Marine reserve in Latin America brings hope but conservation challenges remain

The creation this month of a new marine reserve in Ecuador will secure a biological corridor for endangered species, including sea turtles, manta rays, whales and sharks.

The 60,000 square kilometer reserve is part of the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor that stretches from Ecuador to Costa Rica and will protect marine life from threats from industrial fishing and climate change. The Hermandad (Brotherhood) reserve is particularly important because it is part of the transitory breeding route of endangered marine species.

Improving the connectivity of protected areas is one of the challenges of conservation globally, and although Latin America and the Caribbean is at the forefront, more could be done, experts say. The region has more than 10 million square kilometers of terrestrial and marine conservation areas, or 24.6% of the land surface and 23.2% of the marine spaces, already under some form of conservation.

“Now that the world is embarking on the vision of effectively protecting 30% of the earth’s land and sea areas, Latin America and the Caribbean could improve and expand the conservation of its natural capital and jointly promote solutions to the triple crisis global climate natural changes, loss of nature and biodiversity, pollution and litter, said Jacqueline Álvarez, Regional Director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

This week, the region’s Forum of Environment Ministers met to take stock of these challenges, accelerate action and commemorate 40 years of cooperation.

Representativeness of ecosystems

Despite global efforts to meet international targets for protected area coverage, research shows that protection is not yet representative.

Latin America and the Caribbean accounts for 24% of terrestrial ecoregions and 19% of marine ecoregions in the world, yet only half of the region’s biomes achieve or exceed 17% protection.

Some ecosystems, such as Mediterranean forests and scrub or temperate grasslands and savannahs, are particularly underrepresented, according to the Protected Planet Report 2020: Latin America and the Caribbean, from UNEP’s World Conservation Monitoring Center ( UNEP-WCMC), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), RedParques and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

As countries strive to meet the targets of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework – which means further expanding their protected areas to cover 30% of land and sea – the report says it will be crucial to prioritize species and ecosystems at risk in a diversity of landscapes.

Ensure connectivity

Jaguars illustrate the importance of connected protected areas. After spending two years with its mother, a young jaguar can travel up to 70 kilometers to find its own territory, hunt and breed. The researchers detected up to 26 cross-border areas where these movements can take place.

Keeping ecosystems connected and protected is essential for jaguars and other species to thrive. But around 33% of protected areas in the region lack good connectivity, according to UNEP’s Protected Planet Report 2020. This means that a third of the area functions as conservation islands, a situation that hinders the ecological flows and exchanges that guarantee the health of species. This could lead to the loss of local species populations and possible ecosystem collapse, the authors warn.

To address this challenge in the Caribbean, the UNEP Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean serves as the secretariat of the Caribbean Biological Corridor (CBC), an initiative of Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and, more recently , from Puerto Rico. As part of this effort, which began in 2007, member countries protect more than 200,000 km2 of marine and coastal ecosystems, 91% of which are important for connectivity.

“CBC’s marine and coastal ecosystems are essential for the migratory routes and reproduction of endangered marine species such as sea turtles, whale sharks, sperm whales and oceanic whitetip sharks,” explains José Gerhartz, CBC Technical Specialist.

Measuring management effectiveness

The UNEP report shows that less than half of the more than 50 countries and territories assessed systematically measure and document the effectiveness of their protected areas.

Improving transparency and accountability remains one of the greatest challenges for the region. The report also finds that analysis should be done systematically and periodically and that other non-governmental actors, such as universities, should be included to improve transparency.

An example of progress is the transnational initiative Visión Amazónica (Amazon Vision). Launched in 2015, its mission is to strengthen and integrate protected area systems in the nine countries and territories of the Amazon and improve conservation in the world’s largest rainforest.

The project has developed a protocol and a methodological guide for the analysis of the management effectiveness of protected areas, a tool that guides authorities to produce standardized data towards scientific decision-making.

Visión Amazónica is a project funded by the European Union involving UNEP, IUCN, WWF and RedParques, under the coordination of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Governance and equity in management

The regional Protected Planet report states that sharing power over protected areas makes us “more effective, more efficient and more equitable”.

According to the UNEP-WCMC Protected Planet database, 60% of the protected areas in the region are under government management, 14.4% are private, 7% are managed by indigenous peoples and only 1% are jointly managed. As a result, non-governmental governance models are underrepresented.

“As we face the urgency of tackling the global extinction crisis, the climate crisis and the disintegration of human communities, we must recognize that the leadership of the sovereign state is insufficient both financially and strategically. if we want to be successful. The role of private and institutional philanthropy is essential,” says Kristine Tompkins, President of Tompkins Conservation and Patron of UNEP Protected Areas.

Tompkins Conservation was instrumental in the creation of 13 national parks in Chile and Argentina, conserving 14.8 million acres. The organization sees the creation of parks as a starting point and works to restore their ecosystems. This includes the return of extinct species such as jaguars in the Iberá wetlands in Argentina and the highly endangered huemul in Chile. This reintegration of species helps local communities thrive through nature-based economies.


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