Sharks and whales will soon have their own ‘superhighway’ in the Pacific

Plans to create a South Pacific marine reserve of 500,000 km could help endangered species like turtles and whale sharks recover.

A vast marine reserve is to be created in the Pacific Ocean, providing a protected ‘superhighway’ for whale sharks, leatherback turtles and other endangered marine life. 

The Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor is a joint conservation initiative of four Latin American countries, Ecuador, Colombia Panama, Panama, and Costa Rica. It was unveiled at COP26 last Wednesday. It will see the countries join and increase their protected territorial waters. This will provide a sanctuary of 500,000 km for species that have been overfished. 

The plan involves increasing the size of the Galapagos Marine Reserve – a crucible of life where Charles Darwin developed his theory of evolution – by 45 per cent. Cocos Ridge will be expanded to include the underwater mountain range which is an important migration route of species like scalloped hammerheads. 

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Galapagos Conservancy, a non-profit environmental organisation, described the move as “a historic moment for Galapagos and a major victory for global marine conservation”.

Half of the expanded Galapagos reserve won’t allow any fishing, while the rest will only allow longline fishing. The rest of the CMAR will restrict fishing. Enforcement of the measures will remain a challenge. 

The Ecuadorian president Guillermo Lasso said that he didn’t anticipate any resistance from his country’s fishing industry. “The proposal that I’m bringing here is a result of five months of negotiations with… the fishing industry and other sectors,” he said at a press conference. “We made them understand the importance of this marine reserve.”

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The proposed protected area includes an important migration route for marine animals. Cedric Frixon

Lasso still has not signed the decree to establish the reserve but he anticipates doing so shortly.

The CMAR covers a rich area in marine life. It is also popular with industrial fishing vessels, including shark-finning boats, many of which are from China. Galapagos Conservancy said it believed the protected zone, if properly policed, could allow sharks to “begin to rebound”. 

“Although conservation work is never done, today we can celebrate a major victory for Galapagos and for our planet,” the organisation added.

Main image: A whale shark. Credit: Dorothea Oldani