In the depths of the Pacific Ocean, an underwater “highway” stretching 700 km (430 miles) between Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands and Cocos Island off the coast of Costa Rica.
It is vital for marine life, including sea turtles, whale sharks and hammerhead sharks, moving between islands looking for a place to nest or bait.
But the route can be dangerous. Unlike the marine resources on both sides, the bathing path is open to fishing boats. Data show that the population of many endangered migratory species is declining.
Herds of Hammerhead sharks migrate along the swimming path. (Courtesy of Alex Hearn)
Alex Hearn, a founding member and professor of biology at MigraMar, a coalition of scientists and environmental groups, said it was not enough to protect the hotspots of biodiversity around the islands. His team is campaigning to protect the entire swimming route – about the size of England, covering 240,000 square kilometers (93,000 square miles) of the ocean.
Scientists are fighting to protect a shark and turtle ‘superhighway’:
This creates a narrowly guarded canal between the two that follows a chain of underwater mountains rising from the seabed, extending fishing restrictions beyond the existing 22-kilometer radius around Cocos Island and the 74-kilometer radius around the Galapagos Islands.
Like beacons for the ocean, sea levels are important to the ship. Because they are made of lava, some species, such as hammerhead sharks and sea turtles, emit magnetic signals that they rely on to find themselves. He said they acted as “stepping stones” that provided places for sea creatures to feed and rest during migration.
For more than a decade, MigraMar’s network of scientists has been trying to prove its importance by documenting the species that use the floating road. About 400 marine organisms have been tagged with satellites and ultrasound to track migration routes.
So far, they have successfully tracked the migration of whale sharks, hammerhead sharks, silkworms, leather-backed tortoises and green turtles between the two islands. In February, scientists first found evidence of tiger sharks when a nine-foot-long tiger labeled on Galapagos seven years ago appeared on the island of Cocos.
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