The Galapagos-Cocos Swimway: protecting marine migratory species between hotspots

Dr Alex Hearn1,2, Dr. James Ketchum2,8, Dr. Cesar Peñaherrera2,7, Mr. Randall Arauz2,4, MS Todd Steiner2,3, MS Eduardo Espinoza2,5, Dr. George Shillinger2,6, Prof. A. Peter Klimley2,9

1Universidad San Francisco De Quito, Quito, Ecuador, 2MigraMar, San Jose, Costa Rica, 3Turtle Island Restoration Network, Olema, USA, 4CREMA/Fins Attached, San José, Costa Rica, 5Galapagos National Park Directorate, Puerto Ayora, Ecuador, 6Upwell, , USA, 7Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, Portoviejo, Ecuador, 8Pelagios-Kakunjá, La Paz, Mexico, 9University of California, Davis, Davis, USA

Marine biodiversity is often concentrated around particular features, sometimes referred to as “hotspots” where, for either physical (eg: frontal zones, seamounts) or biological (eg: high productivity, shelter) reasons, certain species tend to aggregate. Such is the case of the remote oceanic islands of Cocos (Costa Rica) and Galápagos (Ecuador) – two UNESCO World Heritage sites located hundreds of miles off the Pacific coast of South America, separated by 700 km of ocean. Both are surrounded by marine reserves, which provide protection to the species inhabiting their waters, such as scalloped hammerhead sharks and green turtles. However, both these ionic endangered species are highly migratory, and spend significant time vulnerable to fishing gear when outside protected waters.

In 2006, we created the MigraMar research network, whose mission is to generate the science and technical advice necessary for the effective conservation of migratory marine species in the Eastern Pacific. Through the use of acoustic and satellite telemetry, our studies have identified a potential migratory route, linking both reserves, along the Cocos Ridge. This chain of seamounts may function as a geomagnetic road map for them as they migrate, while at the same time providing stepping-stones of areas of high productivity along the way.

Together with our partner PACIFICO, we are working with authorities in Ecuador and Costa Rica to create a “Migravía” (or “Swimway”), linking the two hotspots. Here, we explore the biological justification for the Swimway, its socio-political context and some of the steps already taken towards its creation.


Dr. Alex Hearn has spent the last two decades working in the Galapagos Islands, where he spearheaded the development of a multi-institutional shark research program as a response to a need for understanding how the Galapagos Marine Reserve was contributing to the protection of these species. He obtained his Bachelor’s Degree from Southampton University and his Masters and PhD from Heriot-Watt University in the Orkney Islands. He spent several at the UC Davis Biotelemetry Laboratory in California, tracking fish movements throughout the Sacramento River system. Since 2015, he works as a professor at USFQ (Universidad San Francisco de Quito), where he splits his time between lecturing and research, which is mostly based at the Galapagos Science Center on San Cristobal. He also has studied the movements of sharks and other migratory species at Cocos, Malpelo and Revillagiedo Islands, and is a founding member of the regional MigraMar network – a collaborative effort by scientists throughout the Eastern Tropical Pacific to generate the science needed to provide protection for threatened migratory marine species in the region.

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