Ecuador Expands Protected Galapagos Marine Reserve by More Than 23,000 Square Miles

The reserve now protects 76,448 square miles of marine habitat.

Green turtle (Chelonia mydas) swimming underwater
A green turtle swims in the Galapagos. Paul Souders / Getty Images

Ecuador recently announced it would protect more than 23,000 square miles (60,000 square kilometers) of ocean between the Galapagos Marine Reserve and Costa Rica.

The decree extends the existing protected area, bringing the total area to 76,448 square miles (198,000 square kilometers) of marine habitat. The new Hermandad Marine Reserve includes an 11,583-mile (30,000-square-kilometer) “no-take” area where removing plants and animals is strictly banned.

Conservationists lauded the announcement to protect one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems. The reserve will offer protection to threatened resident and migratory species including sharks, whales, sea turtles, and manta rays.

"The expansion of the Galapagos Marine Reserve and creation of the Hermandad Marine Reserve that links it to protected Costa Rican waters represents a historic victory for ocean conservation in Galapagos and globally," Washington Tapia, director of conservation for the Galapagos Conservancy, tells Treehugger.

"This area has one of the richest concentrations of biodiversity on the planet, including a wide range of migratory species, so by securing this new protected area, a major vulnerability for marine wildlife that has previously been a haven for industrial fishing, including shark finning fleets, has been eliminated. Marine wildlife does not understand where humans draw administrative limits on protected areas, so by expanding them, we will be better able to protect these species, especially migratory ones."

Marine Reserves and Climate Change

Marine reserves are a type of marine protected area (MPA). Marine reserves are zero-take, fully protected MPAs which ban all activities that harm or remove any type of marine life. Partially protected MPAs allow some human activities, such as swimming, boating, fishing, or snorkeling, inside its borders.

Marine reserves are considered one way to fight climate change. They promote biodiversity, improve water quality, and protect habitats and species from human interference.

The leaders of Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia announced that their countries would join together with Ecuador to expand and connect their current marine protected areas. The expansion will protect the marine animals that travel the migratory super-highway to Costa Rica’s Cocos Island.

In signing the declaration, Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso said, “As of today, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, and Ecuador are going to protect and connect two of the most biologically significant habitats in the world. Today we are declaring a marine reserve for an area of 60,000 square kilometers that are added to the ocean, the great climate regulator.”

Environmental and Economic Benefits

The new reserve was created with the support of the people of Galapagos, conservationists, the government, and the fishing industry.

Not long after the Galapagos Marine Reserve was created in 1998, fish populations rebounded so much there that they carried over into neighboring areas. Commercial tuna fishing grew substantially in those adjacent areas.

“We’re proud that our local community and the fishing industry came together in support of these marine protections,” said Ecuador’s minister of the environment, Gustavo Manrique, in a statement. “We all depend on the continued vitality of these rich waters and understand that preserving our ocean provides significant social, economic, and environmental benefits.”

Residents and government officials, and scientists in the area strongly support maintaining marine protections. Many have worked with the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project supporting researchers and economists to consider options for expanding Galapagos marine protections that would benefit the ecosystem, as well as the economy and fishers.

“The waters surrounding the Galápagos host some of the highest rates of species found nowhere else on the planet," Luis Villanueva, officer, Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project, tells Treehugger. "Ecuador’s new protections will help ensure that this incredible and irreplaceable marine ecosystem remains healthy far into the future—benefiting both people and nature.”

The project is working to increase the number of fully protected parks in the ocean from nine to 15 by the end of 2022.

“Ecuador has added a vital piece to the marine conservation puzzle for the Eastern Tropical Pacific region—some of the world’s most abundant and biodiverse waters,” said Dona Bertarelli, co-chair of the Bertarelli Foundation and Patron for Nature for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

“Protecting this critical migration route helps preserve biodiversity throughout the region, build resilience against climate change, and moves us closer to the global goal of protecting 30% of our planet by 2030. This is an important win for marine life—and the fisheries and communities that depend on it.”

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