Ecuador has announced the creation of a marine sanctuary in the Galápagos Islands in an effort to protect an area crucial for biodiversity — as well as Ecuador’s economy.
The new sanctuary within the Galápagos Marine Reserve bans all fishing in an almost 39,000-square-kilometer (15,000-square-mile) swath of ocean — an area about the size of Switzerland — around Darwin and Wolf islands, the northernmost islands in the Pacific archipelago. Scientists heralded the move as a coup for conservation in an area that has been deemed too fragile and exceptionally unique to sustain even low fishing levels.
The new sanctuary is home to the highest concentrations of sharks in the world, as well as large numbers of sea turtles, whales, seabirds and coral reef habitats. Protecting the area, in turn, protects a thriving dive tourism industry that depends on the health of the wildlife that live here.
“This is the greatest dive site on Earth,” proclaimed Henderson, formerly a dive guide in the region. “It’s what made me a conservationist.”
The area’s value from tourism outstrips its value from fishing, and while all industrial fishing was already banned throughout the islands, that hasn’t stopped poachers, according to Norman Wray, manager of Conservation International’s Galápagos programme. Vessels, many from other nations, have been known to fish illegally in the Galápagos, he said.