COSTA RICA

Surveillance system sets sights on poachers

Costa Rico project repurposes national security technology

Costa Ricans aim to protect one of the world’s most lush island habitats, and they’ve enlisted the help of Cambridge International Systems.

The target: poachers.

The woman- and veteran-owned Cambridge is being tasked with the design and installation of a maritime surveillance system on Cocos Island.

The Costa Rican project also marks an important new step for Cambridge, said Kim Harokopus, CEO of Cambridge, repurposing a national security-oriented technology into a tool for environmental protection.

“The surveillance system will help the Costa Rican government monitor activities that threaten the conservation of this important World Heritage Site,” said Zdenka Piskulich, director of Forever Costa Rica, the environmental group that is supporting the public-private partnership that also involves the Costa Rican Coast Guard and Ministry of Environment.

The waters surrounding Cocos Island have longed been plagued by poachers and illegal fishing, Harokopus said.

“Cost Rica has been on the forefront of reaching out on the environmental front because they have such a wealth of ecological diversity to protect,” she noted.

In order to stymie illegal fishing and poaching, Cambridge will set up a system with a 30-nautical-mile-range radar capability, which will keep Costa Rican authorities of suspicious activities in the protected waters.

The job won’t be easy.

Cocos Island – a UNESCO World Heritage Site sometimes called “Little Galapagos,” Harokopus said, due to its unique and diverse wildlife – is 350 miles off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica.

“The logistics of installing a surveillance system on an uninhabited island that requires a 36-hour boat ride to get to presents unique logistical and design challenges,” said Harokopus.

Cambridge’s goal will be to install an effective surveillance system without disturbing the local environment.

“We plan to install the system in such a manner so that you would never know that we had been there,” said Harokopus, explaining that the island lacks docks and that industrial equipment cannot land on the beach.

“We are taking our transport and cargo vessel as close to the island as we can get and then we are using specially designed rafts and floating cases to bring everything onto the shore,” she said. “All of the equipment will be hand-carried up 2,100 feet above sea level and assembled on the island.”

Cambridge won’t do it alone.

The company will employ the help of NGO personnel while setting up the system, and a major component of the system – the hydro-electric power source that will generate clean energy for the system – is being supplied by the Costa Rican government.

Cambridge is no stranger to this sort of work, having installed similar surveillance systems in Colombia and the Philippines.

But the Costa Rican project marks an important new step, Harokopus said, repurposing a national security-oriented technology into a tool for environmental protection.

“Taking technologies that have been used for security-related missions and adapting them to protect the environment makes good sense,” Harokopus noted. 

Cambridge could not disclose the contract value.

Harokopus said planning is already underway – the contract was awarded last month – and the project is slated to be completed in November.

About the Author

Zach Noble is a former FCW staff writer.

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