San Jose, Costa Rica - In one of the most ambitious marine conservation initiatives in the western hemisphere, four Latin American nations, the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, the United Nations Foundation (UN Foundation), Conservation International (CI) and others are consolidating a marine protected area that stretches from Costa Rica to Ecuador and helps safeguard some of the world's richest marine habitats and dozens of endangered species.
The project, known as the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape, covers 211 million hectares (521 million acres) and extends from Costa Rica's Cocos Island National Park to Ecuador's Galapagos Island National Park and Marine Reserve. Along the way, the Seascape helps link marine protected areas in Panama and Colombia, safeguards an important migratory route for the Endangered blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) and protects one of the last remaining nesting grounds in the Eastern Pacific of the Critically Endangered leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea).
Under the agreement, the UN Foundation will invest $1.567 million in the Seascape. CI and their Global Conservation Fund (GCF) will match that amount with the support of a $1.2 million donation from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. The four nations that share the Seascape and dozens of partner organizations are expected to put additional millions into the project, which is being led by UNESCO's World Heritage Centre.
The announcement was made today during the opening of the 24th Annual Meeting of the International Sea Turtle Society in San Jose, Costa Rica. The event has drawn more than 1,000 experts from 70 nations, making it the world's largest gathering of marine turtle researchers.
"Healthy seas are being threatened by rampant commercial fishing, coastal development and a flood of waste and pollutants," said Conservation International's Chairman of the Board and CEO Peter Seligmann. "It will take international cooperation to keep our oceans healthy and productive. We owe these four nations, Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador and Panama our thanks and support for working together to conserve one of the planet's most precious resources."
The Seascape initiative is part of a broader, $15-million agreement between CI, the UN Foundation and the UNESCO World Heritage Centre to conserve current and proposed Natural World Heritage Sites, like Costa Rica's Cocos Island National Park and Marine Reserve, Ecuador's Galapagos Islands National Park and Marine Reserve, and Colombia's proposed site, Malpelo National Park.
"This alliance to protect the world's 149 Natural World Heritage Sites gives us the ability to make strategic investments that maximize the likelihood of salvaging these unique and delicate habitats," said Timothy Wirth, President of the UN Foundation. "This Seascape initiative is vitally important to the health of our ocean and we certainly hope it becomes a model for marine conservation around the world."
The initiative comes amid mounting evidence that the ocean is under duress. According to a recent study in Nature, 90 percent of large, predatory fish populations - including tuna and marlin - have disappeared. In addition, 75 percent of all commercial fish populations have either collapsed or are approaching collapse. Despite these trends, marine conservation lags far behind terrestrial initiatives. While about 12 percent of the Earth's surface is currently protected, less than 1 percent of the ocean enjoys some form of protection.
One of the marine species that has been hardest hit is the leatherback turtle, which has seen its populations decline in the Eastern Pacific by more than 97 percent in the last two decades. The Seascape addresses the threat by incorporating Costa Rica's Baulas de Guanacaste National Park and its surrounding waters - one of the leatherback's last nesting grounds on the American Pacific.
"The leatherback turtle is a species that has been around longer than the dinosaur, but unless we take immediate and determined steps to change our current fishing practices and our consumption habits, we will see it disappear within our lifetime," said International Sea Turtle Society President, and CI Vice President Roderic Mast. "The Seascape will help give these magnificent creatures the protection and recognition they so urgently need."
Among the treasures the Seascape will encompass are the Galapagos, home to hundreds of unique and vulnerable species found nowhere else on the planet and as many as 750,000 seabirds, 22 species of reptiles and six species of mammals. Cocos Island is equally rich, with more than 230 plant species, 360 insect species and 85 bird species. The Seascape also encompasses Coiba Island National Park in Panama and Gorgona National Park in Colombia.
The United Nations Foundation promotes a more peaceful, prosperous, and just world through the support of the United Nations and its Charter. Through our grantmaking and by building new and innovative public-private partnerships, the United Nations Foundation acts to meet the most pressing health, humanitarian, socioeconomic, and environmental challenges of the 21st century. For more information visit: www.unfoundation.org
UNESCO's World Heritage Centre is the secretariat to the World Heritage Convention, signed by 178 countries. The purpose of the convention is to identify sites of outstanding universal value and help conserve them for the benefit of future generations. For more information visit: whc.unesco.org
Conservation International (CI) applies innovations in science, economics, policy and community participation to protect the Earth's richest regions of plant and animal diversity in the hotspots, major tropical wilderness areas and key marine ecosystems. With headquarters in Washington, D.C., CI works in almost 40 countries on four continents.
For more information visit www.conservation.org.