Why I sometimes hate conservation – or, the ‘dolphin breeding ground’ debacle:

This fisherman is about to open a can of worms here for the second time.

The first time was when I agreed with a national legislator who proposed opening the National Parks to sports and small-scale artisanal fishing. Thirty-eight NGOs shouted, “No!” I suggested opening them and charging a fee to fish there to raise money for enforcement patrols, which were almost non-existent and still are.

Here I go again, about to put up the hair on the back of the nape of many in the environmental crowd. It started when a message reached my inbox containing a petition sponsored by Planet Rehab.org on the Change.org website, allowing anyone in the world to start an online petition for free. This petition urged people to help prevent a Hilton Curio hotel from being built in Puerto Jiménez, in the southern zone of the country.

The petition headlined: “Prevent Hilton from building a hotel on top of a dolphin breeding ground.” The subheading that followed was a stern message to Hilton that read, “Hilton, we’re breaking up with you so we can save the dolphins before it’s too late!” More than 50,000 people have signed the petition and it seems they are getting more signatures every day.

A very wise man once gave me very wise advice when he told me: “Always put your cards on the table, because once they are on the table, they are off the table.” So here come my cards.

I am very well versed in this subject. For the past 18 years as a fishing director, I have walked the pier at Crocodile Bay, sending thousands of tourists for sport fishing. The Crocodile Bay property is where the Hilton will be built. I also know the person behind the petition very well. After five decades on the water, I also know a little about dolphins.

If you think I’m going to defend the Hilton project in this article, you’ll be very disappointed. The developers are big boys and can do it themselves. Because I spend a lot of time protecting the sea and working for the developers, people often corner me looking for my opinion. I have never expressed an opinion for or against; it’s not up to me to defend the project. What I’ve often defended myself against are made-up statements by environmentalists who prey on uninformed or uneducated people to support their opinions for whatever their purpose is.

The Change.org petition states that the area in question is “essential for the reproduction of many marine species, potentially destroying endemic breeding areas for dolphins and putting all marine life in direct danger.”

It continues: “This large-scale Hilton Hotel Botanika Resort can only be stopped by making an urgent appeal to the directors of Hilton Curio Worldwide, warning them of the potential damage their project will cause.”

The key word in both statements is ‘potential’. It’s a word that can be used as a giant loophole to cover someone’s tail when making outlandish statements.

Maybe I can put a petition on Change.org for my own benefit. It would read something like this. “Todd Staley is a fisherman and a mediocre writer. He has a few tattoos and on weekends when it’s not raining, he rides his Harley Davidson. Staley could potentially wake up a bunch of bikers and loot your village. Please donate today to buy him a new boat to keep him on the water and off the street.”

I slowly waded through many of the comments from people who signed the Hilton petition. After going through the vulgarities and threats of never sleeping in a Hilton again, I came across some that I really liked:

“Please check the findings on marine biologists for the claim in this petition and try to move to a less vulnerable location.”

“This is unacceptable if these dolphins would lose their breeding ground if they went, as far as we know, if it took them years or months to find a new breeding ground and dolphins would pose more danger than ever.”

“Apparently they (Hilton) didn’t research this properly to even think about building a dolphin breeding ground.”

And my personal favorite: “Dolphins are people too.”

Why is that my favorite? Because “dolphins are people too” is much closer to the truth than anything else I read. After more than fifty years of observing dolphins fishing, I decided to ask some marine experts, “What exactly is a dolphin breeding ground?” I asked for the opinion of a marine biologist, a marine mammal expert, and a woman who has worked with dolphins and whales here in Costa Rica for years.

They told me that dolphins’ reproductive habits are not determined solely by the need to conserve the species: just like humans, these cetaceans mate for pleasure with individuals of the opposite sex, of the same sex, or even a species other than their own. kind. about reproductive habits in strict terms does not apply to dolphins. Some researchers believe that their recreational sexuality has social purposes. When a female senses that she is about to give birth to her calf, she tends to move away from her pod and seclude herself to an area near the surface of the water to facilitate her calf’s first breath. There is no specific area where dolphins go to mate or give birth.

There are no dolphin “no-tell motels” or maternity wards. They mate whenever and wherever they are when the mood hits them, and are born wherever they are when the time comes. There is no such thing as a ‘dolphin breeding ground’.

If the people who posted that petition are really only concerned about dolphins, I suggest they push away their tuna salad and worry about the large groups of dolphins being netted hundreds of times to catch the tuna swimming below them. The dolphins are later released. A few dolphins die in the process; I’m sure the dolphins don’t like it. Fortunately, there is a rapidly growing trend and demand for sustainably caught fish, and tuna fishermen are beginning to seek out selective gear with little or no bycatch.

Anger or fear are major motivators. But in this case, 50,000 people – and even more – have been misled.

I really like conservation work. The politics of conservation can be quite frustrating at times, and conservation can be disgusting at times. NGOs sometimes work on similar projects but never communicate with each other for fear of losing credit for a success or even possible donor money. If they communicated, they could get things done faster and cheaper, but conservation and environmental work are sometimes big business. Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous people who misuse donor money or even advertise for false fundraising goals.

Unfortunately, this “dolphin breeding ground” petition and the response to it only reinforces an opinion I’ve had for a while. That’s the difference between a conservationist and an environmentalist: a conservationist makes decisions based on science, while an environmentalist sometimes makes science based on decisions.

Read Todd Staley’s Wetline Costa Rica columns here.

todd Staley has been fishing for over 25 years on both coasts of Costa Rica. He recently decided to take some time off to devote himself full-time to marine conservation. Contact him at [email protected].

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