Green Light in the Galápagos

Marine Conservation Institute is thrilled by Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa’s declaration to strongly protect a vast area of important marine habitat surrounding the Galápagos Islands, the source of inspiration for Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. This decision protects an unparalleled legacy of marine life and ocean habitat for generations to come.

Galapagos Sea Lion
A Galapagos sea lion chases a large school of Salema fish off Isabela Island. Photo by Enric Sala/National Geographic. Photo from National Geographic Pristine Seas (pristineseas.org).

While there have been marine protections around the Galápagos Islands since 1974, including a large expansion of the Galápagos Marine Reserve  in 1998 to encompass 133,000 km2, less than one percent of the surrounding water was fully protected up until March 21, 2016. The recent conservation action by the Ecuadorian government changed all of this. An expansive sanctuary area now stretches around the northern Galápagos islands of Darwin and Wolf along with twelve additional strongly protected conservation zones adjacent to the southern islands, fully protecting a whopping 47,000 km2 of marine area in no-take areas where extractive activities are prohibited (see MPAtlas.org). This huge success for the marine life and people of the Galápagos Islands was made possible by the tremendous efforts of Dr. Enric Sala and the National Geographic Society’s Pristine Seas program (read more about their work in the Galápagos).

National Geographic Pristine Seas at Galápagos from Pristine Seas on Vimeo.

Ranging from reef sharks to hammerheads, the islands of Wolf and Darwin are home to the world’s greatest concentration of shark species. However, with pirate fishers selling shark fins on the Asian black market, illegal fishing has taken a toll on the prolific marine life of the Galápagos. The Pristine Seas project and the University of California, Santa Barbara, calculated a dead shark to be worth $200 to a single fisherman whereas a single, living shark in the Galápagos is valued at about $5.4 million over its lifetime due to the thriving diving and tourism industry. Strongly protecting the waters around the islands will in turn protect the economy of the Galápagos Islands.

The new protections prohibit extraction of natural resources, including fishing, mining and oil drilling, with the exception of artisanal fishing within the new designations, both sanctuary and conservation zones. The sanctuary will allow for scientific research and tourism access only. “Ecuador has shown tremendous leadership by protecting one of the most globally valuable places in the ocean,” said Dr. Enric Sala.

Each new fully protected marine area, such as the new Galápagos marine sanctuary, brings us one step closer to creating a Global Ocean Refuge System that protects 30 percent of the global ocean. Learn more about the Global Ocean Refuge System, an initiative of Marine Conservation Institute.

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