Latin America, emerging world leader in ocean protection

In the Americas, marine conservation is now being driven from the South
Latin America, emerging world leader in ocean protection
Bahia de Loreto National Park in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico – Photo: Terry Pritchard/AP
Mexico City
Rafael Pacchiano, Marcelo Mena, & José María Figueres
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No one would ever imagine ordering a plastic soup in a restaurant, neither looking at one when starring at the coast, however, we are turning our oceans into one giant plastic soup and by doing that we are forcing our beloved sea turtles, whales, and even birds to live in it.

Last year, a floating plastic mass larger than Mexico was discovered in the South Pacific Ocean, similar to the one that has been circling in the North Pacific Ocean for more than a decade.

At this rate, the Pacific Ocean will be famous both for its plastic islands and its paradisaical islands.

About 8 million tons of garbage end up in our seas every year, an additional and worrisome damage to an ocean which is warmer and less abundant in marine life each day. It's time to say: Enough!

Therefore, Latin American countries are proud to be at the forefront of a new wave of ocean protection, an exciting change that is replicating itself all over the world thanks to the bold measures that a series of countries are implementing to protect their natural resources in a similar vein to us.

In the Americas, marine conservation is now being driven from the South, as Latin American governments gather to fill up the leadership void created by the Northern neighbor’s current and deplorable position on environment.

With millions of our citizens depending on fishing, tourism, and other industries that require a healthy ocean, we have everything in our favor to face this challenge.

As Co-presidents of the Assembly of the Pacific Ocean to be held in the Mayan Riviera, Mexico on March 7, we will meet with ministers of the region that share our leadership ideas and vision on Latin America, to raise ocean protection and forge a path towards a stronger regional action. It is an opportunity to strengthen the commitments of our own nations and inspire others to join the fight for the healthy future of the ocean.

Marine protected areas (MPAs) along with marine reserves are among the best tools to regenerate the ocean by giving marine life a break to recover and thrive. In this regard, Latin America is a world leader by further expanding ocean protection in recent years.

Last week, Chilean President Bachelet signed three supreme decrees which create highly protected marine areas in Rapa Nui, the Juan Fernández archipelago, and Cape Horn, resulting in ocean protection ranging 1.3 million km2, almost 43% of its exclusive economic zone, the second highest proportion in the world.

Mexico is also moving forward. The largest fully protected marine park in North America is not located in Canada, nor in the US, it is in Mexico in the Revillagigedo Archipelago encompassing 149,000 km2 providing refuge to giant manta rays, sharks, corals, and marine creatures that are not found anywhere else on Earth. Moreover, during the present administration, Mexico has declared 22% of its marine territory, as marine protected areas. Fortunately, this urge to protect the ocean seems to be contagious. Currently, Brazil is considering a proposal for a reserve mosaic covering about 900,000 km2 with great potential for whale watching and other sorts of lucrative ecotourism. When it comes to protecting the ocean, Latin America is thinking big.

As our populations grow and fish products become crucial for food security, these vast MPAs act as "fish stocks," where highly exploited species such as tuna can reproduce and replenish. These are only a few of the measurements that have been enforced. In order to achieve a truly sustainable "blue economy," governments require partners from each and every sector, which implies the development of creative policies that encourage companies to invest in marine and coastal conservation.

Saving our coral reefs, for example, will be financed by the income and future jobs generated by the consequent boom in marine ecotourism. Ocean treasures are worth much more alive than dead. The Mesoamerican Reef covering the coasts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras sustains more than one million people, and studies have found that a single hammerhead shark on the island of Cocos in Costa Rica is worth USD$ 1.6 million for tourism. However, nobody wants to visit a lifeless damaged coral reef or a beach full of plastic trash. To fight against this reality, in 2017 Chile became the first Latin American country to introduce a law that prohibits single-use plastic bags in its coastal cities while Costa Rica launched a national strategy to eliminate disposable plastic by 2021.

We are moving on the right track, yet we must move faster and be bolder. We will achieve more if we travel on this blue trip together. The ocean does not recognize borders nor the threats it faces. The Pacific Ocean Assembly is an opportunity for the Americas to unite and to create strong commitments to stop the ocean pollution, to protect our coral reefs and coasts, and to be a strong voice for the ocean in all global scenarios. Latin America is already paving the way for ocean protection. We hope that the Assembly will motivate more partners around our coasts and beyond to participate.

Rafael Pacchiano, Mexico's Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources

Marcelo Mena: Chile's Environment Minister

José María Figueres, Former President of Costa Rica, former Global Ocean Commissioner and Ocean Unite co-founder


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