World’s First Bi-National MPA Gains Momentum as a Hope Spot

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Darwin's Arch in the Galápagos (Photo: Kip Evans/Mission Blue)

What could become the world’s first marine protected area connecting the marine reserves of two countries has been declared a Mission Blue Hope Spot, a major step forward in the protection of migratory species such as turtles and sharks in the Eastern Tropical Pacific.

Led by legendary oceanography Dr Sylvia Earle, Mission Blue is an alliance of conservation organizations aiming to heighten public awareness, access and support for a worldwide network of marine protected areas, designated Hope Spots, of which there are now more than 120 worldwide.

The new Hope Spot is known as the Cocos-Galápagos Swimway, a 120,000 sq km migratory corridor between Costa Rica’s Cocos Island National Park and Ecuador’s Galápagos Marine Reserve – both of which are designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

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Dr Sylvia Earle in the DeepSee Submersible (Photo: Kip Evans/Mission Blue)

'I had an opportunity to meet sharks in the Galápagos in 1966,' said Dr Earle, '[and] in 1972, I had an opportunity to visit Cocos Island. In between those islands, there’s a lot of water. We know now that the sharks travel not just between Cocos and Galápagos, but all over. They find food all over the ocean in which they travel. It’s important to think like the sharks, the sea turtles and the various forms of life that are not just found in places where we’ve named and claimed territory. We must consider the creatures that occupy this liquid space that we call the ocean and realise that if we were to take action to protect them, it’s not good enough that Cocos and Galápagos have an area of a safe haven around them. What about the space in between? That has to be protected too. That’s the underlining rationale.'

The designation of the Cocos-Galápagos Swimway as a Hope Spot is due in a large part to studies conducted by MigraMar, a network of groups conducting scientific research to better understand and safeguard marine migratory species in the Eastern Tropical Pacific. The studies revealed that endangered marine species such as whale sharks, green turtles, silky sharks and scalloped hammerheads use this swimway to migrate between the marine reserves. When these species leave the protected areas, however, they enter the open ocean where they are at grave risk of becoming victims of industrial fishing.

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Cocos Island and the Galápagos Islands are known for their mass gatherings of sharks (Photo: Kip Evans/Mission Blue)

Cocos Island and the Galápagos Islands have regulations that control how people and commercial interests can interact with the islands. Despite these restrictions, however, illegal fishing activities pose a serious threat to the region's fish and wildlife populations. Sharks are deliberately targeted for their fins, and are also caught as the result of bycatch, along with dolphins and turtles and other large marine species. The size of the area and a lack of funding have prevented authorities from effectively policing the protected areas.

'By expanding these marine protected areas and actively working with the governments of Costa Rica and Ecuador..., we will allow endangered species to migrate safely outside the small marine protected areas and connect two sovereign nations' marine National Parks, something we hope will be a blueprint that is copied across the globe,' said Todd Steiner, executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network, who nominated the Swimway as a Hope Spot.

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Both legal and illegal fishing activities in the region threaten many migratory species (Photo: Kip Evans/Mission Blue)

'Protecting Galápagos's highly migratory species through the creation of the Cocos-Galápagos Swimway is critical to maintaining the ecological balance of our marine environment,' said Norman Wray, president of the Galápagos Governing Council. 'Protecting the marine environment is critical to protecting the livelihoods of so many of our people who rely on the bounty of the sea and the dollars provided by the hundreds of thousands of eco-tourists who come here each year.'

'This is a very important step to protect the migratory route of sharks, sea turtles and other species in an area that connects two emblematic national parks, declared as World Heritage Sites,' said Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, Minister of Environment and Energy of Costa Rica. 'This is history-making and a new era of protecting our ocean wildlife.'


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