New shark sanctuary to be announced for Galapagos Islands today

Monday 21st March 2016

The Ecuadorian government will announce today, Monday 21 March 2016, a new “no-take” marine protection zone in the Galapagos archipelago, home to world´s greatest biomass of sharks.

An area of 14,642 nautical miles 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. The scheme is supported by the National Geographic which has been filming the shark population for a new documentary about the area “Pristine Seas”.

A launch event hosted by President Rafael Correa with international guests will be held at 9am Ecuador time (11am GMT) at the presidential palace in Quito. A live video stream of the event will be available. The event will be addressed by National Geographic scientist Enric Sala, who will explain the risks facing the Sanctuary, as well as the Spanish artist Miguel Bosé, one of the biggest defenders of the Sanctuary and wider Galapagos against climate vulnerability, whose involvement and management has been key to this agreement.

President Rafael Correa of Ecuador will say:

The establishment of this marine sanctuary represents a major breakthrough, not least because it hosts the largest biomass of sharks in the world, which is an indicator of the pristine condition of the site as well as the importance of conservation.”

Ecuador has been recognized worldwide for its natural beauties. The difference is that now we have strengthened the management of these resources for the benefit of our people and for the enjoyment of all humanity. We have more than doubled the territory and coastal marine area under environmental conservation. By 2020 our goal is to achieve a zero rate of deforestation and continue with a positive and sustained rate of reforestation.”

We aim to build the knowledge society, to have an economy based increasingly on the only inexhaustible resource: human talent. History will know to judge those who did nothing to curb social injustices and environmental injustices. But the world can count on the commitment of Ecuador and its people to overcome all kinds of injustice and achieve sustainable development in harmony with its natural surroundings.”

Environment Minister Dr Daniel Ortega Pacheco said:

 “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.”

Tourism Minister Fernando Alvarado said:

“The Galapagos Islands are a world heritage site that deserve to be preserved and shared. Only in Galapagos can you snorkel with hundreds of hammerhead sharks, and “dragons” or marine iguanas – unique on the planet following more than 5 million years of evolution. We also have flightless diving cormorants, seals, penguins and giant iconic Galapagos tortoises!”

Ecuador offers “four worlds” in one country – four distinct magnificent regions. Only in Ecuador can you find, not only the enchanting Galapagos Islands, but beaches where whales from the Arctic come to mate, Andean mountains with erupting volcanoes, and a virgin Amazon rainforest, home to the greatest biodiversity on the planet. For magical tourism, all you need is Ecuador”.

ENDS

Please contact Louise Hutchins louise.hutchins@ambiente.gob.ec  +593 (0)983 58389  (English language)  for access to the launch event live stream (in Spanish), interviews, maps, video and stunning photographs of the shark sanctuary.

NOTES FOR EDITORS

  1. THE NEW MARINE SANCTUARY

The new marine sanctuary 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 new no-take sanctuary around the remote northernmost islands of Darwin and Wolf has been 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.

The new no-take zone sanctuary spans an area almost the size of Belgium, around the most northern islands of Darwin and Wolf.  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.

Environment Ministry, Ecuador