Scuba Diving in Ecuador
Galapagos Islands National Park and Galapagos Marine Reserve
In 1959, the Ecuadorian government formed Galapagos National Park and, in 1998, the Galapagos Marine Reserve. By strictly regulating the use of these areas, the integrity and interdependence of the marine, coastal, and terrestrial ecosystems of the archipelago will be protected for future generations. 97% of the Galapagos archipelago is national park (See our map of the Galapagos Islands.
Galapagos National Park Service & the Charles Darwin Foundation
Set up by the Ecuadorian government in 1968, the Galapagos National Park Service (GNPS) manages the conservation and resources of the Galapagos National Park and Marine Reserve.
The GNPS protects and preserves the archipelago's biodiversity through a wide range of programmes that have been laid out in its comprehensive management plan. GNPS works with the local community, promotes scientific research and creates strategies to address management problems in the Galapagos Islands.
The Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF), an international, nongovernmental, non-profit organisation, was founded in 1959 under the auspices of UNESCO and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). CDF conducts scientific research and advises the Ecuadorian government and the GNPS on the best ways to conserve the biodiversity of the Galapagos. The foundation operates the Charles Darwin Research Station which has a team of more than 200 scientists, educators, volunteers, student researchers and support staff.
Together with governmental bodies, these groups help to protect the marine and terrestrial environments, keeping Galapagos biologically isolated and providing environmental education. The most important step in controlling introduced species is preventing them from arriving at the islands.
The inspection and quarantine system for Galapagos hinders the arrival of alien organisms to the islands by setting up a series of checkpoints. All cargo and luggage entering the islands is checked for food products, pests, plants and animals.
Strides have also been taken to eradicate species that have been introduced in the past to the detriment of native species. Dogs, pigs, rats, and goats are among those creatures which attack endemic species or their young or eggs, or simply compete for vegetation. Many islands have eradicated one or more of these introduced animal species.
Tortoises have proven particularly susceptible to danger from such species. Historians estimate that more than 250,000 giant tortoises once roamed the islands. Today, because of overexploitation, invasive species and habitat loss, tortoise populations have declined by more than 90%.
Galapagos Marine Reserve
The Galapagos Marine Reserve is the second largest marine reserve in the world and is the largest marine reserve in a developing country. It covers an area of around 133,000 km² and includes all the major Galapagos dive sites.
The reserve faces a number of environmental threats. Local sea cucumber and lobster fisheries are struggling and the risk of shark finning is ever present. Increased tourism and increasing local population are bringing further pressure to bear on protected areas.
In the Galapagos Islands some of the most important marine populations are being over-harvested while others are being caught in ways that harm many non-targeted species.
Although currently only small scale fishing is allowed (including spear-fishing!), industrial boats continue to fish illegally within the reserve's 40 nautical mile limit. These boats often use harmful practices, such as long-line fishing, which kill sharks, turtles, sea lions, albatrosses and other marine animals. In addition, thousands of sharks are purposefully slaughtered each year to supply overseas markets with shark fins for traditional dishes.
Everyone who visits the Galapagos pays a US$ 100 entry fee which is distributed as follows:
- 40% to the Galapagos National Park
- 25% to the municipalities of Galapagos
- 20% to the government of Galapagos
- 5% to the Galapagos Marine Reserve
- 5% to the organisation responsible for preventing new species entering the islands
- 5% to the Ecuadorian navy
Rules to obey when in the park
- A guide must be used when visiting protected areas.
- You must keep a distance of 2m from land animals.
- Importing and exporting of sensitive items is strictly controlled.
- You must not feed the wildlife.
- Do not use your flash when photographing the wildlife.
- Motorised aquatic sports, mini-subs and aerial tourism are not permitted.
Mass tourism in Galapagos - should you be concerned?
There are currently 9 liveaboards operating in the Galapagos Islands with apparently another 6 permits remaining to be taken up. This means that the number of diving liveaboards is strictly limited. These Galapagos liveaboards are subject to a number of restrictions in activity:
- Their itineraries are controlled and monitored strictly by park authorities and they are fitted with locator devices so that any deviation from the route or schedule is automatically picked up.
- Liveaboard operators are not allowed to conduct land tours except for a very few limited exceptions.
By contrast there are dozens and dozens of land tour boats. Some can sleep over 100 guests. These are the operations responsible for the kind of mass tourism that can cause serious environmental degradation, yet they seem not to be restricted in number and are not subject to such limitations on activity as the diving liveaboards.
How you can make a difference
Go to these websites: www.darwinfoundation.org and www.galapagospark.org where you can:
- Learn more;
- Support the programmes and find out about making donations;
- Become a volunteer: discover all the opportunities for volunteering.
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