Four Latin American countries have agreed to merge their marine reserves to form one mega-reserve that will protect one of the world’s richest regions of ocean biodiversity.
The pacific-facing countries of Panama, Ecuador, Colombia, and Costa Rica announced the creation of the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor (CMAR) earlier this week, which would unite and expand the size of their protected territorial waters.
The fishing-free corridor would cover more than 500,000 sq km (200,000 sq miles) along with one of the most important migratory routes for sea turtles, whales, sharks, and rays. The initiative follows growing concern with foreign fishing fleets that are taking advantage of the region’s rich marine biodiversity, and will also provide a way to limit illegal and under-reported and unregulated (IUU) fishing by local coastal communities.
During COP26 in Glasgow, Ecuador’s president Guillermo Lasso announced the addition of 60,000 sq km to the Galápagos marine reserve’s current 133,000 sq km, and Colombia’s President Iván Duque publicized the 160,000 sq km expansion of marine protected area on top of the existing 120,000 sq km.
“Just as all the world leaders here have called for action, not words, I believe this is a concrete action on behalf of Ecuador that goes beyond any words we can say here,” Lasso told the Guardian following his announcement.
According to Ecuador’s environment minister, Gustavo Manrique, the unification, and overall enlargement of protected marine areas will create a “safe swimway” where “important endangered migratory species, such as sharks, whales, turtles, and manta rays travel.”
Manrique continued, “In spite of the fact we’re a developing country, despite the fact we have [one of] the largest [fishing] fleets in the Pacific, we have decided to reduce the fishing effort… This is the new language of global conservation. Never have countries with connecting maritime borders joined together to create a public policy.”
According to British marine biologist Alex Hearn, this step forward is something to celebrate. “This is a moment to relish, but there’s a lot of work which needs to be done.”