Scientists Document Whale Shark Migrating from Galapagos Island to Cocos Island for First Time

For the first time in history, a group of scientists documented the complete journey of a whale shark from Galapagos Island in Ecuador to Cocos Island in Costa Rica, highlighting the need for cutting-edge solutions to protect highly migratory species in the Eastern Tropical Pacific.

Coco, an adult female approximately 12 m long, made the 700-km crossing in three weeks. She was tagged in mid-August while sailing north of the Ecuadorian archipelago, and on September 5 her presence in the park’s waters was reported. 

MigraMar, a network of groups conducting scientific research to better understand and safeguard marine migratory species in the Eastern Tropical Pacific, revealed endangered and threatened marine species like whale sharks, green sea turtles, silky sharks, and scalloped hammerhead sharks use an underwater highway—known as the Cocos-Galapagos Swimway—to migrate between Cocos Island National Park with the Galapagos Marine Reserve, both of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. When these species leave the protected areas, they enter the open ocean where they are at grave risk to industrial fishing.

Cocos Island National Park and the Galapagos Marine Reserve not only share an important percentage of species and ecological characteristics, they also face similar threats. Both marine protected areas have regulations that control how people and commerce can interact with the islands. Despite these restrictions, conservationists face several challenges to protect the species that inhabit them. 

biological justification for the creation of the swimway recently published by MigraMar states about 19 percent of rays, 34 percent of sharks, 17 percent of marine mammals and 27 percent of marine birds found in these protected areas are threatened or endangered. The document also highlights that Cocos and Galapagos share an important percentage of endemic and island species, as well as pelagic and benthic fauna. Both sites are interconnected by the Cocos seamount ridge that concentrate a significant marine migratory activity. 

Hundreds of global citizens have signed a petition urging Costa Rica and Ecuador to create the swimway. In August, environmental groups Mission Blue and Turtle Island Restoration Network sent a letter to the Ministers of Environment of Costa Rica and Ecuador, urging them to create the swimway. In May the Swimway was declared an international Hope Spot by Dr. Sylvia Earle, founder of Mission Blue and a National Geographic Society Explorer in Residence.

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