Galapagos is one of 24 provinces in Ecuador. It is managed according to the Organic Law for the Special Regimen for the Conservation and Sustainable Development of Galapagos (LOREG), commonly referred to as the Special Law for Galapagos. The Special Law was approved and became part of Ecuador’s Constitution in 1998. It lays out legal framework over which many aspects of island life are to be regulated, including regional planning, inspection and quarantine measures, fisheries management, residency and migration, tourism, agriculture, and waste management. While the law places restrictions on rights Ecuadorians would have on the mainland (restrictions on migration, import of goods, where people live, the kind of pets they have, etc.) it offers certain rights not available to non-residents (various subsidies, access to tourism and fishing rights, etc.). The Special Law has been under revision since Ecuador adopted a new Constitution in 2008.
Many institutions have decision-making powers in Galapagos that affect management and conservation efforts. According to Watkins and Martinez, in 2007 there were more than 50 central government organizations and 9 local organizations with decision-making responsibilities in Galapagos. More than 40 of these entities had a physical presence in Galapagos. The most significant of these are:
- The Consejo de Gobierno de Galapagos. (Governing Council of Galapagos) The Consejo is the organization responsible for overall management of the inhabited areas of Galapagos. It is headed by the Governor, who is appointed by the President of Ecuador. The Consejo is responsible for administration, planning, zoning, and the management of resources and organizing activities in Galapagos to assure conservation and “buen vivir” (in this context buen vivir refers to the indigenous concept of sumak kawsay–achieving a harmonious relationship between human beings and their surroundings—which is a key theme in Ecuador’s current constitution and public policy). The Consejo has its headquarters in the provincial capital of Puerto Baquerizo, San Cristóbal.
- The Galapagos National Park Service (GNPS) is responsible for the management of both the marine and terrestrial protected areas of Galapagos. Its Director reports to the Minister of the Environment. In addition to its work in the protected areas, the Park Service is becoming increasingly involved in planning, education, and management activities in areas bordering the Park.
- Municipal Governments in the archipelago’s three Cantons (Santa Cruz , San Cristóbal and Isabela). Each Municipality has an elected mayor and a city council of five members, who name a Vice Mayor. The parish of Floreana forms part of the Canton of San Cristóbal and has an elected Parish President.
- Two locally-elected representatives to the National Assembly.
- The Ecuadorian Agency for Quality Assurance (Agrocalidad). Agrocalidad is a service of the Ministry of Agriculture and is in charge of biosecurity issues in Galapagos and on the mainland. It manages the Quarantine and Inspection Service (SICGAL) for Galapagos.
- The Ecuadorian Navy assists in the patrolling of the Galapagos Marine Reserve.
- The Ministries of Tourism and Agriculture and a growing number of local NGOs also participate in management decisions.
Watkins and Martinez estimated that in addition to the GNPS, there are more than 20 institutions that play a direct or indirect role in tourist management. These include the President’s Office, the National Assembly and Congress, Ministries (Natural Resources, Environment, Natural and Cultural Heritage, and Tourism), the Provincial Directorate of Tourism, local tourist boards, Municipal Councils, the Inter-Institutional Management Authority, Port Captains, Merchant Marine, Civil Aviation, the Navy and the Ministry of Defense.
This complex, confusing and often conflicted decision-making framework was one of the 15 issues identified by The World Heritage Center and IUCN when it inscribed Galapagos on the list of World Heritage Sites in Danger. This committee connected the existing governance structure with inadequate regional planning and unsustainable tourism development, noting the need for clearer authority, more transparency and accountability—especially as related to regional planning.