A baby hammerhead shark swims along the coast of Santa Cruz Island in Galapagos, Ecuador.
A baby hammerhead shark swims along the coast of Santa Cruz Island in Galapagos, Ecuador. Photographer: Pablo Cozzaglio/AFP/Getty

Galapagos Islands Expands Marine Life Protections to Curb Overfishing

The Galapagos Islands, home to one of the richest marine ecosystems in the world, will enjoy greater environmental protection after Ecuador moved to deliver on a promise from the COP26 climate summit.

Ecuador President Guillermo Lasso signed a decree on Friday expanding the marine protected area around the Galapagos Islands by nearly 50% to cover an additional 60,000 square kilometers (23,000 square miles). The order bans commercial fishing in half of the area and severely limits fishing activity in the other half.

New Swimway

Ecuador’s expanded marine reserve will provide a safe corridor to Costa Rican waters for migrating species

Marine reserves

Exclusive Economic Zones

Shark and turtle migration routes

COSTA RICA

PANAMA

Coiba National

Park

Cocos Island

National Park

La Hermandad

Marine Reserve

Malpelo Fauna and

Flora Sanctuary

No fishing

COLOMBIA

Galapagos

Marine Reserve

No longline

fishing

ECUADOR

ECUADOR

Pacific Ocean

250 km

250 mi

Marine reserves

Exclusive Economic Zones

Shark and turtle migration routes

COSTA RICA

PANAMA

Coiba National

Park

Cocos Island

National Park

Malpelo Fauna and

Flora Sanctuary

La Hermandad

Marine Reserve

No fishing

COLOMBIA

Galapagos

Marine Reserve

No longline

fishing

ECUADOR

ECUADOR

200 km

Pacific Ocean

200 mi

Marine reserves

Exclusive Economic Zones

Shark and turtle migration routes

COSTA RICA

PANAMA

Cocos Island

National Park

La Hermandad

Marine Reserve

COLOMBIA

Galapagos

Marine Reserve

ECUADOR

ECUADOR

200 km

Pacific Ocean

200 mi

Marine reserves

Exclusive Economic Zones

Shark and turtle migration routes

COSTA RICA

PANAMA

Coiba National

Park

Cocos Island

National Park

Malpelo Fauna and

Flora Sanctuary

La Hermandad

Marine Reserve

No fishing

COLOMBIA

Galapagos

Marine Reserve

No longline

fishing

ECUADOR

ECUADOR

Pacific Ocean

200 km

200 mi

Sources: Mission Blue, Protected Planet, Environment Ministry, Marine Regions, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The new boundary is the first step in ultimately linking the marine reserves of Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Panama together to form the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor. It covers important migratory routes for a number of species in danger of extinction, including sea turtles, whales, sharks and manta rays, as well as tuna. The region also includes some of the world’s few well-preserved coral reefs.

The latest push to protect the Galapagos comes as it faces greater threats from overfishing, including concerns that large Chinese industrial fleets are expanding their operations in the region. There’s widespread belief in Ecuador that Chinese boats targeted sharks, some of which are endangered, after a vessel captured by Ecuador’s navy in 2017 had more than 6,000 frozen sharks on board. China has refuted allegations of illegal fishing.

President Guillermo Lasso, center, holds the decree he signed at an event aboard a boat surrounded by people, including former U.S. President Bill Clinton
President Guillermo Lasso, center, holds the decree he signed aboard a boat off the coast of the Galapagos Islands on Jan. 14. Photographer: Johis Alarcon/Bloomberg

Enforcing the new boundary will be challenging for political and financial reasons. Ecuador owes China close to $5 billion and is in the process of negotiating a free trade agreement with Beijing. Lasso will travel to China next month for bilateral economic discussions.

Lasso is also trying to balance protecting the environment against Ecuador’s economic needs. Fishing, tourism and maritime transport are a $3 billion industry in the Galapagos, and the country is also seeking investment in oil and mining on the mainland. It held talks in November with a U.S. development bank to raise funds for protecting the new marine reserve, potentially through a bond deal underwritten by the bank.