All eyes were on leatherback turtlesin the Eastern Tropical Pacific during the Great Turtle Race, putting a spotlight on the giant reptile’s worrisome decline.
Besides losing their nesting areas beach by beach, leatherbacks are falling victim to water pollution, poaching, and as bycatch in commercial fishing. Sadly, they aren’t the only victims. That’s one reason the four countries sharing these waters came together in an ambitious undertaking to protect the abundance of wildlife at their doorsteps.
The Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape conserves 2 million square kilometers of ocean from Costa Rica to Ecuador. With zones in Panama and Colombia, the region also includes the Galápagos and Malpelo islands, international waters, and several UNESCO World Heritage sites.
It’s a crossroads of sorts for an incredibly diverse mix of marine species whose movements change with the season, depending on where the food is. Migrating groups of sharks and humpback whales roam these waters in a display of life now rare in many other areas.
The region is also a meeting point for major ocean current systems, making it home to diverse and unique marine life. That biological diversity is extremely vulnerable to climate change. El Niño events in the area, linked to rising sea temperatures, cause regular die offs when they occur, shutting down ecological cycles that require long periods for a full recovery. As climates change, these events appear to be increasing in frequency and intensity.
Despite governmental collaboration, protection can still be strengthened. For instance, the international demand continues to rise for shark fins from the Eastern Tropical Pacific and other areas of the world. If such activities persist, shark populations will continue to plummet. Illegal fishing is also problematic, as are high levels of accidental bycatch. Large-scale shipping in the region has created potential for toxic spills, and unchecked tourism has damaged fragile coastal and marine sites.
Securing the seascape’s protection was a great first step. Now we aim to strengthen it.