The Galapagos Marine Reserve is the second largest marine reserve in the world and protects one of the planet’s most unique and most unusual marine ecosystems. With an area of 133,000 km2 (51,000 mi2) the Galapagos Marine Reserve is nearly half the size of the total land area of Ecuador.
Conservation efforts to protect this one-of-a-kind marine ecosystem began in 1986 with the purpose of protecting the waters surrounding the islands from overexploitation of resources. In 1998 the protected area was greatly expanded and formally came to be known as the Galapagos Marine Reserve. In 2001 the reserve achieved its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This month, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has announced the creation of a new marine sanctuary within the Galapagos Marine Reserve. This new sanctuary sets aside vast areas of the marine reserve as a sanctuary for the underwater ecosystems. All fishing and extraction of any natural resources are explicitly banned in the new marine sanctuary which covers 47,000 km2 (18,000 mi2) of the waters in the Galapagos Marine Reserve.
Most of this area surrounds the northern islands of Darwin and Wolf which are world famous for their shark diversity. Other smaller areas surrounding the other islands have also been set aside as a marine sanctuary. These areas are now only open for scientific and tourism purposes.
The volcanic archipelago is world famous for its endemic animals on land, but the ocean ecosystem in the waters around the islands is just as fascinatingly rich and biodiverse. The islands rose out of the ocean millions of years ago due to volcanic activity and were colonized by a wide range of plants and animals carried to the region by the ocean currents.
This equatorial archipelago is situated at the convergence of ocean currents from far and wide, and they brought with them the ancestors of the native creatures from such far flung places as Antarctica and California.
Native marine animals include more than 2900 species, 25% percent of which are endemic, meaning that they are found nowhere else on Earth. Among the most notable species are the Galapagos penguins (the only penguin species native to the Northern Hemisphere), Galapagos sea lions, Galapagos fur sea lions, dolphins, whales, hammerhead sharks, whale sharks, and blue-footed boobies.
In addition to these well-known inhabitants, there are hundreds of species of colorful reef fish, corals, and other invertebrates, to mention a few.
The conservation of this unique marine ecosystem is indispensable. In order to properly preserve the terrestrial habitats in the archipelago, the waters surrounding the islands must also be protected. The health of the animals on land is directly connected to their marine counterparts.
The Galapagos Islands have often been considered a natural laboratory for discovering the mysterious of life, and this holds true for both the ecosystems on land as well as the marine ecosystem below the waves.
The undersea ecosystems surrounding the Galapagos Islands currently face several threats directly related to human activity in the archipelago. Among the most notable environmental threats include overfishing of sea cucumbers, shark finning, and the overharvesting of black coral.
The Galapagos National Park and private conservation organizations are working very hard to stop these illegal activities and preserve the wonders of the Galapagos marine ecosystem for generations to come. The establishment of the new marine sanctuary is monumental because it ensures that the most vulnerable areas of the Galapagos waters are now fully protected for the first time in history.
When tourists visit the Galapagos Islands, they can snorkel and dive in the marine reserve at designated diving visitor sites. When visiting the Galapagos Islands, they can see in person the natural wonders of this unforgettable paradise on Earth.
Those who visit the Islands return home as advocates for the preservation of the Galapagos Islands and the other last great places on the planet.
Book your trip to the Galapagos Islands today. Our expert trip advisors are standing by to get started on planning your holiday of a lifetime. Fulfill your dreams and swim with:
- Whale sharks
- Sea lions.
Snorkel in the Galapagos waters and see the colorful fish and coral reefs flourishing in a marine sanctuary unlike any other in the world. From flights to hotel accommodations to cruise reservations, our trip advisors have you covered. Come to the islands and immerse yourself in the wonders of the Galapagos.