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Saturday, May 28, 2022

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail to Save the Whales

When people think of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) their minds don’t readily jump to concerns about whales migrating along the Pacific Coast.

Well, that’s about to change for those who will soon be following an epic 4000+ kilometer hike by a young Dutch woman who will set off in April as part of an effort to save whales who become entangled in fishing gear off Costa Rica’s Southern coastline. 

In early April Michelle Kloosterman, 23, will set off on a 6-month hike of one the longest and toughest trails in the world along its full length from Mexico to Canada. She will be paralleling in real-time thousands of Humpback whales on their 8000+ kilometer migration North, one of the longest on Earth.

Kloosterman first heard about the PCT just before the first Covid lockdowns two years ago when planning a trip to study in New Zealand. Both “terrified and fascinated” she says with the prospect of hiking such a trail, she ultimately decided, “I need to walk this.”

When Covid diverted her to Costa Rica, Kloosterman landed in Uvita where she met the team of ardent ocean conservationists at Innoceana’s Marine Conservation & Education Center in Ojochal and was inspired by their plans for protecting marine life. There the idea was born to turn the PCT hike into a fundraiser to save whales. 

Now they are collaborating to bring attention to the plight of the Humpback whales, increasingly threatened by ghost nets abandoned by the fishing fleets that ply the coast here.   

The goal is to connect people with the Humpbacks who will be migrating from waters off the coast of Costa Rica North to Alaska during the months that Kloosterman is hiking. While Humpbuck populations have increased in recent decades they are still under threat from intense offshore and coastal fishing fleets whose gear sometimes entangles the whales. 

Innoceana received international attention recently for having freed a family of Humpbacks 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 designated Hope Spot Champions by world-renown deep sea diver and leading ocean conservationist, Dr. Sylvia Earle.

Together Innoceana and Kloosterman hope to raise $70,000. These funds will go to train whale rescue teams to free whales that become trapped in fishing lines and nets in and around Parque Ballena, off Costa Rica’s South coast. Innoceana will also support the hike with several team members joining for short segments.

Each year the Humpback whales who are the focus of this initiative arrive in December and stay through April when thousands of tourists descend on Parque Ballena and venture onto the water for a chance to see these great giants up close.

The hope is that growing attention on the fate of the whales and over-fishing 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 the Osa Peninsula.

Governmental, private foundation and public support will be required protect both the marine life and the ability of artisan fisherman, sport-fisherman and whale-watching operations to sustain themselves in the thriving blue-green regenerative economy an MPA can support.

For more information or if you want to join the migration check out this site

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