The president of Ecuador, Guillermo Lasso, announced Monday in Glasgow the expansion of the marine reserve of the Galapagos Islands, considered a natural treasure, in a move that involves Colombia, Costa Rica and Panama.
“I announce the declaration of a new marine reserve in Galapagos,” Lasso said at a summit of world leaders at COP26, specifying that the current reserve, established in 1998, of more than 130,000 km2 will be expanded by 60,000 km2.
The reserve will grow to the north towards the limits with Costa Rica on the submarine mountain range of Los Cocos (which begins in the archipelago and extends to Mexico).
The Cocos Ridge links the Galapagos to Cocos Island, a Costa Rican island in the Pacific, and is an area rich in biodiversity.
According to Lasso, the Galapagos expansion “contemplates 30,000 kilometers of non-fishing production area and 30,000 kilometers of non-longline area to the northwest” of the archipelago.
“We will work with sister countries: Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica. A corridor will be created that will connect our waters and form a safe migration route,” he said.
Debt for conservation
The Ecuadorian leader proposed the exchange of national external debt for the conservation of the archipelago.
“This decision by Ecuador will cause financial proposals to be made to swap debt for conservation,” said the president.
Ecuador, with 17.7 million inhabitants, faces an economic crisis aggravated by Covid-19 with an external debt of almost $46 billion (45% of GDP).
“We estimate that it will be the highest amount of debt swap that has been carried out in the world,” Lasso said.
Of the total Ecuadorian liabilities, 15.6% corresponds to debt with other countries, such as England, Spain and the United States, according to the Central Bank.
“We will be very careful to evaluate each of the proposals in order to maximize the environmental conservation effects in this marine reserve area,” Lasso said.
Declared a Natural Heritage of Humanity, he described Galapagos as a “national treasure that must be protected for its invaluable natural wealth for the planet.”
Galapagos, which takes its name from the gigantic endemic tortoises that inhabit that archipelago, is located 1,000 km off the coast of Ecuador, in the South Pacific, and inspired the theory of the evolution of species by Charles Darwin.
A living laboratory
The protected area of Galapagos, where industrial fishing is prohibited, is the second largest in the world with 133,000 km2. More than 2,900 existing marine species have been reported there. It also has the Galapagos National Park (PNG) that has an area of 8,000 km2 and is considered by experts as the archipelago of volcanic origin in the best state of conservation in the world.
The Ecuadorian president insisted that “the new marine reserve will also serve as a living laboratory for scientific research that contributes so much to the progress of the world.”
At the COP26 summit, the president spoke of “moving towards an ecological transition that allows us a productive and sustainable economic development” and called on world leaders “to stop talking about climate change and give way to action decisively.”
Ecuador, which according to Lasso is the most megadiverse country in the world with 9.2 species per km2, created in March 2016 within the Galapagos marine reserve a sanctuary of 38,000 km2 to protect the hammerhead shark, an endangered species.