Central America Protects whale sharks
STRI/DICYT Representatives from Panama, Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic signed a binding agreement protecting whale sharks in Eastern Pacific and Caribbean waters that took effect on July 1. This conservation plan was drafted based on research by Smithsonian staff scientist, Hector M. Guzman.
The largest fishes in the world, whale sharks grow to 40 feet (12.65 m) and weigh up to 47,000 pounds (21.5 metric tons). The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists these gentle giants as “vulnerable”. According to a study by Guzman’s research team in which they tagged nearly 50 sharks with satellite tracking devices, whale sharks travel oceanic and coastal routes through waters under the jurisdiction of several countries in the region.
Recognizing that the most effective solution would involve integrative conservation efforts, the Regional Unit for Fish and Aquaculture of the Central American Integration System [La Unidad Regional de Pesca y Acuicultura de la Secretaria General del Sistema de la Integracion Centroamericana (SICA/OSPESCA)] drafted the international accord. Mario González Recinos, Regional Coordinator of SICA / OSPESCA said that the legislation “is binding and the result of the interaction between civil society, the scientific sector, fishermen, national authorities and regional authorities, and a new fructiferous example of the process of Central American integration.”
In addition, Panama’s Environmental Authority, ANAM, created a whale shark sanctuary in Coiba National Park based on Guzman’s evaluation of habitat range for the species in the Gulf of Chiriqui and established strict guidelines for tourist and scientific whale shark watching. Israel Tejada, the person in charge of the Department of Biodiversity and Wildlife, emphsized “this legal tool will be key to regulating activities and the operators that organize groups to watch this species.” He also noted that “this initiative is a result of the way the scientific sector advises and orients Coiba National Park’s Executive Committee for the management and conservation of biodiversity in this protected area.”
“The whale-shark watching chaos in Panama prompted us to contribute information to this urgently needed policy to handle visitors and tourists as well as operators. In only three months, in 2014, two operators working between Santa Catalina on the mainland and Coiba Island have hit animals 27 times,” said Guzmán.