For decades, UNESCO has worked to protect cultural and natural treasures on land and sea by facilitating cooperation across borders. World Heritage is built on the premise that some places are so special that all of humankind should work together to protect them.

This spirit of international cooperation has been evident among World Heritage marine sites in the Eastern Tropical Pacific for years. This region that stretches from Mexico to the northern tip of Peru is home to whales, turtles, sharks and fish that travel long distances to feed and breed, and local sites have been working together to protect migratory species and fight illegal fishing.

Last year, seven sites formalized this partnership, signing Carta de Punta Suarez agreement at the third World Heritage Marine Site Managers Conference in the Galapagos Islands. Last month, managers met again to discuss concrete steps to support one another and strengthen conservation of their sites. Held in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, the meeting was organized and funded by PACIFICO (a network of four environmental fund organizations), with support from the Costa Rica Ministry of Environment, the Guanacaste Conservation Area, and the UNESCO Office in San Jose.

During this inaugural convening, managers shared scientific data, success stories, and challenges, as well as identified fundraising opportunities to support regional conservation projects. More than 40 people attended, including representatives from the Whale Sanctuary of El Vizcaino, Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California, Area de Conservacion Guanacaste, Cocos Island National Park, Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary and Galapagos Islands World Heritage sites. Participants dived deep into conversation about marine protected area management, coastal policy, scientific monitoring, and preventing illegal fishing.

World Heritage marine sites in the region have made important strides to reduce poaching, like at Cocos Island, where installation of a radar for remote surveillance has helped managers track activity across the site. Nevertheless, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing remains a big problem in this part of Latin America, and in World Heritage marine sites around the world. Just last month, Ecuadorian authorities confiscated a vessel carrying thousands of illegally caught sharks in the Galapagos Marine Reserve —a marine sanctuary where no industrial fishing is allowed. The vessel was caught thanks to the recently upgraded electronic surveillance system. UNESCO contributed to the design of this system by facilitating exchanges with the Great Barrier Reef to strengthen patrolling expertise of vast marine reserves – a key topic at the Guanacaste gathering. Since sharks, whales, dolphins and turtles travel widely, international cooperation is central to the protection of these World Heritage sites.

Managers discussed several concrete project ideas, including installation of radars for remote surveillance and cooperation to eradicate invasive/exotic species. The funding-platform PACIFICO will now work with the World Heritage sites to develop concrete proposals.