Ecuador Expands Galapagos Marine Protected Area by Nearly 50 Percent

Presidencia ECU
President Guillermo Lasso displays the signed decree, Jan. 14 (Presidencia ECU)

Published Jan 16, 2022 8:02 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Friday, Ecuadoran President Guillermo Lasso formalized a new marine reserve, dramatically expanding the protected waters around the Galapagos Islands.

The decision was first announced in November, coinciding with the COP26 climate conference, and was finalized with a signing ceremony on Friday. The presidential decree establishes a new 17,500 square nautical mile marine protected area to the north of the Galapagos, called the Hermandad Marine Reserve. It expands the 39,000 square nm Galapagos Marine Reserve by nearly 50 percent.

The new reserve area is part of a planned marine thoroughfare for migratory sharks, whales, sea turtles, manta rays and other creatures that transit between the Galapagos and Costa Rica's Cocos Island, located about 400 nm to the northeast. Neighboring Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica are discussing plans to contribute marine reserves of their own to complete a continuous, protected path between and around the islands. 

Half of the new Hermandad Reserve is fully protected from fishing activity, and the other half is covered by a longline fishing ban. The measure had strong local support in the tourism- and fishery-dependent Galapagos, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. 

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

However, the expansion of the marine reserve will only change facts on the ground if it is enforced, according to conservationists. Enric Sala, head of the marine-reserve NGO Pristine Seas and a National Geographic explorer-in-residence, told the Washington Post that it's common to find longliners operating illegally inside of the existing Galapagos reserve. Without added enforcement effort, the same illegal fishing operations might continue in the new Hermandad Reserve, he suggested. 

In remarks accompanying the signing of the decree, President Lasso called for a whole-of-society effort to preserve Ecuador's oceans. "I invite civil society, academia, private companies and NGOs to join this purpose. Let us continue joining efforts to conserve and care for this treasure of the Earth, for present and future generations," he said.