Ecuador expands protected area around Galapagos Islands, providing safe passage for marine life

Ecuadorean 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.

The presidential decree will create more than 23,000 square miles of newly protected ocean around one of the planet’s most biodiverse marine ecosystems — a place where penguins and tropical fish swim with sea turtles and sea lions, as migrating hammerheads and tuna maneuver through the cold waters to mate, spawn and feed. The protections will extend northward to Costa Rica’s southern coastal border.

The new reserve will “protect submarine mountains” which extend northeast from the Galapagos archipelago towards Costa Rica’s Cocos Island. It will also keep long-lining out of an area that animals use to “subway” through this area, according to Gustavo Manrique (Ecuador’s environment minister).

The new area will expand the 51,352-square-mile Galapagos Marine Reserve by nearly 50% and bolster a chain of nature reserves that nations including Costa Rica and Panama have built along the Pacific coast. “It’s amazing and unbelievable how these countries have come together to create this marine network,” stated Matt Rand, senior director for marine habitat protection at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Lasso was elected president in 2013. This has been the focus of Lasso.

Ecuador is home to the Pacific’s largest fishing fleets and the largest Western Hemisphere tuna producers. It accounts for approximately 4% of all world tuna catch.

” This decree is an amazing precedent,” Norman Wray, ex-president of the Governing Council of the Galapagos said. He noted that the government created the reserves after the cooperation of the fishing industry.

It also “helps reduce fishing pressure over the Marine Reserve of the Galapagos,” Wray stated.

In the summer of 2020, over 300 Chinese fishing vessels — including processing ships, tankers and industrial-sized boats that hold 1,000 tons of catch — were spotted fishing along the border of the reserve.

The reserve has become a shelter and nursery for a wide variety of sea life, protecting fish, sharks and rays from over- and incidental fishing, high-volume shipping traffic, and pollution. It is also a place that is known for its fishing, with boats waiting around the perimeter to capture some of the bounty.

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

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