Science for the Conservation of Marine Migratory Species in the Eastern Pacific

Why we exist

For centuries, humanity has gazed in awe at the huge migrations which sweep across entire continents – each year, millions of zebra, wildebeest and gazelle cross the African plains, huge flocks of birds cross the globe from breeding to feeding grounds…. And yet some of the most astonishing migrations on the planet take place un-noticed. The ocean is home to vast schools of fish which migrate across vast distances, such as sharks and tunas. We do not yet fully understand the importance of these migrations, or the role that these species play in the marine ecoystem.

The role in nature – and value to humans – of sharks

Sharks have inhabited the oceans for millions of years – since before the dinosaurs. In evolutionary terms, this makes them one of the most successful families of animals, and they provide a glimpse into an ancient past.

Sharks are key species of the marine ecosystem. As top predators, they drive natural selection processes, and are indicators of ecosystem health. Removing sharkscan have a knock-on effect on the rest of the marine community, ending up with undesirable consequences which can affect us humans, and our economic activities.

In recent years, sharks have become an important living resource, with an ever increasing number of dive tourists visiting the region to experience swimming in the midst of schools of hammerheads, or having a close encounter with the world´s biggest fish – the whale shark.

Overfishing and the need for reliable information

A fast increase in world population as well as industrial and technological innovations have sent demand for sea products soaring since the 1950s, a demand that not even the rapidly expanding aquaculture sector can meet.

As a result, overfishing increasingly affects the populations of sharks and other pelagic species. The effects of the decimation of these populations on ocean life as a whole can be irreversible, yet fisheries continue to expand. There is therefore a critical need for realiable scientific information which can be translated into conservation and management policies. Only by working together and breaking national barriers can we effectively protect these species.

Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape

The Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape covers a huge area of over 211 million hectares, including waters belonging to Ecuador, Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica, along with international waters and a series of oceanic islands which belong to these four countries.

The region is exceptionally rich in biodiversity, due to the confluence of several major oceanic currents – the warm Panama current from the north, the cool Humboldt current from the south, and the deep Cromwell current, which flows along the Equator at depth, and surfaces as it hits the Galápagos platform, creating upw elli ng conditions of high productivity.

Within the region, there are several large marine protected areas: the Galápagos Marine Reserve and Machalilla National Park (Ecuador), Malpelo and Gorgona Marine Reserves (Colombia), Cocos (Costa Rica) and Coiba (Panamá). As part of the Marine Corridor Initiative , research institutions from each of these areas came together, recognising that only through joint efforts could we contribute meaningfully to the conservation and sustainable use of the shared marine resources of the region.

There are 88 shark species recorded for the region, and several are mentioned in international treaties because of concern about their population status. In recent years, several studies have highlighted serious declines in shark populations due to overfishing.