean contamination and development near their nesting grounds.

Internet users can log on to http://www.greatturtlerace.com, read about the turtles and then track them over the next two weeks as they complete their migration to the islands off the Ecuadorean coast, according to the event's organizers, headed by Washington, D.C.-based Conservation International.

Most of the competing turtles are expected to be in the water by Monday after laying their eggs on the beach at Playa Grande in Costa Rica.

The website features virtual trading cards with caricatures of the turtles with names like Freedom, Windy and Stephanie Colburtle after U.S. comedian Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central fame. It also has stats on their egg-laying history.

The leatherbacks, which can grow to be more than 6 feet and weigh as much as 2,000 pounds, are the world's largest turtles and are found throughout the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans, ranging from Alaska to as far south as the Cape of Good Hope.

Scores migrate to Playa Grande to lay their eggs each year, but officials at Las Baulas Marine Park there said only 58 female leatherbacks arrived this year, down from 124 in 2006.

Scientists estimate that worldwide, the female population has fallen from an estimated 115,000 in 1980 to fewer than 43,000 today. Besides various threats to their habitat, the leatherback population is threatened by floating plastic bags or sheets which they mistake for jellyfish — a staple of their diet.

Ten race sponsors — including Yahoo, Plantronics, Philadelphia's Drexel University and Dreyer's Ice Cream — donated $25,000 each to purchase the tracking equipment and protect nesting areas from development.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Costa Rica to hold referendum on U.S. trade pact

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (Reuters) - Costa Rica will hold a referendum on whether to enter a regional free trade pact with the United States, President Oscar Arias said on Friday, in a blow to Washington's trade agenda.

The trade deal known as CAFTA is in force in much of Central America but has faced resistance from opposition lawmakers in Costa Rica.

"For the first time, Costa Ricans ... will be able to directly decide the future of a very important law for the country," Arias said at a news conference.

The referendum, which could take place within the next three months, opens the possibility that Costa Rica will reject the deal altogether. Recent opinion polls show backing for CAFTA is waning, with less than 40 percent of those polled in full support.

Costa Rica is the only participant of the Central American Free Trade Agreement not to have ratified it. It would be the first country to hold a referendum to decide the issue, rather than have Congress vote.

Arias made passing the pact into law a central part of his campaign platform ahead of the presidential election last year. He announced the referendum only after it looked like his opponents would force the measure with or without his support.

The White House struggled to win support for CAFTA in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2005, where a battle along party lines almost sunk the deal.

The passage of CAFTA is considered one of the significant achievements in trade during the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush.

The multilateral Doha round of World Trade Organization talks is floundering in the face of protectionist sentiment in the United State and Europe, and Washington has won only a few small bilateral deals in recent years.

Many in Costa Rica and other Central American countries oppose CAFTA on the grounds that competition from U.S. producers could hurt local farmers.

Others worry CAFTA could lead to the privatization of the state-run telephone company and hurt the social security system.

Arias' announcement came after Costa Rica's top election court ruled on Thursday it might authorize a referendum if citizens collect signatures in favor totaling 5 percent of the country's electoral roll over a nine-month period.

Pact opponents easily would have collected the roughly 130,000 signatures needed, observers say.

The other participants in CAFTA are the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Fishing ban to go into effect in May

(Tico Times) - Large-scale fishing in the Pacific Gulf of Nicoya will be prohibited during the months of May, June and July, according to a decree published recently in the official government daily La Gaceta.

The ban is aimed at “recuperating species and populations that have their reproductive cycles in this gulf,” said MarViva director Francisco Estrada in a statement released by the private Costa Rican conservation organization.

Semi-industrial fishing and shrimp harvesting will be prohibited during this time, as well as fishing with certain types of heavy-duty nets and lines. However, some small-scale fishing will be allowed as long as it is approved by the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute (INCOPESCA), the statement said.

INCOPESCA published the decree one month before it will go into effect to give Costa Rican fishermen a chance to become aware of it and to allow them find alternative income, seeking help from institutions such as the Mixed Institute for Social Aid (IMAS) if they choose.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Centenary croc tradition

Costa Ricans carry a crocodile captured during the traditional Good Friday crocodile hunt near Ortega, Costa Rica, Friday, April 6, 2007. The inhabitants of Ortega have captured a crocodile on Good Friday for its curative properties for more than 150 years. (AP Photo/Kent Gilbert)

Note: the animal is not killed. It is released unharmed after a couple of days when the festivities are over.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Visas for frequent visitors

(La Nacion) - Hundreds of foreigners will be granted digital visas, valid for a year. Thus, they will not need to call on a Costa Rican consulate every time they have to come here.

Immigration Service director Mario Zamora said the new visas are safer and will benefit frequent travelers, mostly.

He added that the new visa will soon be available at most key consulates

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