LA RESERVA: Culture, cooperation, and change in the Galápagos

The Galápagos Marine Reserve is among the world’s largest marine reserves, marking 133,000 square kilometers of water where fishing and development are restricted. The reserve is home to some of the world’s rarest marine life, from marine iguanas, the world’s only swimming iguana, to Galápagos penguins, the only penguin found at the equator.

This extraordinary undersea world has drawn researchers and conservationists from around the world, who live alongside a population of 25,000, many of whom are recent immigrants from mainland Ecuador. The population of Galápagos has risen steadily since a few decades before the creation of the Marine Reserve in 1998, as the archipelago’s economy has grown from agriculture and trade based, to hospitality and tourism based.

The magnificent sea and land animals, from sea turtles and sea lions to giant tortoises and Darwin’s finches are a draw to tourists globally. Over 200,000 travelers visit the archipelago each year to explore its lava formations and take photos with its fearless animal population. This economic change has partially influenced the Galápagos National Park Directorate (GNPD), which oversees human activity in the reserve, to focus more of its efforts on conserving the wildlife of the area. Part of those efforts were an increase on fishing regulations and a reduction to the amount of artisanal fishing allowed in certain parts of the reserve.

Galápagean fishermen, many of whom have been fishing all their lives, have been caught in the crosshairs of these regulations, and are working with the GNPD, the Charles Darwin Research Station (the island’s scientific authority) and the tourism sector to maintain their right to fish. This conflict has gone on since the reserve was established in ’98, but due to increased efforts by scientists and national park rangers, the relationship between the groups has steadily improved over time, and a more co-managerial approach has been established.

Regardless, some fishermen still feel snubbed by the changing economy, and have seen the Galápagos they grew up in change completely. As the population continues to grow, and more and more visitors arrive, it is unclear what role these fishermen will have in the Galápagos in the future.

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