Protecting a unique ecosystem in the Galapagos

Protection of a unique ecosystem in the Galápagos

A team of local divers is investigating the health of the local marine ecosystem as part of GERA’s LAVA-MAR project. Credit: University of Pennsylvania

In January 2022, the Galápagos Marine Reserve was expanded by 60,000 square kilometers, bringing the total area to 198,000 square kilometers. The space was created in 1998 and is home to one of the most diverse marine ecosystems in existence, with species ranging from whale sharks to Pacific green turtles to Galápagos penguins.

The reserve is also unique due to the fact that it brings together the governments of Ecuador, Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia in an allied attempt to avert illegal fishing practices, such as shark finding. It is a remarkable achievement, says Michael Weisberg, Bess W. Heyman President’s distinguished professor of philosophy, who has been involved in research and activism on the islands for most of his career.

“These are places that are unique in the world and we are losing them because of climate change and overfishing,” says Weisberg, author of The Galápagos: Life in Motion. “And it’s easy to say we prioritize these things, but trying to do that shows real leadership.”

The Galápagos Islands are famous for their biodiversity. They were the place of inspiration for Charles Darwin’s development of his theory of evolution and remain an ideal place for research. To this end, the Galápagos Education and Research Alliance, or GERA, as Weisberg co-chairs, aims to support Galápagos communities in protecting biodiversity, building resilience to climate change, and promoting the health of both humans and non-humans. GERA brings together an alliance of the Galápagos community with faculties and students from across Penn along with partners at Villanova University, Virginia Tech and the University of Cincinnati.

The work of the initiative focuses on addressing the most pressing issues facing the islands: How can population growth continue while preserving the biodiversity for which the Galápagos is rightly famous? How can these communities prepare for the coming climate crisis? And how can the tools of the social sciences be used to increase civil engagement with these problems and strength community to protect his home?

GERA is approaching these goals on several fronts, including green business consulting, community outreach work, public health and urban development. LAVA, an abbreviation for Laboratorio para Apreciar la Vida y el Ambiente, is a series of social science initiatives that address problems at the crossroads between ecology, conservation and education. These initiatives include LAVA-Lobos, which examines the impact of human presence on the behavior and social structure of the endangered Galápagos sea lion; LAVA-Mar, which trains local middle school students for SCUBA diving and performs scientific diving protocols; and LAVA-Agua, a project to study domestic water supply.

“Like a Marine biologistI am encouraged by the commitment to expand the reserve into a large wildlife corridor as it covers an incredibly diverse marine environment that supports many different ecosystems, “says Luella Allen-Waller, a graduate student in biology studying symbiotic corals and how they rely on microscopic algae for energy.

Allen-Waller says the larger and more cohesive marine protected areas have major conservation benefits because they provide nurseries and havens for far-reaching species. “My goal in working with GERA is to develop social science initiatives that spark curiosity and help people engage with the incredible ecosystem in their backyard. Once conservation steps like this are well supported, they can initiate positive feedback cycles of engagement, which in turn brings more people to the table to help shape tomorrow’s conservation efforts. “

Lia Enriquez, C’24, says enlargement is also important in the way it takes local citizens and the economy into account. “It is a policy that is not targeted at the subsistence activities of Galápagos fishermen, which has been a major criticism of a lot of environmental regulations on the islands.” Enriquez also stresses the challenge of preventing illegal fishing. “It is an open secret at this time that large-scale fishing operations are sneaking across the border to gain access to fisheries that affect endangered species that are very sensitive to being by-caught (a term that refers to a marine species that caught unintentionally and often discarded).

Ambassador Ivonne Baki, Ecuador’s Ambassador to the United States, says enlargement is significant and a bridge to future developments.

“It is historic what we have done in the Galápagos,” said Baki, who helped form the Galápagos Conservancy Foundation after an oil spill in 2000 threatened marine life in the region. “I think the announcement was something that people had not anticipated would happen because it’s hard to bring the environmental part together with the fishing industry to agree on it.”

Baki points out that while in fishing industry may lose some of their profits in the short term, protected areas eventually yield larger, healthier fish, not only in the reserve but also in areas where commercial fishing is allowed.

In the future, the goal is to unite even more countries around the goal of protecting the ecosystem. “Now it’s almost 200,000 square kilometers of the protected area,” Baki says. “But when you add Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica, it will be 500,000-300,000 more. So if other countries join, like Mexico, Peru and Chile, we can expand it more and it will be a protected area throughout the Pacific. “

For Weisberg and his students, it is about moving forward with research and social response, and future expansion only provides more fertile ground for discovery. “I think it is politically very difficult to prioritize large sea areas that are far from where people live, but you have to do it, otherwise you just end up protecting the places that are very visible,” he says. Weisberg. “It’s like running a city – sometimes what you have to do is the things no one sees, like replacing the sewer and the water pipes. But no mayor wants to run on,” I have to dig up all the streets and replace all the sewers «. It’s not sexy. So that’s why I think this enlargement is so impressive and says a lot about the Ecuadorian Government’s commitment to protecting marine biodiversity. ”

Ecuador extends the protection of marine life around the Galapagos

Citation: Protecting a Unique Ecosystem in the Galapagos (2022, March 30) Retrieved July 18, 2022 from

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