BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) – Four Latin American countries announced Tuesday that they will expand and unite their marine reserves to create a vast corridor in the Pacific Ocean in hopes of protecting sea turtles, tuna, squid, hammerhead sharks and other species.
The new marine corridor will connect the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador with Malpelo Island in Colombia and the Cocos and Coiba Islands in Costa Rican and Panamanian waters, protecting migratory species from the fishing fleets of hundreds of vessels that visit the eastern Pacific every year.
The announcement was made at the United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, where world leaders met to discuss carbon emission targets and other environmental policies.
It comes as there are growing concerns about industrial fishing in the eastern Pacific, where fishing fleets from China and other countries transport hundreds of thousands of tonnes of marine life each year using questionable methods.
The presidents of Costa Rica, Colombia, Panama and Ecuador were in Glasgow to announce the expansion of their marine reserves.
“We will protect ecosystems like the Galapagos and the Cocos Islands, which are among the most valuable ecosystems in the world,” said Costa Rican President Alvaro Quesada.
Efforts to create a protected corridor in the Eastern Pacific began in 2004, when Panama, Colombia, Costa Rica and Ecuador signed a declaration to protect their island territories in the Pacific. Since then, these countries have created marine reserves around the Galapagos, Malpelo, Cocos and Coiba Islands, which have very small human populations but are home to hundreds of marine and bird species.
The new corridor will create a protected area of approximately 500,000 square kilometers (approximately 190,000 square miles) which will be closed to industrial fishing fleets.
Latin American countries have said they are trying to contribute to a global initiative to preserve 30% of the world’s oceans and land areas by 2030 in order to tackle climate change.
Colombian President Ivan Duque has declared that the new corridor is “the largest marine protected area in the Western Hemisphere”.
Panamanian President Laurentino Cortizo said: “We have heard a lot of talk about climate change, a lot of commitments that are not being kept. It is a powerful action, and it is what our country and the world need.