Ecuador to expand marine reserve around legendary Galapagos

Deployed in the fight against climate change, the new protected area is expected to cover about 60,000sq km.

The expansion of the protected area will be financed by trading debt for conservation, said Ecuador's President Guillermo Lasso [File: Nacho Doce/Reuters]

Ecuador’s president has announced plans to expand the marine-protected area around the Galapagos Islands, known for some of the planet’s most exotic animals.

The Galapagos Marine Reserve is already one of the largest in the world, at 133,000 square kilometres, but it will be expanded to include an additional 60,000sq km, Guillermo Lasso said on Monday.

The expansion will add the Cocos Ridge, which extends towards Costa Rica and is a feeding and migration area for endangered species.

The new reserve will be divided into two equal areas. In one, fishing will be totally banned, while in the other only fishing without so-called long lines will be allowed.

Created from volcanoes, the Galapagos Islands harbour wildlife that inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and his landmark scientific work, On the Origin of Species.

The area is home to giant tortoises, marine iguanas, penguins, sea lions and the magnificent frigatebird, among other species.

Today, however, the area’s marine life is threatened by climate change, illegal fishing and other challenges.

A massive Chinese fishing fleet operating near the area, for example, gained global attention last year over concerns about the potential impact on marine wildlife.

“Today is a day that will remain in the history,” the Ecuadorian president said on Monday from international climate change talks in Glasgow, Scotland, where he announced the new protected area.

“This will not only strengthen the area’s biodiversity, but it will also bolster our combat against climate change,” Lasso said.

A conservative former banker who took office in May, Lasso is facing protests at home over fuel-price hikes and other issues.

He told delegates at Glasgow’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) that the expanded protected area will be financed by trading debt for conservation, in a bid to create a trust fund.

The view from the top of Bartolome Island in the Galapagos Islands in 2013 [File: Jorge Silva/Reuters]

The new fund, Lasso said, will allow Ecuador to finance the preservation of the area and invest in better infrastructure and technology for the islands.

“We estimate it will be the biggest debt swap for conservation that has taken place globally until now,” Lasso said, without providing a figure or further details.

In May, Darwin’s Arch, a famed natural rock formation in the Galapagos Islands, collapsed into the sea as a result of erosion, Ecuadorian environmental officials said at the time.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies