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Galapagos Islands

Alternative Zoning Options for Galapagos Marine Reserve

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The Galapagos Islands are world renown for their biodiversity and beauty. But despite extensive conservation efforts on land, the marine environment has been heavily exploited – jeopardizing resource sustainability, biodiversity conservation, and the livelihoods of local communities. Overfishing has led to the decline of the population and profits of the two most important artisanal fisheries in the Galapagos, spiny lobster and sea cucumber (pepino). Limited availability of scientific information regarding the population statuses of these two species has further exacerbated these fishery’s problems, forcing management decisions to be made under great uncertainty, with unclear effects on the broader marine ecosystem of the Galapagos.

Furthermore, negative interactions between the fishing and tourism sectors have caused
conflicts, often producing quick but ineffective appeasements when the favorable tourist perception of the Islands is threatened. The local multi-stakeholder board has recognized the shortcomings of prior marine resource management in ensuring sustainable resource use. It began a process in 2005 to evaluate current management and seek new approaches for a management model.

SFG is working in conjunction with the Galapagos National Park, Conservation International, Rare, and the Charles Darwin Research Station in order to apply data-poor stock assessment techniques to better inform and improve management. These assessments will then form the basis for more detailed spatial bioeconomic modeling to evaluate alternative zoning options for the Galapagos Marine Reserve and identify solutions that provide benefits to both the marine ecosystem and the local people who depend on it. We plan to explore strategies that incorporate spatial management measures (including no-entry areas, no-take areas that allow tourism, managed fishing areas, and open access areas), as well as examine the impact of non-spatial elements such as changes in fishery gear types.

This project includes the first quantitative stock assessment conducted on sea cucumber populations in the world. The knowledge gained from both the lobster and pepino assessments will inform the Galapagos Marine Reserve re-zoning process, aid preservation of the integrity of the marine environment, and encouraging the sustainable management of the local tourism and fishing industries.

Photo credit: Michaela Clemence