Call on the governments of Ecuador, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Panama to establish the world’s first multinational network of marine protected areas.

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Why is this important?

The Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP) Seascape is a remarkable region in the Pacific Ocean covering more than 2 million square kilometers within the marine areas of four nations: Ecuador, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Panama. It is crucial to the economy, culture, and future of these four nations, and to the health of the entire ocean.

The convergence of major oceanic currents, the presence of underwater mountain ranges, and the upwelling of nutrient-rich waters in this region nurture a magical explosion of life.

Hammerhead sharks, silky sharks, green sea turtles, leatherback sea turtles, blue whales, whale sharks, and many other vulnerable and highly migratory species call the ETP Seascape home and depend on it to complete their life cycles.

A scalloped hammerhead shark hovers above a cleaning station near Darwin Island, part of the Galápagos archipelago · Shawn Heinrichs
Green sea turtles spend most of their lives in the open ocean, migrating between foraging grounds and nesting grounds, sometimes travelling thousands of miles · Cristina Mittermeier
The world’s largest fish, whale sharks are one among many iconic species found in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape · Shawn Heinrichs
Waved albatrosses dance and lovingly preen each other, performing ancient courtship rituals designed to find the perfect mate · Cristina Mittermeier
An impressive five major ocean currents converge in the ETP Seascape, bolstering the dispersal of corals, crustaceans, fishes, and many other creatures · Cristina Mittermeier
Marine iguanas are unique to the Galápagos Islands in the ETP Seascape, where they use their long claws to cling to the slippery rocks along the coast · Cristina Mittermeier
In fact, the ETP Seascape features some of our planet’s most symbolic natural habitats.

The Galápagos Islands (Ecuador), Cocos Island (Costa Rica), Malpelo Island (Colombia), and Coiba Island (Panama) are all listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites because of their unique and important natural, economic, and cultural characteristics. The entire region is one of Conservation International’s four critical Seascapes—marine areas large enough to encompass different levels of government from the local to the multinational, but not too large to be managed effectively. And all four of these natural habitats, as well as the entire region, have been designated Hope Spots by Mission Blue and Blue Parks by the Marine Conservation Institute.

The ETP Seascape is also an economic powerhouse.

From fishing to shipping to a bustling tourism sector, this marine region provides jobs and food for millions of people who live within a few miles of the region’s coastlines.

Small-scale and artisanal fishing in the ETP Seascape employs an estimated 1.3 million fishers and fish farmers · Lucas Bustamante
For many people in local communities in the ETP Seascape, fishing is their daily bread · Lucas Bustamante
The rich waters of the ETP Seascape are a vital source of livelihoods, opportunities, and recreation for the four nations presiding over them: Ecuador, Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia · Lucas Bustamante
But the ETP Seascape is at a crossroads.

Several threats—including plastic pollution, noise pollution from shipping traffic, habitat destruction, habitat degradation, introduction of invasive species, and climate change—are placing immense pressure on the health of this marine region and pushing many of its species closer to extinction.

Two threats in particular are responsible for decimating marine life in the ETP Seascape: industrial fishing and gaps in marine protection along important animal migration routes.
Both domestic and foreign industrial fishing fleets engage in overfishing, catching non-target species (known as “bycatch”), and illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing across the ETP Seascape · Juan Cevallos / AFP via Getty Images

Industrial fishing operations, both domestic and foreign, have been documented using unsustainable fishing practices such as excessive fishing that goes far beyond sustainable levels, catching non-target species—known as “bycatch”—and illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

Industrial fishing operations frequently result in troubling amounts of “bycatch”—the catching of non-target species which are often discarded once injured or dead, or illegally landed and exported for profit · Shawn Heinrichs

In the Galápagos Islands alone, foreign industrial fishing vessels logged a mind-boggling 73,000 hours of fishing in just one month. Meanwhile, 136 fishing vessels from Ecuador’s own industrial fleet, one of the biggest in Latin America, entered the Galápagos Marine Reserve, where fishing is not permitted. Meanwhile, Panama and Costa Rica are among the world’s top exporters of shark meat. This is troubling given that global shark and ray populations have experienced a severe drop of more than 70 percent in the past 50 years. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Colombia is a wonderful example of progress and commitment to the protection of the ocean—in 2020, Colombia banned shark fishing in its entirety. 

An explosion of life reverberates throughout the ETP Seascape, with species at varying stages of their life cycle visible at every turn · Cristina Mittermeier
In a constant state of flux, this ocean region is filled with dynamism and movement, biological features that need to be recognized through widespread marine protection · Lucas Bustamante
With their vibrant colors, Sally Lightfoot crabs stand out against the sandy shores and black lava rocks they call home · Lucas Bustamante
The northernmost penguin species in the world, the Galápagos penguin survives thanks to the cold waters of the Humboldt and Cromwell Currents · Lucas Bustamante
Large marine species, including whale sharks, have vast migration paths and often swim thousands of miles along ocean corridors · Lucas Bustamante
While marine mammals like dolphins roam in marine protected areas throughout the ETP Seascape, industrial fishing vessels operate just outside the boundaries, threatening the ocean region’s balance · Cristina Mittermeier
While the region boasts important marine protected areas (MPAs)—such as those surrounding the islands of Galápagos, Cocos, Malpelo, and Coiba—the ocean between these key sites is completely unprotected and wide open to industrial and illegal fishing.

And industrial fishing vessels often lure marine life out of protected areas with the use of bait, deliberately exploiting the current patchwork of protected areas.