When people think of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), their minds don’t easily preoccupy with the whales migrating along the Pacific coast.
Well, that’s about to change for those soon to follow an epic 4,000+ kilometer trek by a young Dutch girl setting off in April as part of an effort to save whales that get tangled in fishing gear. fishing off the southern coast of Costa Rica.
In early April, 23-year-old Michelle Kloosterman will set off on a 6-month hike on one of the world’s longest and toughest trails in its entire length from Mexico to Canada. It will parallel in real time thousands of humpback whales during their migration of more than 8,000 kilometers towards the north, one of the longest on Earth.
Kloosterman first heard of PCT just before the first Covid lockdowns two years ago while planning a trip to study in New Zealand. Both “terrified and fascinated,” she says at the thought of walking such a trail, she finally decided, “I have to walk this.”
When Covid diverted her to Costa Rica, Kloosterman landed in Uvita where she met the team of ardent ocean advocates at Innoceana Marine Conservation and Education Center in Ojochal and was inspired by their marine life protection plans. This is where the idea of turning the PCT hike into a fundraiser to save the whales was born.
Now they are collaborating to bring attention to the plight of humpback whales, which are increasingly threatened by ghost nets left behind by fishing fleets that ply the coast here.
The goal is to connect people with the humpback whales that will migrate from the waters off the northern coast of Costa Rica to Alaska during Kloosterman’s hiking months. While humpbuck populations have increased in recent decades, they are still threatened by intense offshore and inshore fishing fleets whose gear sometimes entangles the whales.
Innoceana recently gained international attention for releasing a family of humpback whales trapped in fishing gear off the Pacific coast last year, a story told in the multi-award-winning documentary, Entangled. The founders were also recently named Hope Spot Champions by Dr. Sylvia Earle, world renowned deep-sea diver and ocean conservationist.
Together, Innoceana and Kloosterman hope to raise $70,000. These funds will be used to train whale rescue teams to free whales trapped in fishing lines and nets in and around Parque Ballena, off the southern coast of Costa Rica. Innoceana will also be supporting the ride with several team members joining for short segments.
Each year, the humpback whales that are at the center of this initiative arrive in December and stay until April when thousands of tourists descend on Parque Ballena and venture out on the water for the chance to see these great giants. from close.
The hope is that the growing attention to the plight of whales and overfishing in the coastal region will compel the new government to declare the area a Marine Protected Area (MPA) linking Parque Ballena, Canos Island and the waters around of the Osa Peninsula.
Support from government, private foundations and the public will be needed to protect both marine life and the ability of artisanal fishers, sport fishers and whale watching operations to sustain themselves in the regenerative blue-green economy. flourishing that an MPA can support.