Conservation effortsThe new marine reserve came into effect in March 2016 and deemed the protected waters off limits to all forms of resource exploitation, which includes industrial and recreational fishing. Henceforth, this area may only be used for tourism and scientific purposes. Totaling 21 separate conservation sites and covering a total distance of 18,000 sq. miles (about the size of Belgium), approximately one-third of the water surrounding the Galapagos Archipelago is now fully protected by law – a significant increase from the less than one percent of the sanctuary that was previously fully protected. This decision is part of a series of conservation efforts by the Ecuadorian Government to protect the remarkable biodiversity that the country prides itself on. In addition to the Galapagos Archipelago, several efforts have been made to protect the Amazon rainforest, as well as various other locations around the country. However, its proposals for the archipelago are particularly ambitious. Come 2020, the government plans to use 100% renewable energy to power the islands and, as a part of this, it has already invested in the first wind turbines and solar panels in the Galapagos.
Threats to the islandsThe Galapagos Islands are world-famous for the remarkably unique array of life they hold both on land and in their waters. Approximately 3,000 species of invertebrates, fish, endemic seabirds and marine mammals depend on the archipelago’s rich waters to survive, including albatrosses, whales, marine iguanas, fur seals, cormorants, dolphins, sharks, penguins, sea lions, sea turtles and rays. In fact, at an average of 17.5 tons per hectare, the archipelago has one of the highest reef fish biomasses in the world, second only to Cocos Island National Park in Costa Rica. Furthermore, around 20% of this life is endemic to the islands, meaning it is found nowhere else in the world. It is thanks to this wealth and diversity that the Galapagos Marine Reserve was given the title of an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.
Nevertheless, as is happening all over the world, the Galapagos Islands and the surrounding waters are facing increasing threats from global warming and overfishing. Scientists have determined the acidity of the ocean to be rising in addition to water levels and temperatures. This in turn threatens the delicate marine ecosystem, as well as the intricate balance between marine and terrestrial habitats, thus effecting species such as the marine iguanas and Galapagos penguin.