"It protects twice as many species of corals, jellyfish, mollusks and segmented worms as the Galápagos marine reserve in about one-half of one percent of the area. It also has more species of fish."
the Conservancy's public protected areas specialist in Ecuador
By Cara Goodman
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The natural and cultural heritage of Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands is world renowned, but when it comes to wealth of species, the Galápagos have some new competition.
A new 135,000-acre marine reserve—established by Ecuador’s Ministry of Environment and supported for years by the Conservancy and Ecuadorian partner Nazca Institute for Marine Research—will protect a wider array of species than the Galápagos marine reserve, the country’s only other marine protected area.
Twice as Rich as the Galápagos?
So does the new Galera-San Francisco Marine Reserve deserve all of the Galápagos’ glory?
“Well, the inventory of species in Galera-San Francisco isn’t yet complete, but we do know that it protects twice as many species of corals, jellyfish, mollusks and segmented worms as the Galápagos marine reserve in about one-half of one percent of the area,” says Tatiana Egüez, the Conservancy’s public protected areas specialist in Ecuador.
“Its also has more species of fish.”
The new reserve also protects the world’s largest colonies of two species of endangered black corals. Similar to sea fans, Antipathes panamensis and A. galapagensis provide essential habitat for many fish and underwater invertebrates.
Two Important Marine Reserves
But calling one marine reserve more important than the other defeats the purpose, says Egüez.
First of all, both protect distinct marine habitats. Whereas the Galápagos marine reserve is far away from mainland Ecuador, the new Galera-San Francisco reserve protects coastline and near-shore waters, preserving the interaction between land and shore.
Both reserves also provide critical habitat for many animals:
- They are essential feeding and breeding grounds for humpback, orca, sperm and pilot whales.
- They also preserve important waters for whale sharks, as well as hammerheads and other shark species whose dorsal fins are often lobbed off and shipped to Asia to be served as expensive delicacies.
- The reserves of Galera-San Francisco and the Galápagos also protect crucial feeding territory for several species of sea turtle.
“Both reserves are important — in fact, they’re necessary,” Egüez asserts. “Sure, the new reserve may protect more species, and it also protects coastal flora and fauna and crucial fishing grounds, but the Galápagos reserve protects an enormous area. And it also protects irreplaceable deep-water species found nowhere else.”
“What’s really most important is that Ecuador realizes the importance of its rich marine life, and is taking big steps toward protecting it.”
Marcela Aguinaga, Ecuador’s Minister of Environment, agrees. “Ecuador is very proud to reaffirm its commitment to the conservation of its resources," says Aguinaga. "It is absolutely necessary to protect Galera-San Francisco because of its magnificent natural wealth.”
The Conservancy, the Nazca Institute and several other partners identified the Galeras-San Francisco peninsula as a top conservation priority in a 2007 analysis of the country’s marine areas, and they’ve been striving to protect it ever since. Conservation International and the Lighthouse Foundation have also supported the creation of the new reserve.
Community and Scientists Collaborate on Marine Management
The designation of the reserve will require scientists, local communities, conservation organizations and government authorities to work together to plan the area’s management.
They’ll cooperate to designate no-take fishing zones, fishing quotas and establish minimum size requirements for fish and shellfish before they can be taken out of the sea. They’ll also collaborate on how to use less destructive fishing gear and manage tourism in the reserve.
Scientists and local communities will continue to evaluate the management plans put in place, adapting them as-needed to changing ecological and sociological conditions but always ensuring that the conservation objectives of the area are met.
Despite the restrictions, local communities have supported the creation of the reserve since the process was put into motion. Some have seen lobster, octopus and fish populations dwindle to a trickle in recent years due to overfishing and disruptive fishing practices.
Working together with the Conservancy and Nazca Institute on the reserve’s management plans, these communities hope to recover the abundance of fish and marine resources they once enjoyed.
Many villagers turned out for the official declaration of the Reserva Marina Galera-San Francisco. Dressed in white shirts bearing the reserve’s name and a picture of an octopus, community members, scientists and government officials joined their voices to those of local children and sang to the tune of the popular song “La camisa negra” by Colombian singer Juanes:
I’ve put my shirt on
Today the sea’s in peril
There’s a pain in my soul
We need to be more careful
The dorsal fins taken to China
The sea cucumbers gone to Japan
Far away they’re filling up
My table bare since it began
I’ve put, put my shirt on
Our future is the ocean
Today’s there’s hope in my soul
We’re headed the right direction.
Come on, come on baby
For the sea we all deserve
I’ve put my shirt on now
For our new marine reserve