Marine superhighway between Ecuador and Costa Rica needs protection
- The 730-km marine highway is located between Galapagos Islands and Cocos Island
- Populations of several migratory species move along this 'swim-way', many of which are endangered
- Ecuador and Costa Rica are considering coming up with policies to protect the swim-way
A 730-kilometres-long marine ‘superhighway’ deep in the Pacific Ocean between the marine reserves of Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands and Cocos Island off the coast of Costa Rica is vital to sea life. Sea turtles, whale sharks and hammerhead sharks often find themselves along this route, looking for a place to nest or foraging for food, reports CNN.
But the route is full of dangers. Unlike the marine reserves on either end, the swim-way is open to fishing vessels. Populations of many of migratory species that pass along this way have been dwindling for a while, many of them are endangered, their populations declining further.
If these animals have to be protected, it is not enough to protect biodiversity hotspots around the islands, but extend to the swim-way, says Alex Hearn, professor of biology and founder of MigraMar — a coalition of scientists and environmental groups.
Professor Hearn and his team have been campaigning for a decade for the entire swim-way to be protected. This would extend fishing restrictions beyond the current 22-kilometre radius around Cocos Island and the 74-kilometre radius around the Galapagos Islands, creating a narrow, protected channel between the two. An area stretching over 240,000 square kilometres would have to be protected.
The biggest threat to marine life along the swim-way right now is fishing. Marine species get caught in fishing vessels, entangled in nets, and in case of sharks are even hunted for their meat and fins.
But fishing is easier to control than many of the other threats they face, like climate change, said Todd Steiner, executive director of the Turtle Island Restoration Network and another founding member of MigraMar.
Coastal countries can restrict activities in their territorial waters, but the Cocos–Galapagos swim-way falls under the jurisdiction of both Ecuador and Costa Rica, explains Todd, adding, “a couple of signatures on a piece of paper can start the process to protect this vitally important ecological area.”
Ecuador and Costa Rica are currently considering plans to protect the swim-way. Both nations are signatories to the Global Ocean Alliance, a UK-led initiative that calls for 30% of the ocean to be protected by 2030.