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(506) 2223-1327                        Published Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 163                          Email us
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Costa Rica scores so-so in first Ocean Health Index
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica has earned a barely passing score in the first Ocean Health Index that was released Wednesday.

The country's composite score was 61, and that put it in 38th place. Countries ranged from 86 for uninhabited Jarvis Island in the Pacific to 36 for Sierra Leone in 171th place.

Canada was ninth with 70 points. The United States also finished higher than Costa Rica in 26th place with 63 points.

The index is an ambitious effort by academics and environmentalists to establish a benchmark for oceans. The country composite total came from 10 individual ratings in such categories as clean water and coastal protection.

The Ocean Health Index includes all waters of a country’s territorial sea up to 12 nautical miles offshore and the exclusive economic zone that extends out 200 nautical miles.

Scientists from the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, the University of British Columbia's Sea Around Us, Conservation International, the National Geographic Society and the New England Aquarium collaborated with ocean experts from universities, non-profit organizations, and government agencies to develop this landmark approach and digital platform, according to a summary provided by the index.

“The index is a tool to be actively used by policy makers and business," said Steve Katona, managing director of the Ocean Health Index. "The Ocean Health Index Web site is unique because it is a portal to the index. It's a direct route to the methodology, goal scores and the components within those scores for every country with a shoreline.” He was quoted in a news release.

The highest-scoring locations included both densely populated and highly developed nations such as Germany, as well as uninhabited islands, said the summary. West African countries scored the lowest on the Ocean Health Index, and these countries also rank low on the Human Development Index, suggesting a relationship between good governance, strong economies and a healthy coastline, it said.

Costa Rica was not the highest rated Latin country. Brazil was in 35th place with a score of 62. Costa Rica with 61 points clustered with a number of countries. They are the Australian Southern Ocean Territories, New Caledonia, British Indian Ocean Territories, Mauritania, Georgia, Namibia, the U.S. Caribbean Territories, French Guiana, the United Kingdom, Bangladesh and Egypt.

Guatemala and Ecuador were in 51st place with a score of 60. México was 79th, Cuba and Colombia were 94th. Panamá was 129th and Nicaragua was 157th. The full list is HERE!

Globally the world scored 60 out of 100.

Determining whether a score of 60 is better or worse than one would expect is less about analysis and more about perspective. "Is the score far from perfect with ample room for improvement, or more than half way to perfect with plenty of reason to applaud success? I think it's both," said lead author Ben Halpern, an ecologist at University of California at Santa Barbara. "What the index does is help us separate our gut feelings about good and bad from the measurement of what's happening." He was quoted in a university release.
Top countries in index*
Jarvis Island
U.S. uninhabited Pacific territories
Clipperton Island
French Polynesia
Antigua and Barbuda
The Netherlands
Australian Tropical Territories
*Source Ocean Health Index

The Index emphasizes sustainability, penalizing practices that benefit people today at the expense 
of the ocean's ability to deliver those benefits in the future. "Sustainability tends to be issue-specific, focused on sustainable agriculture, fisheries, or tourism, for example," said Karen McLeod, one of the lead authors who is affiliated with COMPASS, a team of science-based communication professionals. She was quoted in the same release. "The index challenges us to consider what sustainability looks like across all of our many uses of the ocean, simultaneously. It may not make our choices any easier, but it greatly improves our understanding of the available options and their potential consequences."

Costa Rica scored high in coastal protection with an 89 and with an 87 on local fishing opportunities. The country scored lower on water quality with a 68 and  lower with a 46 on carbon storage, which was defined as the area of coastal plant habitat coverage relative that around 1980.

Curiously Costa Rica took a real hit by getting an 18  in recreation and tourism. This goal evaluates the attraction of priced and un-priced coastal and marine activities by measuring the number and length of international tourist visits, and sustainability as indicated by tourist density, said a summary of the index.

The central government has declared carbon neutrality as a national goal, and Costa Rica is known for its tourism.

Each of the individual scores reflect current conditions and an estimate of conditions five years in the future, said the index summary.

The journal Nature published the index Wednesday.

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Our reader's opinion
Restriction of court data
is way over the top

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
While the new "Law on Protection of the Person Concerning Personal Data Treatment" (Law No. 8968, published Sept. 5, 2011, in the Gazeta) has some admirable points to it, it does not adequately do what it was designed for.

This law is a weak attempt to mirror the fierce data protection law known as the EU (European Union) Data Protection Directive. C.R. Law No. 8968 has been described as "trade-oriented" and mainly written to adhere with the principles of the Central American Free Trade Agreement and secure EU adequacy recognition (in order to receive data from the EU).

A major flaw in this law is that it does not require notification to regulators or affected individuals when sensitive data is stolen or mishandled. It makes no mention for the protection of cédula de identidad numbers, which are issued at birth and used on almost all documents in this country.
The law creates the Citizen's Data Protection Agency (Prodhab) and under Article 16 has the authority to "enforce data protection rules." Unfortunately, in an apparent violation of this law, the Poder Judicial has taken it upon itself to restrict the public's right to review the court's civil and criminal online indices, which is an essential part of any due diligence investigation prior to making an investment or other decision in respect to Costa Rican businesses or individuals.

The judiciary could have handled this much better, providing the same indices but stripping cédula numbers from the system. An outright ban is over the top. I was informed that Supreme Court Justice Roman Solís was responsible for this unilateral decision. He can be reached at
Effectively, in its haste to mirror other Latin American countries and mimic EU data laws, the Costa Rican judicial branch has restricted this essential data flow which is necessary for trade and investment both within and outside of Costa Rica. As Costa Rica prides itself on being a pacifist nation without a military, the citizen's only weapon against tyranny and oppression is the free flow of information and transparency at all levels of government. My requests to the Poder Judicial to find out who currently has access to this database have not been answered. It would be interesting to know if this restricted information will be used by one politician against another, by one bureaucrat against a citizen, by the police against the citizens and if a corrupt underground network will begin where this information is offered for sale.

The only solution to this problem is to return this essential search tool to the public.
Seth Derish
Chico, Califonrnia,
and San José, Costa Rica
Editor's Note; Mr. Derish has been a licensed private investigator for 35 years and opened an office in San Jose 15 years ago. He is the Central American district director for the Council of International Investigators. He can be reached at

Find out what the papers
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By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him
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DNA study shows some soup came from endangered species
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Each year, fishermen catch millions of sharks, cut off their fins, and dump the bodies into the ocean to die. The fins are used to make shark fin soup, an Asian delicacy sold in many countries. Recently, a team of scientists and environmental groups collected soup from restaurants across the United States and analyzed the soups' genetic make-up. They found endangered species on the menu.

More than 73 million sharks are killed every year, mostly for their fins, to make shark fin soup, industry experts and conservationists say. Shark fin soup is a common offering in many Asian restaurants around the world.

The Field Museum in Chicago and the Pew Environment Group looked at 51 soup samples in 14 U.S. cities. DNA analyses identified eight shark species, some of them endangered.
“The major finding is that there are endangered species in shark fin soup sold in the United States.  One sample taken from Boston had scalloped hammerhead," said Liz Karan, who heads the global shark conservation campaign at the Pew Environment Group.  "Scalloped hammerhead is considered endangered by the International Union of Conservation’s red list of endangered species.”

Shark finning — cutting off the fins while the shark is still alive and throwing the body overboard — is banned in the United States. But shark fishing and the import of fins are allowed.  So far, only five U.S. states have banned shark fin products.

“Overfishing of sharks is a global problem.  Hong Kong is currently the hub of the shark fin trade, and there are about 80 countries that contribute to that trade,” said Ms. Karan.

Over the last 60 years, the world's shark population has plummeted by nearly 80 percent, according to a study by the Pew Environment Group. The group believes sanctuaries for sharks could help them. 

“They have a very long life span and often don’t reach sexual
shark fins
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública photo
 Costa Rican coast guard stopped a boat that carried these
 illegal fins last week.

maturity until their teens or 20s and, when they do reproduce, some species only have a couple of pups at the time. So their ability to repopulate and recover from overfishing pressures is very small,” said Ms. Karan.

The Humane Society International leads one of the largest campaigns to protect sharks. Iris Ho is the wildlife campaign's manager.

“Over 90 percent of the world’s shark fin consumption takes place in China, and Hong Kong alone handles about 50 percent of the global trade in shark fins,” she said.

The Chinese government has announced it will stop serving shark fin soup at official functions. Ms. Ho says outside of Asia, the U.S. is the largest market.
”According to government records, in 2010, 34 metric tons of shark fins were imported to the U.S.,” she said. 

Sharks have been around for 400 million years, pre-dating the dinosaurs.  But scientists believe they may be unable to survive this ongoing assault.

The rains came but not to where they were needed the most
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Plenty of rain fell in the Central Valley Wednesday, but Mother Nature was stingy in Guanacaste where the water is needed the most.

San José received 42.7 millimeters of rain (1.7 inches) during the day, accompanied by thunder and lightning. At Juan Santamaría airport, the automatic weather station there logged 29.9 millimeters or about .78 of an inch. At a higher elevation in Aserrí south of Desamparados, the skies delivered 68.2 millimeters or about 2.7 inches.

Meanwhile the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional weather station in Bagaces, an agricultural community in Guanacaste, registered no rain. Parque Nacional Santa Rosa got just 10.1 millimeters or about four-tenths of an inch.  Daniel Oduber airport in Liberia reported 23.9 millimeters or about nine-tenths of an inch.
The weather institute predicted the rain earlier in the day and said that the cause was an injection of humid air from the Pacific. Today more of the same is predicted with the Central Valley and the mountains likely to get the bulk of the rain. In addition, the storms are expected to continue into the evening with thunder and lightning.

Along the Pacific coast residents and tourists are dealing with high seas and waves crashing into sea walls and pouring over them onto highways and fields.

The storm generated dangerous conditions for surfing. A 52-year-old U.S. tourist died in the surf at Playa Sombrero on the Gulfo Dulce on Osa Peninsula Wednesday. He was surfing with family members.

Elsewhere there were emergencies involving surfers and bathers, but all were rescued, according to the latest reports.

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Professor mimics eruptions to track the internal workings
By the University at Buffalo news service

A voice carried across the treeless plateau: "Fire in the hole! The range is now active."

Two dozen people fell silent before a muffled blast sent a geyser-like shower of crushed gravel, limestone and asphalt roughly 50 feet in the air. Moments later, standing at the blast site, University of Buffalo geology professor Greg Valentine gave an impromptu assessment.

"That was great. It was exactly what we expected," said Valentine, director of the University of Buffalo's Center for Geohazards Studies.

The experiment, a rare large-scale attempt to simulate volcanic eruptions, is drawing international attention because it will provide much-needed insight into one of earth's most powerful and mysterious natural disasters. If that wasn't enough, it may help mining companies find diamonds.

When most people think of volcanoes, images of exploding mountain tops come to mind. There is another type of volcano, however, called a maar. They feature large craters, often topped by a pool of water, near mountain ranges. Maars range from a few hundred feet to more than a mile across.

The experiment focused on maars. It unfolded over several days in July. The idea, according to Valentine, was not to determine how or when eruptions will occur, but rather to figure out what happens during and after an eruption.

Do subsequent eruptions cause the crater to expand? Will the volcano spew enough ash to affect air travel, as did the 2010 volcanic eruption in Iceland?

To help answer those questions, Valentine and researchers built three test beds, each 12-feet-by-12-feet square, and packed them with gravel, limestone and asphalt, 3 to 3-1/2 feet deep. Explosives roughly as powerful as a grenade were placed in post holes and detonated.

Because volcanic eruptions are naturally occurring, each with their own distinct features, it isn't possible to exactly replicate one, Valentine said. But the test beds are an accurate
University at Buffalo photo
Greg Valentine and a simulated eruption

barometer on which to base conclusions because researchers can control the strength of the blast, he said.

The experiment drew the attention of Jacopo Taddeucci, a volcanologist at the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Rome, Italy. He flew into Buffalo for the occasion to use high-speed cameras to record the explosions.

"Large-scale experiments like this are quite rare," he said in between blasts.

While it's too early to draw conclusions, the experiment could provide insight into the location of diamonds. The valuable gemstone is brought close to Earth's surface by the funnel-shaped mass of magma and broken rock that form under volcanoes, Valentine said.

He will spend the next few months analyzing results of the experiment before reporting his findings in a yet-to-be determined academic journal. For the time being though, Valentine said he is happy with the results.

"I've learned more today, without analyzing this entirely, as I would if I spent an entire year reading technical papers."

Professional Women's Group plans cross-cultural discussion
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Professional Women’s Group is hosting a cross-cultural communication meeting for both business and real life situations called, “Avoiding the potholes” Saturday. The session starts at 9:30 a.m. and goes until noon with an optional lunch to follow, said the organization, which is affiliated with the Women’s Club of Costa Rica.

The workshop will encourage open and honest dialogue on the many challenges encountered when people from different cultures meet and do business, said an announcement.  Participants will share dilemmas, find practical solutions to each perceived conflict, and discuss findings with others who are experiencing similar situations, it said. Fee for the workshop is 2,000 colons for club members and 3,000 for non-members, about $4 to $6.. Attendees will pay for their own lunch, said the announcement. The session is at Tin Jo Restaurant in San José.

Ana Hernández, the workshop facilitator, has worked with diversity and cross-cultural issues for over 20 years. In the 90s, she served on the Minority Committee of the National Education Association in Washington D.C. Currently, she
works as a coordinator for Study Abroad programs with college students from the U.S.A. She has been published for 12 years in “El Residente,” the Association of Residents of Costa Rica magazine, on a wide range of topics involving Costa Rican culture. 

Ms. Hernández lived for several years in the United States and has experienced her share of culture clashes, said the group.
Also during the meeting, the group scholarship drive will be launched and the Coffee with Strangers program will be announced, said the organization.

The organization is an interest group of Women’s Club of Costa Rica, a social and service organization founded in 1940, supporting public school libraries with books and furniture, selected University students with scholarships, and Libros para todos in conjunction with La Nación.  The Women’s Club is an English-language organization and all levels of English skill are welcome, said the group.

For more information about the club and Saturday's program, those interested can contact Phylliss Crist at 2268-6130, or

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Cigarette companies lose
Australian packaging appeal

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
and special reports

Australia's highest court has ruled that new laws requiring cigarettes to be sold in plain packaging without company logos do not violate the country's constitution.

The court on Wednesday ruled against four tobacco companies that challenged the law, saying the measure violated their intellectual property rights.

The companies include British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International, Imperial Tobacco and Philip Morris. They argue the new law will also make it easier to counterfeit cigarettes.

Beginning in December, cigarettes in Australia will be sold in uniform, olive green packages with graphic health warnings. 

The government hopes the changes will help reduce the number of smokers in Australia, where smoking-related illnesses kill about 15,000 people each year.

Australian Attorney General Nicolas Roxon praised the ruling, saying it is a "watershed moment for tobacco control around the world."

Australia is facing a potential challenge at the World Trade Organization over the new law.  Ukraine, Honduras and the Dominican Republic have argued the plain packaging requirements will unfairly restrict trade.

The United Nations health agency Wednesday applauded the decision. 

In a statement strongly welcoming what she called a landmark ruling, Margaret Chan, World Health Organization director-general, called on other countries to follow Australia’s example and adopt an equally tough stance on tobacco marketing.  

“With Australia’s victory, public health enters a brave new world of tobacco control,” Ms. Chan said, noting that the introduction of plain packaging for tobacco products would be “a highly effective way to counter industry’s ruthless marketing tactics.” 

Tobacco use, which causes up to 6 million annual deaths globally, is considered to be one of the most preventable public health threats faced by world governments. According to World Health estimates, if stronger action to limit tobacco exposure is not taken, the death toll could potentially increase to 8 million people a year. 

Brazil's forests have lost
many species, study reports

By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

The Atlantic forest in Brazil, once a part of the great Amazon basin on the South American continent, is suffering from widespread species loss according to a new study.

Ecologist Carlos Peres with England’s University of East Anglia and then-University of Cambridge graduate student Gustavo Canale traveled through the region between 2003 and 2005.  They documented 200 of the largest and least disturbed old-growth forest fragments in the vast region of the Atlantic forest.

On average, they found only four of the 18 mammal species they were looking for. Canale, now working in Brazil at the State University of Mato Grosso, says he and Peres drew largely on information from wildlife surveys, camera traps, and interviews with local people.

The scientists said they were surprised that even in what looked like healthy forest cover, the larger mammals were absent.

“The situation was worse than we thought,” Canale said.

“All the charismatic species,” said Peres, “the large primates, the large ungulates, brocket deer, tapirs, giant anteaters, jaguars, the large cats, all of those things are pretty much gone from even fragments that look on the surface of it, okay, in terms of forest cover.”

Hunting is the main driver of species loss on lands fragmented by deforestation. Peres says Brazilian law protects forest cover, but not wildlife in the remnant forest patches. Unless that law is changed, he says, the losses will continue.

“Essentially what we are calling for is a wholesale revision of the Brazilian legislative code that protects wildlife within these remnant forest patches," he said. "Because these remnant forest patches are essentially going out of business, if you like, in terms of the wildlife.”

In contrast, Peres says, in the five areas that did have laws to protect wildlife and where the laws were strictly enforced, the mammals did much better.

“In those five sites we find the highest degree of retention of those wildlife communities," he said. "So the protected areas are actually working in this region, the problem is that there are very few of them.”

The researchers want to see more such areas established, as well as the creation of wildlife corridors that would link isolated forest patches and keep animals away from hunters and other hazards. But Peres also offers a cautionary message.  He says the fragmented tropical forest isn’t just a problem in the Atlantic forest of eastern Brazil.

“But I would argue that this is also happening throughout most of the world’s heavily fragmented biodiversity forest hotspots, where overhunting is also widespread,” he said.

"Holding on to the last remaining large tracts of primary forests will be a crucial part of the conservation mission of this century," Peres said.

His and Canale’s study on Brazil’s Atlantic forest is published in this week’s edition of the journal PloS ONE.

German university hacks
most single sign-on systems

By the Ruhr-Universität Bochum news service

Each day many info technology systems require the user to identify him or herself. Single sign-on systems were introduced to circumvent this problem: Here the user only has to provide an identity once. All subsequent authentications are done automatically. However, such systems based on the industry standard have huge vulnerabilities: Roughly 80 percent of these systems could be broken by the researchers from Ruhr-Universität Bochum.

Single sign-on can be compared to a well guarded door, which protects sensitive company data: Once a user has passed this door, he or she can access all data. Many industry systems are built on the basis of the Security Assertion Markup Language. Identity information is stored in a markup language message protected by a digital signature. Researchers from Bochum were able to circumvent this protection completely in 12 out of 14 systems.

Among the 12 affected systems were the cloud provider Salesforce, the IBM Datapower security gateway, Onelogin, which could be used as an optional module in Joomla, Wordpress, SugarCRM, or Drupal, and OpenSAM, used in Shibboleth, and SuisseID, and OpenSAML.

“. . . we immediately informed the affected companies and proposed ways to mitigate the attacks,“ said security expert and external Ph.D. student Andreas Mayer. Through the close cooperation with the responsible security teams, the vulnerabilities are now fixed, said the university.

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Kidnap victim guarded
kilos of coke in his home

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A strange tale is unfolding in Guachipelín de Escazú.

Neighbors in a subdivision there saw armed men take away a neighbor Tuesday and reported the incident. Although the men were dressed as police officers, they were not, officials concluded, and began a search for the presumed victim.

He was identified as a 40-year-old Colombian with the last name of Solano.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that to follow up on the apparent kidnapping, agents obtained a search warrant for the man's luxury home. There they found 49 kilos of cocaine, said the agency.

Nearby they found a car that contained $3,000 in cash. Agents said that a trained dog found what appeared to be drug residue in the vehicle. Neighbors told police that three men arrived in the vehicle and stopped a short distance away when they saw police apparently taking away the occupant of the house. They left the vehicle and fled.

Now agents have what they believe to be a kidnapping wrapped up in a drug case with at least seven persons involved.

Postal services in black,
manager tells lawmakers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There was some good economic news at the legislature.

The general manger of Correos de Costa Rica, the postal agency, said that the government entity had a profit of 700 million colons for the firts seven months of the year. Correos was close to bankruptcy two years ago because of financial losses. That profit is about $1.4 million.

The manager is Álvaro Goghi Gómez. He was testifying at the Comisión Permanente de Asuntos Hacendarios. He said Correos lost about 40 percent of the letter delivery market in recent years and had to reinvent itself. The agency created new functions. Among other jobs, the 117 postal offices around the country are delivering cédulas de identidad to Costa Ricans as well as passports. Foreigners also are getting their immigration documents via the mail service.

The manager said there was no need to think of privatizing or otherwise tampering with the state ownership of Correos.

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