The Costa Rican Foreign Ministry released a statement on Wednesday of this week, announcing its plans to close the canals and repair damages to Isla Portillos caused by Nicaraguan dredging.

Territorial problems and border disputes in Central America have always existed and often the disputes are over nineteenth-century treaties interpretations. Nicaragua is currently involved in a number of cases with the International Court of Justice (ICJ); Nicaragua v. Honduras (1999), Nicaragua v. Colombia (2001) and Nicaragua v. Costa Rica (2010, 2011, 2013).

This Isla Portillos territorial dispute between Costa Rica and Nicaragua actually dates back as far as 1850 but was brought back to the table in 2010. The area in question now is apparently only about 3 km in length.

Costa Rica and Nicaragua both claim Isla Portillos as part of their territory and in September 2013, Costa Rican authorities discovered that Nicaragua had been dredging canals in an area the court had declared disputed. The area Nicaragua was dredging is where the San Juan River meets the Caribbean Sea.

While the message in this dispute has been centered on conservation and habitat destruction of the wetlands, the real dispute is in maritime access and maritime boundaries that extend far out into the Caribbean. Looking at the image below of Caribbean’s international maritime boundaries, you can see actual size of the maritime boundaries between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

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Two thirds of the Caribbean’s international maritime boundaries have yet to be agreed upon or are currently under dispute between the bordering states in question. Problems, disputes, and demands linked to the Caribbean Sea are numerous, however since the early 2000’s reports of extensive oil and natural gas stores in the Caribbean basin there has been a flurry of activity in terms of border disputes and oil exploration projects.

At present 14 countries in the Caribbean region, including the Guianas, have opened their territorial waters to deepwater exploration for oil and natural gas. A number of international oil companies and state companies are rushing to tie up basin acreage under agreements in expectation of the next oil and gas boom.