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November 24, 2016. Water / Oceans

Eastern Tropical Pacific

Following food supplies driven by seasonal shifts in wind and upwellings, whales, tuna, sharks, turtles, and seabirds migrate back and forth through the Seascape between breeding and feeding areas, making it the marine equivalent of the Serengeti Desert

Cristina G. Mittermeier, Gregory S. Stone, Russell A. Mittermeier, Octavio Aburto-Oropeza, Claudio Campagna, Kent E. Carpenter, Laurence P. Madin, David Obura, Enric Sala, Sebastian Troëng, Peter A. Seligman & Stefan Gutermuth

Tucked in the elbow that connects Central and South America, the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape (ETPS) sits in a geological crucible and the crossroads of five marine currents. Spanning the national waters, coasts, and islands of Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and Ecuador, the ETPS measures 2 million square kilometers (more than 770,000 mi2)—nearly five times the size of the state of California.

Intense geological activity past and present has also produced the array of volcanic features around the Galapagos Islands at the Seascape’s western end.  Perhaps nowhere is the shaping hand of evolution more evident than in the Galápagos. Endemic penguins (Galápagos penguin) and fur seals, dart with Galápagos sea lions through coral reefs teeming with a mix of colorful fish throughout the Pacific.

Although seasonal climate variations are generally mild, the region sits at the epicenter of El Niño events. In the ETPS El Niño causes much warmer oceans and dramatically increased rainfall, especially in the southern and western parts of the ETPS. The rain and warmth provides ideal growing conditions for plants, which produces a windfall of food for many land-based animals. On the other hand, ocean upwelling drops drastically, nutrient levels plummet, and primary productivity virtually shuts down.  Strong El Niño years are generally followed by La Niña years when sea temperatures and rainfall drops and very strong upwelling returns to inject nutrients back into the system and drive ecosystem recovery.

UNESCO has recognized the Seascape’s outstanding marine and coastal natural beauty and biodiversity by designating a remarkable seven World Natural Heritage Sites within the ETPS.

The ETPS provides additional ecosystem services beyond its fisheries. Extensive coastal reefs and vast mangrove forests buffer the impacts of recurrent storms and rarer tsunamis. Along with marine habitats, wetlands serve as “blue” carbon sinks that reduce the accumulation of the greenhouse gases that fuel climate change.

 

This is an excerpt from the CEMEX Conservation Series Book OCEANS: HEART OF OUR BLUE PLANET (2011)

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