Marine Sanctuary in the Galapagos Islands
Home to a wealth of rare and endemic species, the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador are one of the world’s most impressive natural treasures demonstrating incredible biodiversity. Already designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the shimmering blue waters around the islands themselves have just earned their own designation: a marine sanctuary, officially protected as of March 21st, 2016.
The newly designated Galapagos Marine Sanctuary includes an area of 15,000-square-miles (40,000-square-kilometers), making it the second largest marine sanctuary in the world, together with 21 smaller conservations areas scattered throughout the rest of the archipelago. To imagine how significant that space is…It’s the same size as the entire country of Belgium.
The new marine sanctuary is centered around two of the Galapagos’ northern islands, Darwin and Wolf, which are well-known for the diving paradise under the surface: including the world’s largest concentration of sharks, notably hammerheads and reef sharks (just two of the 34 different shark species found here).
The push for this notable designation significantly gained momentum in December 2015, when the National Geographic Society conducted a Pristine Seas Expedition of the Galapagos Islands. Led by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala and a Pristine Seas team of international filmmakers and scientists, the waters around the islands were extensively surveyed and documented. They focused on both deep and offshore environments, and identified a need for greater protection of the Galapagos waters.
Climate change, industrial trawlers and illegal shark fin poaching have threatened this pristine aquatic environment, yet another region of the world in which shark populations are rapidly declining. An estimated 100 million sharks are killed every year, far overwhelming the ability of shark populations to ever recover. Additionally concerning are the implications that go far beyond the need to protect wildlife itself, with impacts trickling into the country’s economy as well. With tourists traveling from around the world to visit the Galapagos Islands, the value of the marine life of the archipelago as a tourist attraction far outweighs the value of these animals in the fishing industry, and their loss threatens the value of the Galapagos Islands.
The Pristine Seas team finally achieved their goal for increased protection of the waters with the Marine Sanctuary designation, and have been able to see through a landmark development in marine wildlife conservation. Now, Ecuador leading the way in worldwide conservation efforts, while also protecting a vital part of their own economy. The Ecuadorian government hopes that this new designation will help support a breeding ground to allow sharks to grow to full size and repopulate the world’s oceans, and put pressure on others in the international community to affect change.
As a result of the marine sanctuary designation, one third of the waters in the Galapagos are now protected from fishing, mining, or oil drilling- a drastic change from the less than one percent of waters fully protected prior. Combined with the ninety-seven percent of the Galapagos Islands’ land mass that is under full protection as a national park, the Galapagos region as a whole will be preserved and protected as it should be, on and off shore.
A wonderful achievement in protecting the local flora and fauna, the Galapagos Marine Sanctuary is sure to preserve the natural beauty of the archipelago for generations to come. For more information about booking a Galapagos Islands cruise, please contact us.