New Galapagos shark sanctuary welcomed by Galapagos youth and international community

Thursday 24th March 2016

A new Galapagos shark sanctuary was officially inaugurated yesterday on the main island x after weeks of detailed negotiation between Ecuador´s National Park authorities and the artisanal fishing, eco-tourism and other communities. The “no-take” marine protection zone will provide crucial protection to an area which is home to the world´s greatest biomass of sharks.

An area almost the size of Belgium, around the northern most islands of the Galapagos, Darwin and Wolf, will now be off limits for all fishing. Ecuador will provide complete protection for a globally important shark congregation area and the mega-biodiverse ecosystem they rely on. It is part of a comprehensive and innovative new zonal approach to protect the archipelago integrating land and marine efforts.

The inauguration event on the islands yesterday followed a launch hosted by President Correa in Quito, Ecuador´s capital on Monday. It was an opportunity for different sectors of the Galapagos community to come together to commit to protecting this precious and fragile environment on behalf of the world. It was particularly important for young Galapageños who´s future relies on striking a new balance to conserve the biodiversity of the islands, as global warming threatens to raise sea levels, facilitate invasive species and disrupt the unique evolutionary process there. Youth groups including surfers, bikers, volunteers and even the Tae Wan Do Team of Galápagos attended to give their backing.

The scheme has been supported by the National Geographic which has been filming the shark population for a new documentary about the area “Pristine Seas”. It has been welcomed worldwide including by UNESCO and all of the major international ocean conservation organisations – WWF, Greenpeace, Conservation International, PEW and The Helmsley Trust.

ENDS

Please contact Louise Hutchins louise.hutchins@ambiente.gob.ec  +593 (0)983 58389  (English language)  for photos from the inauguration event, interviews with the Environment Minister, National Park chief and NGOs, b-roll video, and further details.

Stunning photographs of the shark sanctuary are here.

MESSAGES OF SUPPORT FOR THE SANCTUARY

GALAPAGOS YOUTH

Pedro López Toala 21, Volunteer director of Youth movements of Santa Cruz

“The shark sanctuary is definitely good news for young people growing up here on the islands. We know that our whole future relies on this amazing place staying amazing – for eco-tourism, for artisanal fishing and for being able to enjoy and appreciate the nature that surrounds us.”

Andrea Andrade 27, Leader COP 10 Galápagos said:

“Count me in! I love sharks and I know that when you protect the shark’s home you’re protecting the whole magical underwater world here and for hundreds of kilometres around!”

Álvaro Salazar Rodríguez 30, youth leader of Santa Cruz

“I know that this new shark sanctuary, and the bigger plan here for tougher nature protection, has been difficult at times to agree between the different parts of the community and the government, but it has to be worth it. We have to take care of this incredible place, not just for ourselves but for the world. We take that seriously here.”

INTERNATIONAL NGOS AND TRUSTS

WWF Country Director for Ecuador, Hugo Arna said:

“It is incredibly important for the population of sharks in the Galapagos, not only for the sharks, but for the penguins, the cormorants, the fish that are endemic to the Galapagos. It is a big decision, and we as an organisation are going to give all our help with the delivery for Ecuador.”

Conservation International´s Director Norman Wray said:

“This is excellent news for the world, a gift for the whole of humanity. It´s a very important decision for the islands of Darwin and Wolf and increases the conservation in Galapagos. It shows fantastic political will from President Correa and everyone who has been involved. We support the decision 100% and we are committed to following with support for the National Park of Galapagos for the implementation. We are delighted with this news”

UNESCO´s head of natural sciences, Jorge Ellis said:

“This is the conclusion of major work and collaboration with the non-governmental sector, the work of the National Park has been immense. I think the combination of the Darwin and Wolf sanctuary and the zonal protection system for the Galapagos is a big advance. It opens a door as well for resources – human talent and technology to protect the Galapagos.”

The Helmsley Charitable Trust’s Conservation Program Officer Renu Saini said:

“President Correa’s announcement marks an important occasion for ocean conservation. “

“We are thrilled to see this critical achievement shared by many who have worked collaboratively to secure the health of the Galápagos Islands, and we commend the outstanding commitment of Ecuador’s Government Council for the Galápagos Special Regime, Galápagos National Park, Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Tourism to work together to protect the ecological integrity of one of the most biodiverse places in the ocean.”

Environment Minister Dr Daniel Ortega Pacheco said about the agreement:

 “These pristine waters around the Galapagos archipelago are precious not just for Ecuadorians but for the whole balance of our ocean systems. Shark populations in steep decline around the world come here to rest and breed and we want to guarantee complete sanctuary for them.”

“This new no-take zone is a beautiful example of what can be done when governments work collaboratively with local people and international organisations to find new innovative solutions to the problems we must face together.”

“We hope this initiative will help draw global attention to the pressure on our oceans and inspire tougher international action on industrial fishing, shark fin hunting and global warming.”

NOTES FOR EDITORS

  1. THE NEW MARINE SANCTUARY

The new no-take zone sanctuary spans an area of 14,642 nautical miles, almost the size of Belgium, around the most northern islands of Darwin and Wolf.  It is within one of the largest marine reserves in the world, recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, which was created by Ecuador 18 years ago to protect the unique habitat from giant industrial fishing trawlers.

Only small local artisanal fishing cooperatives have been allowed to operate in the area until now. The shark population had been thriving in the giant marine reserve, but more recently the entire habitat has come under increased pressure from global warming and furtive incursions from industrial trawlers and illegal shark fin hunters. Additional protection is now essential.

The sanctuary around the remote northernmost islands of Darwin and Wolf was announced following intensive dialogue with the local artisanal fishing cooperatives, some of which have been fishing in the area for decades. It is part of a wider environmental protection initiative for the archipelago using an innovative zoning approach to integrate the conservation efforts of the marine reserve and national park on the islands.

It is hoped that this new protection will support a hotbed breeding ground for thousands of species that can then grow to full size and help repopulate the world´s oceans. Evidence from other “no-take” zones shows that it will have net benefits for the local small scale artisanal fishing cooperatives who will see an uptick in fish numbers outside of the protected zone. A map showing the new protected area is available.

  1. WORLD IMPORTANT MARINE BIODIVERSITY AND PROTECTION

Thanks to a unique combination of cold and warm currents, and the one of biggest marine reserves in the word, the Galapagos is one of the most biodiverse marine habitats on the planet. Almost 3,000 marine species have been identified in the reserve including sharks, whales, dolphins, turtles and sea lions. Other important land based species including the Galapagos penguin, iguanas and cormorants rely on the sensitive interrelation between terrestrial and marine habitats. 99% of the area of the islands are protected as a nature reserve with strictly no habitation permitted and only carefully regulated tourist activity.

Over 34 different species of shark can be found off the shores of the Galapagos including the largest shark species the filter-feeding whale shark, the hammerhead shark and the Galapagos shark.

Darwin and Wolf islands contain important reefs for the Galapagos Marine Reserve and have the greatest abundance of sharks ever reported in the world, including the only migration of whale sharks in gestation a global scale. This area between Darwin and Wolf is listed as the best place in the world for the practice of sport diving.

Shark populations are in sharp decline worldwide. One of the most comprehensive studies compiled on illegal shark killing in 2013 by researchers at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, estimated 100 million sharks are killed every year around the world. A number that far exceeds what many populations need to recover.

  1. AN INTERNATIONAL COLLABORATION

The Ecuadorian government has been working for some years with international NGOs and foundations such as WWF, the Charles Darwin Foundation, Galapagos Conservancy, Conservation International and the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, Sea Shepherd, Wild Aid to intensify conservation efforts in the archipelago and help fishing cooperatives diversify their work towards more sustainable tourism activities. This new agreement for a marine sanctuary has been supported by the National Geographic Foundation, which has offered some compensation to the artisanal fishing cooperatives.

Ecuador hopes that the attention drawn by this new shark sanctuary, in addition to the existing marine reserve, will strengthen international pressure for ocean conservation, for action against shark finning and for much more ambitious action on climate change. Marine reserves and “no-take” zones have been important demands of organisations such as Greenpeace and the Pew Charitable Trust.

The government will provide additional resources to support the ­­­sanctuary and is encouraging the international conservation community to add their strengths with the most advance technology and equipment to protect this precious jewel in the ocean.

  1. CLIMATE PRESSURE

The protection zone is needed in part now because of the impacts of climate change. The earth has already warmed on average 1 degree since pre-industrial times and is on track for up to 4 degrees of warming even if all of the pledges at December´s Paris climate summit are implemented in full.

There is growing evidence that more marked seasonal changes in temperatures and increasingly extreme El Niño events are causing changes in the marine environment threatening the unique balance of species around the Galapagos archipelago.

Scientific studies in the archipelago by the Ecuadorian Environment Ministry, WWF, Conservation International and the Darwin Foundation have been looking at the likely consequences of global warming including ocean acidification, increased sea level and temperatures, shifts in habitat, altered ecosystem function, changes in nesting behaviours and physiology and invasive species.

Ecuador has made an ambitious commitment to power the Galapagos Islands with 100% renewable electricity by 2020 and the first wind turbines and solar panels are already installed on the island. This is part of a wider drive to transform the country´s electricity system to reduce dangerous CO2 emissions. The government has invested billions of dollars over the past few years so that Ecuador is set to have over 90% fossil fuel free power by 2017 – one of the lowest carbon power systems in the world.

  1. GALAPAGOS PROTECTION PART OF A NATIONAL CONSERVATION PUSH

The protection zone is part of a wave of new conservation measures taken by Ecuador to protect the unique biodiversity of the Galapagos archipelago, the Amazon rainforest and other world important habitats all found within the country.

In the Galapagos, new laws were introduced in November 2015 prevent any hotels or tourism activities that would damage the environmental balance of the Galapagos. 13 speculative applications to build large luxury hotels were rejected by the authorities in November. All new inappropriate applications will be rejected too. Even more comprehensive measures to prevent invasive species have been introduced to the islands including biological control of all cargo and tourist boats visiting the islands. Visitors arriving by plane have their luggage screened and fumigated.

A national campaign to encourage young people to reduce, reuse and recycle plastic and protect the oceans from plastic pollution mobilised 15,000 young people in February with a clean-up day of the beaches, rivers and waterfalls.  Another bigger mobilisation is planned for Ocean Conservancy´s international beach clean-up day on 17th September.

In the Amazon, the government is taking tough action to stop companies illegally logging tropical hardwood and is working with WWF, Care and Conservation International to force a local prefect from the Indigenous Pachakutik party to halt an illegal road which he is carving through the rainforest and repair the damage.

A national reforestation initiative on Saturday 19th March 2016 “My forest of the future” (#MiBosqueDelFuturo) saw 30 thousand young people across the country planting 300,000 endemic trees and pledging to care for them until they are well established.

  1. The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trusthas committed over $29 million to support conservation efforts in the Galápagos since 2008. Funding from Helmsley helped organizations like National Geographic, the Charles Darwin Research Station, Conservation International and World Wildlife Fund conduct collaborative scientific research, underwater exploration and community engagement efforts that supported the rezoning of the Galápagos Marine Reserve. These grants ultimately yielded great advances in understanding the ecological value of this critical ocean system and how to preserve it.

Helmsley supported these organizations to work closely with Ecuador’s Government Council for the Galápagos Special Regime, Galápagos National Park, Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Tourism to help Ecuador make sound decisions for a sustainable future for the Galápagos Islands.

Environment Ministry, Ecuador