Urgent call from scientists to create new protected zone in Pacific
The coalition of scientists and environmental groups have been working for more than a decade to prove the importance of the swim-way between Galapagos Islands of Ecuador and Cocos Island, off the coast of Cost Rica, deep in the Pacific Ocean.
By placing satellite and ultrasonic tags on nearly 400 animals and fish, they managed to prove that whale sharks, hammerhead sharks, silky sharks, tiger sharks, leatherback turtles and green turtles are migrating between these two marine reserves.
During their migration they are following the chain of seamounts which roughly stretches 700 kilometers. There is a protection zone around Cocos Island with 22-kilometers radius and Galapagos Islands with 74 kilometers radius. Sharks and other marine animals are protected in those areas, but there is no protection in between. Scientists researched and proved that populations of migratory species, many of which are already endangered, are rapidly declining.
“All of these species are suffering from population decline and are listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered, except the tiger shark which is considered near threatened. As tiger sharks are one of the top predators in the Pacific, it is vital to protect their migratory pathway" says Todd Steiner, executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network.
Protecting biodiversity hotspots around the islands is not enough, says Alex Hearn, biology professor and founding member of MigraMar. He and his team of scientists are leading and campaigning for the entire swim-way to be protected which is an area overing 240,000 square kilometers of ocean, about the size of the United Kingdom.
The governments of Ecuador and Costa Rica are currently examining plans to protect the swim-way and their final decisions will be based on scientific data and research findings. Both nations have signed up to the Global Ocean Alliance, a UK-led initiative that calls for 30% of the ocean to be protected by 2030. This shows political will, says Steiner, but with only 13% of Ecuador's and 3% of Costa Rica's waters safeguarded so far, the countries need to convert this will into action.
“Momentum is building, and the science is clear. We are hopeful that action will be taken in the near future.”says Steiner. But he warns that with some species under threat of extinction, governments need to act urgently. “We have taken baby steps, but these endangered species do not have time for that.” he explains.