The Cocos-Galapagos Swimway is a vast, 75,000 mile (120,700 km) ocean corridor in the South Pacific Ocean, to the west of South America. The Swimway follows Cocos Ridge, an underwater mountain range that connects the Galapagos Islands, claimed by Equador, with Cocos Island, claimed by Costa Rica.
- Note: Don't confuse Cocos Island in Costa Rica with the Australian Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean
Both the countries of Ecuador and Costa Rica have committed to expanding the total protected marine area by 45%. This project is called Hermandad, which translates to Brotherhood. This newly designated and conserved Ocean Highway will ensure that sensitive marine wildlife can thrive for years to come.
The Start Of Something Great
Costa Rica’s Cocos Island National Park and Ecuador’s Galapagos Marine Reserve are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which means that the conservation and nurturing of the islands is in the interests of all humanity. Recent findings show that the biodiversities of the islands are highly dependent on one another. This is surprising considering the massive distance between them. It turns out that many of the endangered marine species travel between the islands, across vast distances, via the Cocos Swimway AKA Ocean Highway.
With the help of favorable currents, an extensive ecology, magnetic navigational waves, and ancestrally established pathways, this highway allows a number of species to travel immense distances in order to successfully mate, feed, and survive.
Think of it as an important land highway for people. There is usually an entire economy that develops on any major highway to facilitate human travel. This includes truck stops, restaurants, hotels, gas stations, etc. Most cities in the world rely on highways for supplying basic goods.
If a highway was destroyed, or humans were prevented from using them, then the entire economy along the highway would disappear as well, and more than that, all supply chains would be disrupted, causing disasters such as food shortages and even starvation.
Therefore, to fully protect the biodiversity of each UNESCO designated island, the greater ocean must be protected as well, especially the highway that connects them.
Green sea turtles, leatherback sea turtles, whale sharks, scalloped hammerhead sharks, silky sharks are just some of the species that utilize and rely on the ocean highway.
With the threats of pollution, acidification, overfishing, and climate change, marine life is facing potential extinction. By establishing robust, multilateral protection for important ecological infrastructure, the various South and Central American governments and organizations are setting an example for the rest of the world. While much of the environmental conservation movement is focused on the land, the most important feature of the world – the oceans – is being neglected.
What would life on Earth look like without the oceans?
It is not just animals who are affected by marine degradation. Human beings are intertwined with the oceans of the world in extremely intimate ways. The current trend is that oceans are turning into barren wastelands, not suitable for supporting any life. Scientists estimate the oceans produce somewhere between 50-80% of all the oxygen on Earth. Plants, algae, and plankton, which all photosynthesize, rely on fish to survive. Without life in the ocean, the world will likely come to an end, and along with it, most human life as well.
Beyond the geography of the Cocos Ridge, there are a number of markers that scientists use to determine which parts of the ocean should be focused on for conservation.
Laymen tend to overestimate how much we, as humans, understand about the oceans. In reality, it is not a simple topic.
- Fact: We know more about the surface of extraterrestrial planets than we do about the oceans on Earth
We do not know the true extent to which the balance of the Earth relies on Oceans, nor do we know the long-term effects of marine degradation on human life. Mostly what scientists know so far is that they don’t know much at all. To remedy this, there are a few novel techniques that are being implemented to further our understanding.
Sharks are a migratory species. As cold-blooded creatures, sharks have to stay in motion to generate heat, so in many ways, they are built for migration. However, very little is known about why and how they travel the oceans.
Modern technology has provided some insight. It appears that sharks migrate for the purposes of mating, giving birth, and feeding. The reproductive cycles of sharks are still a mystery, but it has been observed that pregnant sharks will swim thousands of miles to return to the lagoons, estuaries, and beaches where they themselves were born. These shallow waters provide stable temperatures and ample supplies of food, which make them ideal for birthing and rearing pups.
By studying the migration patterns of sharks, scientists can determine where the most important Swimways are. Due to changes in the environment, largely caused by industrial fishing practices, sharks are engaging in new migration patterns. Finding and understanding these new Swimways is vital because where the sharks go is also where other species, lower on the food chain, are usually located.
To track the sharks, they must be tagged with geolocating devices. This is a difficult task to achieve, as sharks do not like to be manhandled and implanted with trackers. The shark tracking plan is just one preliminary step in establishing and protecting the ocean highway. This illustrates the near-incomprehensible scale of the Hermandad project and all of the complicated (and expensive) actions that go into making it happen.
The establishment of the Ocean Highway is the first step in a larger plan. As part of the UN COP meetings, a number of countries around the world have committed to fully protecting and conserving 30% of the world’s oceans. Costa Rica and Ecuador have both signed onto this agenda and are now doing their part. 30% may not seem like much, it is the bare minimum that we have to do to prevent an apocalyptic global extinction event. Rest easy knowing that the contingency plan is being implemented, at least in part with the new Ocean Highway.