An Irreplaceable Natural Wonder
Galápagos Marine Reserve, a 2019 Blue Park, protects a large area extending 74 km from the Galápagos islands’ shoreline and is one of the most biologically diverse MPAs in the world. Uniquely positioned at the confluence of three ocean currents, the waters surrounding the Galápagos are a hotspot of biodiversity and home to over 3,000 marine species, more than 20% of which are found nowhere else on the planet. They are known to feature a wide range of marine wildlife including sharks, sea lions, fur seals, rays, cormorants, whales, dolphins, albatrosses, marine iguanas, sea turtles, tropical fish, and even the most northern-living penguins. In addition to serving as a vital refuge for marine life, Galápagos Marine Reserve acts as a "seedbed,'' guaranteeing food security for coastal communities of Ecuador now and in the future.
Since its establishment, the Galápagos Marine Reserve has contributed to the conservation of species and marine ecosystems throughout the Eastern Tropical Pacific. However, current global changes pose significant conservation challenges, especially those related to the effects of climate change, overfishing and illegal fishing, as well as the survival of threatened and highly migratory marine species. Over the past 20 years, scientific knowledge about highly mobile or migratory species in the region has increased significantly. While the Galapagos Islands are a marine biodiversity hotspot, and that the Galápagos Marine Reserve is crucial for the survival of many species, the current level of protection is insufficient for these wide ranging and migratory species, many of which forage in oceanic ecosystems or migrate to other habitats located over 3000 km away from the islands, in some cases following well-established migratory routes.
In the light of these challenging and competing conditions, it is crucial to strengthen the protection of the open water ecosystems around the Galápagos Marine Reserve, and to ensure the sustainable use of marine resources throughout the EEZ surrounding the islands.
A Proposal for Expanded Protections
Marine Conservation Institute is joining SeaLegacy, Only One, The Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Program, MasGalapagos, Migramar, Mission Blue, Pacífico Libre, Tropical Herping, The Leatherback Project, Mare Nostrum, and a coalition of various other Ecuadorian and international organizations, scientists, and members of local communities, to call for urgent action -- the expansion of protections for marine life to include the waters surrounding the Galápagos Marine Reserve.
Expanding marine protections will create an additional buffer between marine life and fishing fleets, giving these species a better chance of survival. While the existing Galápagos Marine Reserve protects resident coastal marine species, species which forage in the open ocean or migrate along pathways outside of the reserve, such as sharks, turtles and seabirds, need increased protection. Marine life does not recognize the borders of protected areas, so they end up as easy prey for these fishing fleets which catch them as they enter and leave, and often even lure them out with the use of fish aggregating devices (FADs). Expanding marine protections will give these species a chance of survival.
Figure 1. Proposal for integrated management of the entire Galapagos (Ecuador) EEZ. The proposal contemplates the creation of a marine reserve area (Zone 1, in blue), where extractive activities are not permitted; and the creation of two Responsible Fishing Zones (Zone 2, in green), where fishing is permitted under certain conditions to manage activities sustainably. FADs would not be permitted in Zone 2b. Zone 3 (in orange) would be managed under the same conditions as Zone 2a, except during El Niño events, when it would become a temporary no-take zone.