National Geographic Society Newsroom Press Releases

COP26: Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Panama Announce New Protections for “Ocean Highway”

Drawing attention to the critical yet overlooked role oceans play in keeping the planet cool, safeguarding species, and supporting food security the leaders of Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Panama launched a new marine protected area to be called the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor.

Boris Johnson praises new marine protected area; Colombia announces collaboration with leading oceanographer on new expedition to explore second area 

Editor’s note: Photos are available here and here. 

Drawing attention to the critical yet overlooked role oceans play in keeping the planet cool—in addition to safeguarding species and supporting food security—the leaders of Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Panama launched a new marine protected area to be called the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor (CMAR).

The new area serves as a thoroughfare for tuna, hammerhead sharks, sea turtles, whales and other animals. These animals move along the ocean corridor to feed, meet each other, reproduce, and give birth. As a result, the Eastern Tropical Pacific is also one of the most abundant fishing areas in the world, providing millions in South America with food and incomes.  And it is home to coastal mangroves, which protect people against tropical storms. 

All of these benefits are currently under threat due to overfishing, which also threatens turtles, sharks and other ocean life. Granting strong protections to the Eastern Tropical Pacific can help this area thrive again. 

The decision by Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Panama to establish this marine protected area demonstrates the strong and growing political will to protect at least 30% of the planet by 2030. Right now, only 7% of the ocean is protected. 

Also at the event, President of Colombia Iván Duque announced a new two-month expedition in partnership with National Geographic Pristine Seas to assess marine life along the Eastern Tropical Pacific superhighways and other areas in Colombia’s waters. 

Members of the expedition will use a manned submersible, remote cameras and other high-tech tools to explore the ocean to full depth.  The goal of the expedition is to survey current marine protected areas and to identify new potential areas. 

Earlier in the day, President Duque had pledged to protect 30% of the country’s land and ocean by 2022—eight years ahead of the global target of 2030. He also said that Colombia will protect an additional 16 million hectares of marine protected areas—on top of the 12 million hectares already protected.

Last month, the EarthShot Prize, the Royal Foundation’s new global prize for the environment, recognized Costa Rica (winner) and Pristine Seas (finalist) for their conservation work. 

Boris Johnson, UK Prime Minister said

Today, we welcome the joint announcement by Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Panama on the declaration of a marine protected area covering the Marine Corridor of the Eastern Tropical Pacific. This bold and ambitious new initiative is crucial for conservation efforts in this beautiful region, and as long-standing advocates for ocean protection, the UK stands ready to support these countries in this hugely important endeavour. Together, we must do more to protect our world’s most precious resource and today’s announcement marks a significant milestone.

Carlos Alvarado Quesada, President of Costa Rica said:

During this COP, one of the key discussions has been about trust. About getting things done. You have seen the signs all over the place saying “Stop the Blah, Blah, Blah. Act Now.” So in this case, these four countries of Latin America, within the Tropics, have decided to take action now and take a first step – to demonstrate that it is possible to protect the ocean. And with this declaration, the four of us are stating that we will create one of the largest, if not the largest, protected area in the ocean in the Tropical Pacific.   

The message is beautiful from everywhere you see. Us working together, the message of trust. We are not waiting on anybody to come and tell us what the right thing to do is. We know what the right thing to do is and it is to protect these areas and these ecosystems because of what they mean. We know this is going to ensure a future for us, our children and our grandchildren and this is why we are doing it. That is why we are so proud to announce it. We encourage all of the other leaders present at this COP to take similar actions in this and in other fields, because the world requires it. 

Enric Sala, Explorer-in-Residence, National Geographic Pristine Seas, said:

Protecting nature is critical to people, the climate and economies. By protecting this important swathe of the Pacific, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Panama are addressing the climate and biodiversity crises at the same time.  We face a major planetary emergency. Solutions like these are what we need to protect the Earth and ourselves. 

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The Campaign for Nature works with scientists, Indigenous Peoples, and a growing coalition of over 100 conservation organizations around the world who are calling on policymakers to commit to clear and ambitious targets to be agreed upon at the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Kunming, China in 2021 to protect at least 30% of the planet by 2030 and working with Indigenous leaders to ensure full respect for Indigenous rights.

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