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Latin American countries unite to create ‘massive’ MPA


Four Latin American countries have joined forces to create a vast interconnected marine protected area (MPA).

Pacific-facing Panama, Ecuador, Colombia and Costa Rica this week announced plans for the creation of the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor. The MPA would both join and increase the size of their protected territorial waters to create a fishing-free corridor covering more than 500,000 sq km (200,000 sq miles).

Although reports do not specifically mention recreational fishing, they do reference ‘no fishing’ and MPAs created in the past have ruled out rod and line angling along with industrial fishing. The area includes one of the world’s most important migratory routes for shark, rays, whales and sea turtles.

At the Cop 26 in Glasgow, Scotland, Colombian President Iván Duque announced an additional 160,000 sq km of MPA in addition to the country’s existing 120,000 sq km. This came the day after Ecuador’s President, Guillermo Lasso, revealed the expansion of the current 133,000 sq km Galápagos marine reserve by 60,000 sq km. 

The moves follow a growing demand for action to protect rare species and commercial fish populations against foreign fishing fleets exploiting the region’s rich marine biodiversity. The aim is also to limit illegal, under-reported and unregulated fishing by local communities.

“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 Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

Ecuador’s Environment Minister, Gustavo Manrique, said: “This is the new language of global conservation. Never have countries with connecting maritime borders joined together to create a public policy.”

British marine biologist Alex Hearn has worked in the Galapogos Islands for 20 years. Speaking to The Guardian’s Dan Collyns, he said the eastern tropical Pacific was one of the last bastions of ocean biodiversity. “Just protecting the waters around them is not enough. There’s a connectivity between the areas and that’s what we need to protect,” he said.

Hearn added that populations of highly migratory fish, including the critically endangered hammerhead shark, have been falling this century.

Max Bello, an ocean policy advisor with the NGO Mission Blue, said: “With this commitment, Latin America again consolidates its leadership in marine conservation, but more is needed. We are hoping to continue towards at least 30% of protection in all of the [maritime] countries.”

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