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New marine reserve in Galapagos, Lasso announces at COP26

The new reserve will be 60 thousand square kilometers and will extend the protection of the archipelago's ecosystems. It will be financed with a debt swap.
The new reserve will be 60 thousand square kilometers and will extend the protection of the archipelago's ecosystems. It will be financed with a debt swap.

There is a new marine reserve in Galapagos . This was announced by Ecuador’s President Guillermo Lasso, this morning, November 1, 2021, at a press conference at COP26 – the conference of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – in Glasgow, Scotland . 

“Today from Glasgow, in a decisive way, I announce the declaration of a new marine reserve in Galapagos,” said the President. 

The current Galapagos Marine Reserve has been in existence since 1998. It is 133 thousand square kilometers. The new one will have 60 thousand kilometers, making the protection of the fragile and vital ecosystems of the archipelago have a total marine protection area of ​​193 thousand square kilometers. In addition, a debt swap mechanism is envisaged to finance its care

Initially, the press conference was scheduled for 10 am (Glasgow time) but was postponed until 2 pm due to problems in the organization of COP26. In images captured from the Scottish city, hundreds of people (with summit badges) were seen crowded, waiting to enter.

Guillermo Lasso at a press conference at COP26. 
Screenshot of the UNFCCC live broadcast.

The current proposal for the new marine reserve was born from the Más Galapagos collective and was presented for the first time in January 2021, by the then president, Lenín Moreno. Two years earlier, then-Vice President Otto Sonnenholzner said he would seek to expand the current reserve. 

And now, the decision Lasso has made is not to expand it, but to create a new one.

At the press conference, the President recalled that the Galapagos National Park has an area of ​​8 thousand square kilometers and is considered the best preserved archipelago in the world because 97% of its territory belongs to the national park and 130 thousand kilometers of its waters. They are a protected marine reserve. 95% of the species living in the waters of the marine reserve are endemic.

The goal is to ensure the protection of the new reserve through “largest debt-for-conservation swap that has been done so far in the world,” according to the Ecuadorian president. Lasso said that they have not yet defined which organization will allow the exchange, however, he assured that they will be “very careful” in evaluating each of the proposals to “maximize the conservation benefits” of the Galapagos waters.

In a post on his Twitter account, Lasso said that the decision contributes “to environmental conservation and the fight against climate change.” According to Lasso, his government is committed to sustainability and the ecological transition.

The president also said that he will invest in basic infrastructure on the three main islands of the archipelago: Santa Cruz, San Cristóbal and Isabela. According to Lasso, his government will work to provide potable water and sewerage to the three main islands.

The new marine reserve, briefly explained 

The objective of this new protected area is to help in the conservation of marine species and ecosystems that the current reserve has not been able to cover.  

The current Galapagos Marine Reserve is one of the most important marine protected areas in the world: 133 thousand square kilometers of sea – equivalent to almost 50% of the surface of continental Ecuador – where more than 3,500 species live. 

However, several scientists believe that this protection is not enough. Above all, for migratory species such as the hammerhead shark, which are constantly on the move in areas that are no longer within the current marine reserve. Alex Hearn, a marine biologist and researcher at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ), says that when the current marine reserve was created in 1998 there was very little knowledge about the biology and ecology of marine species. 

Now, scientific studies and research have been carried out to determine which areas need special attention for their protection and which areas are the most productive in terms of fishing so that the new marine reserve does not affect the artisanal fishermen of the island province. 

The proposal of the Más Galapagos collective states that the new reserve will have an area of ​​435 thousand square kilometers But today Lasso announced that it will have 60 thousand. 

The president said that the 60 thousand square kilometers of the new reserve will be distributed as follows:

  • 30 thousand of non-production fishing zone, which will be located on the Cordillera de los Cocos —a zone for high biodiversity of endangered migratory species such as the hammerhead shark.
  • 30 thousand of non-longline area, in the northeast of the islands.

President Lasso said the new marine reserve will also serve as a living laboratory for the development of scientific research that contributes so much to the world. With the new reserve, “we demonstrate the commitment to advance towards an ecological transition that allows us a productive and sustainable economic development.”

The debt swap to take care of the new reserve, quickly explained

(to read more in detail how this financing mechanism works, read this report )

The proposal of the Más Galapagos collective included the possibility of making a foreign debt swap so that there are the necessary resources to ensure the protection of the new marine area , and prevent it from being a paper protected area. The foreign debt swap is when a part of the foreign debt of a country is bought in exchange for promoting the care of the environment.

Funding for the care, patrolling, and monitoring of an expanded reserve was one of the critical points in the expansion debate. The scientific community agreed to make it more extensive to ensure its conservation, but they also agreed that without funding, the expansion would be nothing more than a lyrical statement . 

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) , the debt swap has allowed several developing countries to invest in wilderness conservation projects , surveillance systems, forestry projects and others. Ecuador was one of the first in the world to do so in 1987 when an exchange was made for Fundación Natura to conserve the country’s protected areas.

The swap that Más Galapagos proposed was the purchase of $ 1 billion in Ecuadorian foreign debt bonds in exchange for creating and conserving a new marine area that complements the current Galapagos Reserve. A bond is a debt instrument in which a capital and interest are established that will be paid when a term of the debt expires.

Furthermore , Más Galapagos had proposed that the swap be part of a public-private alliance with the Ocean Financial Company (OFC) —a business firm that aims to expand the borders of the maritime industry while guaranteeing environmental sustainability.  However, President Guillermo Lasso said that it had not yet been defined which organization will buy the bonds, nor did he confirm the amount for which the exchange would be made. 


This story was originally published on gk.city, with the support of Climate Tracker.

Doménica Montaño
Doménica is a journalist from Ecuador who loves to write stories about the environment, climate change, indigenous communities, and human rights. Her favorite story is one she wrote over a year ago about nine girls who sued the Ecuadorian state for violating their rights with the gas flaring systems that are still being used by oil companies in the Amazon. She’s very proud to say that that story was awarded an honorable mention in a human rights journalism competition.