Panama protects 30% of its ocean, 9 years before the 2030 deadline

Cover: Tim Laman

Congratulations to the government and people of Panama!

Thanks to a decree signed on World Ocean Day by the President of Panama, Laurentino Cortizo, and Panama’s Minister of Environment, Milciades Concepción, the Cordillera de Coiba marine protected area (MPA) will be tripled in size, with many thousands of square miles of irreplaceable ocean life being safeguarded as a result.

With this act, Panama has accomplished the historic achievement of 30×30, thus becoming one of the few countries to have protected at least 30 percent of their waters ahead of the critical 2030 deadline. This success story has happened largely through the support of the Government of Panama, particularly the Minister of Environment, the well-coordinated experts’ team, and the organizations MigraMar, Mission Blue, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and the Wyss Foundation.

The expansion of the marine protected area of Coiba demonstrates the clear and strong commitment of Panama to ocean conservation, and at the same time, reinforces the role of the country in the fight against climate change.
Milciades Concepción
Panama's Minister of Environment
Without ongoing protection, Panama's waters are susceptible to threats of pollution, habitat destruction, climate change, and industrial fishing. One such example is longline fishing line, which can get tangled on the region's seamounts and corals · Tim Laman

The increased protection comes at a crucial time. Part of the larger Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP) Seascape, the Cordillera de Coiba supports incredible biodiversity, including highly migratory species such as hammerhead and whale sharks, leatherback sea turtles, whales, and dolphins. Research has proven that these species follow ocean corridors throughout the ETP Seascape, taking them in and out of the protected zones of multiple countries and making them susceptible to the threats of pollution, habitat destruction, climate change, and industrial fishing. Expanding the Cordillera de Coiba will now offer an opportunity for ecosystems to rejuvenate and for people to sustain an ocean-based economy.

In the ETP Seascape, it's not uncommon to spot marine life living in symbiosis, like this green sea turtle being cleaned by chancho surgeonfish · Tim Laman
Species like the Cortez angelfish bring a vibrancy to Panama's Pacific waters · Tim Laman
A group of humpback whales travels through Coiba National Park waters with dolphins riding on their bow waves · Tim Laman
Sea stars are one of the many lifeforms that depend on healthy ecosystems in the ETP Seascape · Tim Laman
Many species, like the whitetip reef shark, follow ocean corridors that take them in and out of protected zones of multiple countries, making them susceptible to industrial fishing. Expanding protection throughout the ETP Seascape will offer an opportunity for ecosystems to rejuvenate · Tim Laman

Currently, Panama is the leading country for marine protection in the ETP Seascape, and both Coiba Island and the Cordillera de Coiba are Mission Blue Hope Spots, special places that are scientifically identified as critical to the health of the ocean. This is a major victory for the ETP Seascape’s marine life and the people who depend on it—but there is still much work to be done.

I hope this inspiring commitment gives courage to neighboring countries in the region including Costa Rica, Colombia, and Ecuador to take similar actions to protect the incredible biodiversity in their waters, to link up protections and create a corridor where wildlife can thrive.
Dr. Sylvia Earle
Oceanographer, Explorer, Founder of Mission Blue
Protecting the biodiversity of the ETP Seascape will require each country in the region to follow Panama's lead and expand their marine protected areas. Only then will wildlife thrive and ocean-based economies become sustainable · Tim Laman

Sign the petition to call on Panama’s neighbors to do their part in protecting the beautiful and biodiverse Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape. Together, we can help create the world’s first multinational network of marine protected areas.

Learn more about the beauty and plight of the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape by exploring our series.


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