New Galápagos sanctuary protects unique marine life

Galapagos penguin
© Dee Boersma

The marine ecosystem around Ecuador's Galápagos Islands can rest a little easier. The country has created a new marine sanctuary around the islands that will offer protection to the world’s greatest concentration of sharks, the world’s rarest penguin species and so many others.

The new marine sanctuary will protect 15,000 square miles and extends around the northern Galápagos islands of Darwin and Wolf, preserving the ecosystem that the local shark species rely on.

The decree was signed on March 21 by Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa.

galapagos map© National Geographic / MINISTRY OF THE ENVIRONMENT, ECUADOR

This is good news for conservationists as now 32 percent of the waters around the Galápagos will be protected from fishing, mining and other extractive industries. It will all be incorporated to the marine reserve created in 1998.

"We’ve been working for years in the Galapagos, advising officials in Ecuador to protect the fish-rich waters that penguins and other species rely upon for food," P. Dee Boersma, a conservationist and professor of biology at the University of Washington, says about the new sanctuary.

galapagos shark© Enric Sala/National Geographic Pristine Seas

Despite its World Heritage Site status and history as the place of inspiration for Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, less than one percent of the surrounding water was protected. In contrast, 97 percent of the islands' landmass is protected as a national park.

Fortunately, this will be a win for local fishermen too. There's evidence, according to the government, of other no-fishing zones where local fishermen benefit through the increase in fish numbers outside the protected zone.

President Correa said upon the creation of the sanctuary:

The Galápagos Islands have extraordinary ecological value, and also economic value. The government of Ecuador supports the creation of a marine sanctuary to leave an inheritance to our children and our children's children; a wonderful world where as many species as possible are preserved for the enjoyment and knowledge of future generations.

According to National Geographic, "the ocean off the Galápagos is an unusually productive ecosystem, thanks to the convergence of four major currents and upwelling of nutrient-rich waters." Now, it will be protected.

Tags: Ecuador | Galapagos | Preservation | Sharks

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