If The Oceans Die, We Die


If the Oceans Die We Die:  Captain Paul Watson and Costa Rica

Jani Schulz

 Jani is the original Mogos maven of the waves, originally as Jana of the Jungle, lately State of the Oceans.  You may reach her directly at crlandinvestments@gmail.com



The vastness of Paul Watson’s environmental contributions to the world was summed up by Canadian author, Farley Mowat, who wrote, “Captain Paul Watson is the world’s most aggressive, most determined, most active and most effective defender of wildlife.” As many readers will be aware, no small part of Captain Watson’s contributions throughout the years have been in Costa Rican waters, or that a multi-year legal dispute exists between the Costa Rican government and Captain Watson.  In my first interview with Watson in 2013, curiosity led me to ask where his efforts in conservation all began. Watson began his environmental career as a young boy in his native Canada.  During summers, young Paul would swim in the river with beavers with whom a friendly bond developed.  The winter of his ninth year while walking through the forest, Watson came upon one of his beaver friends caught in a steel-jawed leg-hold trap. Devastated by the discovery, he set out to destroy and rid the area of the traps with the same fierce passion and determination for which he became well known in later years in his direct action approach to saving our world’s oceans.

Watson’s international debut on the conservation scene came in 1969 as a co-founder of Greenpeace Foundation. With the goal to protect marine wildlife in mind, Watson helped organize the historical Greenpeace campaign to protest nuclear testing at Amchitka Island on the border of the United States and Canada. Watson’s Greenpeace days lasted until 1977, when under new leadership, Greenpeace steered away from Watson’s direct action approach in the protection of marine wildlife.  After parting ways with Greenpeace Watson founded Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in 1978 to continue his direct action approach to enforce existing laws and to protect marine wildlife and our world’s oceans.


Early years: Paul Watson

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Ocean Warrior 1979: Watson and two crew members


Captain Paul Watson led the first Sea Shepherd campaign in 1979 to eastern Canada to protect seals.  According to Sea Conservation Society history, Watson and his crew saved over one thousand seals from being killed on the campaign by spraying their white fur with an indelible organic dye rendering their pelts without commercial value.  Simultaneously, Watson’s direct action approach was reborn.

Due to Animal Planet’s television show Whale Wars, Watson and Sea Shepherd are best known worldwide for their direct action campaigns protecting whales from Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean.  These long-standing campaigns have saved thousands of whales, and in 2014, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled it illegal for Japan to kill whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

Southern Ocean patrol

Southern Ocean patrol

Save the Whales

Whale Wars

Throughout the years, Watson’s direct action has been evident through Sea Shepherd campaigns from protecting whales in Siberia and the Faroe Islands to protecting dolphins in waters off  Mexico to Japan’s Ike Island and its infamous Cove in Taiji.   Around the world, direct action campaigns protect whales, sea turtles, reefs, seals, sea lions, sharks, fish, dolphins and all manner of endangered marine wildlife and habitats.

With respect to Costa Rica, early Sea Shepherd history documents Captain Paul Watson protecting the coast of Costa Rica as early as 1989 when the vessel Sea Shepherd II was transiting with crew and supplies across the Panama Canal to Puntarenas, Costa Rica. Vessel records state, “In Puntarenas, the Sea Shepherd II intercepts two Venezuelan tuna seiners.” Costa Rican authorities do not permit the vessels to leave until they allow Captain Watson and his officers to inspect their logbooks and their holds for evidence of dolphin killing. “In addition to the evidence obtained, the logbook of the seiner Pan Pacific reveals the locations of fishing activities where dolphins have been killed.”  This same year “Sea Shepherd encounters and chases numerous Mexican tuna boats away from pods of dolphins in the Eastern Tropical Pacific.”

 In 1991 on a trip from San Diego to Key West, Sea Shepherd once again comes upon a Mexican tuna seiner with dolphins struggling to escape in the waters off Guatemala. Using direct action in the dark of night, Watson is successful in freeing the dolphins and is commended by the Guatemalan government for its help in protecting dolphins.

In 1992, two Sea Shepherd vessels go to Cocos Island under the direction of Captain Paul Watson where they encounter poaching vessels. They force the poachers to leave and turn video of the poaching over to Costa Rican authorities.  On this same trip, Watson’s Sea Shepherd crew frees dolphins from tuna seiners operating off the Pacific Central American coast.

In 2000, Captain Paul Watson and Sea Shepherd cut a deal with park rangers and authorities in the Galapagos Islands where they still remain today working in a model protection program. In fact, this same year Captain Watson delivered Sea Shepherd vessel Sirenian to Galapagos, stopping in Costa Rica to pick up actor Aiden Quinn who joined them on the trip south.

In 2001,  Watson, captaining the vessel Ocean Warrior and accompanied by Cocos Island Park Rangers, apprehend and arrest Ecuadorian longliner San Jose for poaching and confiscate 30 miles of longline and their illegal catch of turtles, dolphins, sailfish and sharks.

In 2002, Costa Rica courts found the San Jose guilty of illegally fishing in the waters of Cocos Island National Marine Reserve and ordered the vessel confiscated by authorities. Two months later, by invitation of the Costa Rican government, Captain Watson docks the Ocean Warrior in Costa Rica to sign an agreement with the government of Costa Rica and the Cocos Island Foundation giving Sea Shepherd the authority to intervene in all illegal fishing operations around Cocos Island.

What happened in 2002 changed the history of Costa Rica marine conservation.  For on Captain Paul Watson’s trip to Costa Rica to sign the historic deal to protect Cocos Island, the vessel encountered an illegal shark-finning boat in Guatemalan waters.  Watson was given permission by Guatemalan authorities to bring the Costa Rican shark-finning boat, the Varadero  1, to Puerto San Jose, Guatemala, and turn it over to officials. During the confrontation at sea, the  Varadero attempted to flee the Ocean Warrior.  Sea Shepherd sprayed the  vessel with water cannons, and the  Varadero accidently struck the Ocean Warrior, causing some minor damage to the   shark-finning vessel but no damage to the Ocean Warrior. The next morning when Watson was escorting the  Varadero  to Port of San Jose, they were instructed by the Port Captain to cut the  vessel loose from tow and that Guatemala was sending a gun ship to arrest Watson.  Surprised by the reverse in protocol,  Watson released  Varadero from tow and headed straight to Costa Rica as fast as possible out of Guatemalan Waters. To date there are no charges or record of any charges against Watson stemming from the incident in Guatemalan waters from any Guatemalan entity, but that was not the case in Costa Rica.


Commercial shark finning vessel

Upon arrival in Costa Rica, Captain Paul Watson was charged with attempted murder and destruction of property based upon complaints from the owners of Varadero 1 and testimony of the crew.  Captain Watson and crew provided Costa Rican authorities with video footage of the incident in their defense—footage that was used in the internationally award winning documentary Sharkwater—resulting in the dropping of the attempted murder charges against Watson.

However, according to Watson’s Costa Rican attorney Abraham Stern, the charges against Watson changed four times over a six-month period in 2002. After the attempted-murder charges were dropped, a new charge was filed for assault. The assault charge was dropped followed by a new charge that invoked an “act of terrorism.” In the end, all three charges were dropped consecutively and a fourth and final charge of attempted ship wrecking was filed against Watson and continues on the books to this date.

According to Stern, Watson did have an attorney of record in Costa Rica to handle the legal issues in 2002 forward. However, Watson never heard from the attorney after 2002.

Stern revealed that in 2006, after four years of silence, the case against Watson for attempted shipwrecking pursued by the owners of the  Varadero was called to trial in Puntarenas. Watson was never informed of the trial by his attorney.  However, court documents show his attorney of record attended the trial and informed the court that Paul Watson could not be reached for notification, therefore was not present for the trial.  As a result, the court ruled Paul Watson a fugitive and placed an arrest warrant on Watson valid within Costa Rica.

According to Stern, a few years passed before Costa Rica placed Paul Watson on the Interpol Red List for the attempted shipwrecking.

Years later, in 2012, Captain Paul Watson was detained at the Frankfurt, Airport in transit and bound for the the Cannes Film Festival and held over his placement on the Interpol Red List. Stern points out that some countries will choose to act on the Red Notices and others do not. In 20012 Germany made the decision to cooperate with Costa Rica’s request; hence Watson was arrested. After hearing of the extradition process that could land him in Costa Rica, where he might be subject to further extradition to Japan, Watson, jumped the bail posted in Germany by actor Pierce Brosnan, and spent 15 months on the high seas.

Between the 2002 incident  and Watson’s arrest in 2012, Captain Paul Watson’s Sea Shepherd remained a strong force in our region, assisting Galapagos authorities in patrolling and arresting poachers that included Costa Rican longliners, an Ecuadorian gillnetter, and an American/Ecuadorian owned tuna seiner to name a few.  Sea Shepherd Galapagos Director undertook raids on the mainland of Ecuador that seized 45,000 shark fins and 92,000 sea cucumbers and led to the arrest of over a dozen poachers, bringing to light the the existence of the Ecuadorian Shark Fin Mafia.  This time period also saw Watson’s Sea Shepherd assisting rangers in Colombia’s Malpelo Island National Park and initiating a Spanish-language educational program to prepare children for the next generation of maritime protection.  Sea Shepherd also made inroads in Brazilian waters and made many voyages up both sides of Central America and through the  Panama Canal to assist in ocean conservation expansion throughout the region.

During Watson’s time at sea, Sea Shepherd expanded at an unheralded pace. Costa Rica was one of the first countries in Central America to organize a National  Sea Shephard Organization, followed by Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, and Mexico with subsequent expansion into South America. All up and down both sides of the ishthmus people supported Captain Paul Watson and his efforts to save our fast-dying oceans.

Captain Paul Watson is no longer at sea. He was able to return to the United States in 2014 and is now living in France with his wife Yana Yusinovich Watson, to whom he was married on February 14, 2015.  Costa Rica still has Paul Watson on the Interpol Red List, but other than Germany in 2012, overseas authorities have to date not chosen to act on that order.

Abraham Stern, attorney for the case, filed a petition on Watson’s behalf before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, calling on Costa Rica to remove Watson from the Interpol Red List over the incidents related to confrontation of the  Varadero 1 back in 2002.

According to Stern, he filed with the IACHR because

Judges and prosecutors refuse to discuss, answer or respond to numerous writs filed on Watson’s behalf. Stern made it clear that Costa Rica is determined to prosecute this case and equally determined that Paul Watson come to Costa Rica. Watson has made it clear numerous times he will not return to Costa Rica without a guarantee he will not face extradition to Japan. Stern feels Watson will be killed if he comes to Costa Rica as Watson life has been threatened if he returns.


Protesting for Captain Paul Watson: San Jose, Costa Rica


Protesting for Captain Paul Watson: San Jose, Costa Rica

It is important to note that legal adversity has had no effect on Captain Paul Watson’s desire to work with Costa Rica.  After the murder of turtle-conservationist Jairo Mora Sandoval on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica in 2013, Captain Paul Watson offered a cash reward for any information leading to an arrest of the murderers. With the permission of Mora’s family, Captain Watson named a Sea Shepherd vessel “Jairo Mora Sandoval.” This vessel has worked for two years in Cape Verde saving sea turtles. Operation Jairo was launched in 2015 to save sea turtles in Jairo Mora’s name in nesting sites in Florida and up and down the Central American Caribbean coast through Costa Rica. This year Operation Jairo is expanding to Costa Rica’s Pacific coast and into South America.

Last year, Sea Shepherd offered the Costa Rican Government two U.S. Coast Guard ships that Sea Shepherd purchased to assist in the patrols around Cocos Island. Costa Rica refused.  Also in 2015 Watson sent the RV  Martin Sheen sail ship to Costa Rica. The Martin Sheen made trips up and down the Pacific Coast, a trip to Cocos, and assisted Costa Rica’s Coast Guard in keeping tour boats a safe distance from whales and dolphins in Bahia Ballena National Park during last year’s Dolphin and Whale Festival.

What’s next for Captain Paul Watson in Costa Rica?  According to Abraham Stern, “As his attorney what I can guarantee is that we will use any and all legal avenues available to defend Paul Watson.” Stern added, “We do not want to win this case on a technicality or a statute of limitations: We want people to know the true merits of the case.”

Southern Ocean patrol

Southern Ocean patrol

Personally, I hope to see his name removed by Costa Rica from the Interpol Red List.  I aspire to walk out to the edge of the Golfo Dulce from my Mogos home and welcome Captain Paul Watson and his wife onto the Osa Peninsula shores. I want to be able to look out over the Golfo Dulce with them where the humpback whales arrive from both the Northern and Southern Pacific, where the Pacific green sea turtles come to feed and fatten in the salt grass beds before returning to the Galapagos, where baby hammerhead sharks live in nature’s nursery for four years before making their way to  Cocos Island, Malpelo and beyond, and perhaps to be fortunate enough to motor with Captain Paul Watson and Yana off the Osa shores to admire in the semi-equatorial Pacific Ocean some of the last remaining megapods of dolphins in the world.

The sailing vessel Martin Sheen

The sailing vessel Martin Sheen

Note: The movie Sharkwater, which was being filmed at the time of the 2002 incident in Guatemala and Costa Rica, was released in 2006. To date, Sharkwater produced by Rob Stewart is the recipient of over 40 International  Awards. Sharkwater may be viewed online at www.sharkwater.com. A sequel, Sharkwater II is currently being planned with filming locations to include Isla de Cocos, Costa Rica.

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