Ecuador expands protected area around Galapagos Islands

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Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso announced Friday that his government will expand protected waters off the Galapagos Islands to include a migratory corridor for sharks, turtles, fish and marine mammals.

Presidential order will create more than 23,000 square miles of new protected ocean around one of the most biodiverse marine ecosystems on Earth – where penguins and tropical fish swim with turtles and sea lions, migratory hammerheads and tuna in the cold swim in the ocean to mate, lay eggs and feed. Protection measures will extend to Costa Rica’s southern maritime border.

The new sanctuary will “protect the undersea mountain range that stretches from the northeastern Galapagos to the Cocos Islands of Costa Rica,” as well as fishing and long-track operations outside the area the animals use as a “metro” to traverse this environmentally rich region. Ecuadorian Environment Minister Gustavo Manrique.

The new area will expand the 51,352-square-mile Galapagos Marine Reserve by nearly 50 percent and support a series of protected areas established along the Pacific coast by South American countries such as Costa Rica and Panama.

“It’s amazing and unbelievable how these countries have come together to build this marine network,” said Matt Rand, senior director of marine habitat conservation at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Forming these reserves has been a focus of Ecuador’s new president, who was elected last year.

Ecuador has one of the largest Pacific fishing fleets in South America and is the largest producer of tuna in the Western Hemisphere, accounting for about 4 percent of the world’s total tuna catch.

“This decree is an incredible precedent,” said Norman Ray, former chairman of the Galapagos Council of Governments, noting that the fishing industry worked with the government to create the protected area. It also “helps reduce fishing pressure in the Galapagos Marine Reserve.”

In the summer of 2020, more than 300 Chinese fishing vessels — including processing vessels, oil tankers and industrial-grade vessels designed to hold 1,000-tonne catches — were spotted fishing on the boundaries of the marine protected area.

The reserve has become a sanctuary and nursery for a variety of marine life. This is a place where fish, sharks and rays are protected from overfishing and accidental fishing, heavy shipping and pollution. So it’s also a great place for fishing – boats line up around the perimeter, hoping to catch a bounty when the animals move out.

“That’s how it should be,” said Rand of the Pew Charitable Trusts. “A healthy ecosystem will produce fish. That’s good for biodiversity and good for a sustainable fishing fleet.”