Ecuador expands sea life protections around Galapagos

Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso (fifth from left), sitting between former US president Bill Clinton and Colombian President Ivan Duque, cutting a rope during the inauguration of the extended marine reserve on Jan 14, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

The Straits Times – World – 16 January

PUERTO AYORA (AFP) – Ecuador has created a massive new marine reserve north of its Galapagos Islands, forming a Pacific corridor up to Costa Rica’s Cocos Island National Park to preserve species of migratory fauna, such as sharks.

President Guillermo Lasso, on board a scientific vessel from the Galapagos National Park anchored in the bay of Puerto Ayora off Santa Cruz Island, signed the decree on Friday (Jan 14) creating the new reserve called Hermandad, or “Brotherhood”.

To mark the opening of the marine reserve, he then cut a ribbon made out of materials collected during coastal cleanups conducted in the Galapagos.

The new reserve is incorporated into the 138,000 sq km of reserve that have existed since March 1998.

So the archipelago that inspired English naturalist Charles Darwin has now expanded to an impressive 198,000 sq km of protected marine area.

The Galapagos marine reserve, in which industrial fishing is prohibited, is the second-largest in the world. More than 2,900 marine species have been reported within the archipelago, which is a Natural World Heritage Site.

The authorities are planning for protected areas in adjacent Colombia and Panama to join later, creating an international marine biosphere reserve.

The leaders of those two countries also signed the decree along with Mr Lasso.

Mr Lasso announced the expansion of the Galapagos marine reserve, which has unique flora and fauna and fragile ecosystems, last November in Glasgow on the occasion of the COP26 United Nations climate summit.

The project was in exchange for a reduction in Ecuador’s international debt.

The creation of the reserve is a “clear message for the world”, said Mr Lasso on Friday, describing it as a “new relationship with the earth, a new understanding of what constitutes progress for humanity”.

Colombian President Ivan Duque and former US president Bill Clinton attended the event, together with government officials from Costa Rica and Panama.

Mr Duque said that eventually adding Colombia’s Malpelo islands and Panama’s Coiba islands to the vast marine reserve will allow for the migration of species such as sea turtles, whales, sharks and manta rays.

This new reserve “will guarantee the survival of 40 per cent of the world’s marine species”, Mr Duque said.

“We may be a small territory… but the planet is also ours,” said Mr Lasso.

“The seas are great regulators of the global climate,” he said, adding that “taking care of them is not naive idealism, it is a vital necessity”.

Located in the Pacific some 1,000km off the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands are a protected wildlife area and home to unique species of flora and fauna.

The archipelago was made famous by British geologist and naturalist Charles Darwin’s observations on evolution there.

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