Galapagos National Park

Galapagos National Park & Marine Reserve

seymour island galapagos liveaboard

“probably one of the most spectacular and significant marine ecosystems that we have on the planet”. Pelayo Salinas de León, a senior marine scientist with the Charles Darwin Foundation talking about the Galapagos National Park.

The Galapagos National Park controls about 97% of the land mass, a massive 3086 sq. mi (7995.4 sq. km), of the Galapagos islands. Established in 1959, it is Ecuador’s oldest park. The UNESCO inscribed the Galapagos National Park as World Heritage Site in 1979. Included in the UNESCO program is the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR) which was created in 1986 (70,000 km2) and extended to its current area (133,000 km2) in 1998, making it one of the largest marine reserves in the world.

In their Criterion the UNESCO had this to say about the marine reserve:

The Galapagos Marine Reserve is an underwater wildlife spectacle with abundant life ranging from corals to sharks to penguins to marine mammals. No other site in the world can offer the experience of diving with such a diversity of marine life forms that are so familiar with human beings, that they accompany divers. The diversity of underwater geomorphological forms is an added value to the site producing a unique display, which cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

The marine reserve reaches 40 nautical miles from the outermost coastal islands and includes the waterways between the islands. The GMR is a multi-use area with a zone system that allows or prohibits certain activities in each zone.

Galapagos Marine Reserve Management

The Galapagos Marine Reserve is jointly patrolled and managed by the National Park Authority and Equator’s Navy. The National Park Authority has a range of responsibility that include the administrative functions of the park and reserve as well as overseeing the tourism and scientific usage of the park. They manage 75 land based tourism sites and 79 marine sites. The usage rules require all visits to these sites to always be accompanied by a licenses guide. The guide is responsible for educating visitors of the rules of the park, enforce those rules, and report violations to the park authorities. All dives in the marine reserve are therefore guided dives. Access to other areas are restricted to park personnel or scientist on approved research projects.

Galapagos Islands Marine Sanctuary

galapagos whale sharkOn March 21,2016, Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa announced additional steps to protect the Galapagos Islands. The Galápagos Islands Marine Sanctuary was announced, a program that modified the existing zones of the GMR to create marine sanctuaries. In total about 1/3 of the GMR have been turned into 22 Marine Protected areas with no takes allowed. These have been named sanctuaries and there is no fishing nor are resources allowed to be mined or harvested. The northern Galápagos islands of Darwin and Wolf , and some 15,000 square miles (40,000 square kilometers) of surrounding waters, has been destination part of the Marine Sanctuary. The floating ranger station at Wolf island will be enhanced and additional anti-poaching patrols will be conducted by the Navy. These steps should improve the effectiveness in combating illegal fishing in the area.

The Navy/National Park authority have at their disposal a satellite surveillance system. All Ecuadorian cargo and fishing ships are required to have transponders, as do the scuba diving and naturalist liveaboards. The satellite system can spot any ship within the marine protected areas and determine any that do not belong or are unknowns. The increased Naval patrols can then intercept and investigate.

Diving the Galapagos National Park

Both land based and liveaboard options are available for diving the Galapagos Islands. For experienced divers the Galapagos liveaboards are the better choice. In fact the overall tourism numbers show that 1/3 of all visitors are coming for the liveaboards, either for diving or naturalist.

galapagos liveaboard marine iguana

The Liveaboards

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