The Costa Rica Thermal Dome (CRTD), in the Eastern Tropical Pacific, is a unique oceanographic feature formed by the interconnection of winds and currents; and as a result, the Dome is a geographically mobile area with ambulatory boundaries. Its size and position vary throughout the year, yet approximately 70% of the CRTD occurs on areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ), including its core, which is situated circa 9º N y 90º W. The remaining extension straddles the jurisdictional waters of the Central American countries.
The CRTD’s dynamic primary productivity offers an exceptional habitat for endangered and emblematic species, like the blue whale and the leatherback turtle. It also hosts large pelagic fish and marine predators such as billfish, sharks, dolphins, whales, among others. In addition to its ecological value, the open ocean at the Dome sustains rich fisheries (e.g. tuna, mahi-mahi, squid) and tourism (e.g. sports fishing, diving, cetaceans and turtle watching). The Dome also provides maritime routes for international, industrial and commercial traffic. These socioeconomic activities are relevant in the international markets, as well as within the Central American region, given the linkages among the high seas and the coastal areas through distinct oceanographic features and demonstrated connectivity among the associated ecosystems.
Significant progress has been achieved in global fora aiming to advance management measures in ABNJ. In this regard, the consensus recommendation agreed by the Ad-Hoc Working Group at the United Nations, in January 2015, is a historic decision towards the development of an international legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of the marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.
However, tough efforts persist ahead, for Central America and the worldwide community. The Dome is exposed to unregulated and uncontrolled anthropogenic impacts today, including shipping, overfishing, pollution, and climate change. The current lack of a coherent and comprehensive legal framework for the conservation and responsible use of marine resources in ABNJ challenges the sustainability of the CRTD’s marine life and environmental services. Robust regional political will and international collaboration are utterly necessary to leverage the existing momentum, aiming for concrete conservation and management measures to address human activities in the high seas area of the Dome, seeking to ensure the sustainability of its biodiversity and ecological services for the present and upcoming generations.