Sally Lightfoot Crabs bask on lava rocks in the sun and surf. (Photo by Michael Lambie)
Protecting the Galapagos Marine Reserve: A Living Laboratory
The challenge. The waters surrounding the Galapagos islands have been under tremendous pressure ever since British and US whalers entered the eastern Pacific in the mid 1800s. In the 20th century, industrial tuna fishing boats and long liners began to exploit the area in large numbers. While industrial fishing was made illegal in the Galapagos Marine Reserve by the Special Law for Galapagos in 1998, the size of the Reserve and the limited resources available for interdiction makes controlling such activity very difficult.
Additionally, in the 1990s, lucrative markets for sea cucumbers and illegal shark fins fueled explosive growth in fishing with sobering environmental consequences. The now depleted state of the sea cucumber and lobster populations heralded the near collapse of these fisheries, but in the absence of alternatives there is intense pressure to expand fishing in Galapagos.
Scientists have yet to identify much of the biodiversity in the marine reserve, and baseline data regarding many identified species is limited. Little is known about the impact of environmental pressures on migratory species, such as Whale Sharks and the Waved Albatross, or about the eventual impact in Galapagos of environmental pressures occurring outside of the marine reserve.
There is urgent need to develop a comprehensive and scientifically sound approach to managing this ecosystem, which includes the development and promotion of real economic alternatives that are sustainable within the Galapagos context. Galapagos Conservancy, in conjunction with our partners in the islands, is positioned to play a leading role in funding this work, but we require support from our membership and supporters to get the job done.
Our approach. We support the work of the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Galapagos National Park Service and local non-profit organizations who seek to protect the distinctive species and habitats of the Marine Reserve. These must be preserved, not only for the intrinsic value of this uniquely diverse ecosystem, but also because its location at a major junction in global ocean circulation provides an unparalleled opportunity to understand and study global climate change.
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