January 14, 2022

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By Avrah Sellar, Mission Blue


Today, January 14th, 2022, the President of Ecuador, Guillermo Lasso, signed an official decree enhancing the marine protected area (MPA) around the Galápagos Archipelago in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean. The decree will expand protections by 60,000 square kilometers (23,166 square miles); half of which will be fully protected where no extractive activities are allowed. The new protected area known as La Hermandad, “the sisterhood,” will extend to the maritime border of Costa Rica offering an opportunity for multi-national cooperation to manage marine life like sharks, sea turtles and whales which migrate across countries waters.

 

Map illustrating the new boundaries of the expansion 

 

Present at the ceremony was Dr. Sylvia Earle and Max Bello, Global Ocean Policy Advisor for Mission Blue, who attended at the invitation of the President. Throughout the week, Dr. Earle and Bello visited with community leaders, met with members of the Ecuadorian government and celebrated the exciting announcement by diving together with partners in one of the world’s most iconic marine ecosystems.

 

Max Bello (left) with Lucas Bustamante, photographer and naturalist of SeaLegacy, Dr. Sylvia Earle (center), and Gustavo Manrique, Ecuador Minister of Environment enjoy a celebratory dive (c) Britt Bellow 

 

Dr. Sylvia Earle, Founder of Mission Blue and National Geographic Explorer in Residence says, “Bravo, President Guillermo Lasso, and all who are supporting enhanced protection for wildlife in the ocean surrounding the Galápagos Islands, where most of the terrain is submerged – and most of the animals are aquatic. Protecting sardines and sharks have benefits that are as significant as safeguarding creatures like songbirds and sea lions. All are integral to the magical nature of the ‘Enchanted Islands’ with profound benefits to the world beyond.”

 

Whale Shark, Darwin Island (c) Kip Evans

 

President Lasso had previously announced the intent to expand protections for the Galápagos during COP26 in 2021, but the signing ceremony of the Presidential decree will officially commit the government to create the envisioned protections. This action serves as a major step forward for not only Ecuador’s marine conservation policy but will influence future actions to further protect the country’s waters and consolidate existing protections throughout the broader Eastern Tropical Pacific region.

 
Gustavo Manrique, Minister of Environment (left), and Max Bello (c) Lucas Bustamante, SeaLegacy

 

Bello commented on the expanded protections. “The Eastern Tropical Pacific region is a world-renowned hotspot for marine biodiversity, including endangered sharks, sea turtles and whales”, he says. “Today, the government and people of Ecuador have taken an important step in enhancing protections for the incredible marine life of the Galápagos Islands, a central piece of the ETP region.”

 

Dr. Sylvia Earle and Fisk Johnson in the DeepSee at Darwin Island during the Mission Blue Expedition to the Galápagos in 2019 (c) Amanda Townsel

 

Today’s signing ceremony also builds on a promise made last year by President Lasso along with the Presidents of Colombia, Costa Rica and Panama to work together to protect the Eastern Tropical Pacific “seascape.” If successful, linking up marine protections across the four countries waters would be a first of its kind and would safeguard migratory marine species across their range. However, more work is needed to ensure these protected areas are of adequate size and are fully protected.

“The government of Ecuador is providing massive Hope in the waters of Galápagos in the form of a new MPA”, says Carl Gustaf Lundin, Managing Director, Mission Blue. He elaborates, “Galápagos is a beacon of Hope in the Pacific Ocean and its new MPA is also inspiring other nations to meet their 30X30 targets.”

 

Blue footed booby (c) Dr. Sylvia Earle

 

Dr. Earle concludes, “The Galápagos Archipelago is a wellspring of life in the Eastern Tropical Pacific, supporting a wide array of iconic marine species including manta rays, penguins and the marine iguana. But for too long, marine life was under threat just beyond the Archipelago’s protected coasts. Following today’s Presidential decree, Ecuador has expanded this sanctuary and will now ensure better protection for marine life like sharks or the endangered green sea turtle which migrates beyond coastal waters and into the open ocean. President Lasso and the people of Ecuador have given us a victory worth celebrating.”

 

Gustavo Manrique, Minister of Environment (left) and Dr. Sylvia Earle (c) Lucas Bustamante, SeaLegacy

We want to recognize our partners in this work: The Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Program (PBOL), for their global leadership in advancing highly and fully protected marine areas, MigraMar for providing scientific and technical expertise underpinning the enhanced protections, SeaLegacy/OnlyOne for their collaboration with us to enhance communications capacity, draw international attention to the need to protect the Galápagos and maintain momentum surrounding Ecuador’s conservation advancements, and Mas Galápagos, a collection of local NGOs and partners including Island Conservation who worked together with Mission Blue and PBOL on the expansion. 

To dive deeper into the Galápagos Islands and nearby connected Hope Spots in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean, explore the interactive StoryMap hosted on Esri.

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