Mapping the Value of Marine Conservation in the Galapagos Islands


The marine environment in Galapagos is like no other on the planet, yet the sustainability of its resources is at risk due to overfishing, illegal fishing, and other management inefficiencies embedded within the original zoning plan for the Galapagos Marine Reserve. One criticism of the zoning plan is that it protects only 1% of the entire Galapagos Marine Reserve as a no-take zone (NTZ). The protected areas constituting this 1% are dispersed throughout the reserve, making enforcement difficult and protection of highly migratory species largely ineffective.  The primary objective of this project was to analyze the expansion of NTZs from a bioeconomic perspective in order to inform the rezoning of the Galapagos Marine Reserve.


The Galapagos Islands are world-renowned for their unique wildlife and geography. They are credited with inspiring Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection and attract a large and growing number of tourists each year. Unfortunately, the natural environment of Galapagos has come under increasing threat from development, and conflicts between stakeholders have hindered the successful implementation of a development plan that promotes sustainable use of the region’s resources. Less than one percent of the reserve’s 138,000 km2 area is currently protected from extraction, and compliance within existing no-take zones is minimal. Low levels of enforcement have allowed fishers to overharvest regulated fisheries species, as well as species whose harvesting is prohibited, such as sharks. The objective of this project was to demonstrate that by using strategic management approaches, it is possible to conserve the unique biodiversity of the Galapagos Islands while simultaneously enhancing the economic well-being of the people who call them home.


In order to understand the wide range of effects that would result from expanding no-take zones in the Galapagos Marine Reserve, we conducted a series of analyses to determine the following: (1) the contribution of marine-based tourism to the Galapagos economy, (2) whether ecological variables influence and are important to the distribution of marine-based tourism in the Galapagos Marine Reserve, (3) areas within the reserve where protection should be prioritized to optimize ecological and economic benefits, (4) the cost to stakeholders of expanded NTZs, and (5) feasible options for offsetting fisheries losses and supporting the future sustainability of Galapagos fisheries. 

In response to the economic valuations conducted by Chris Costello and his team of graduate student researchers, the Ecuadorian government elected to create a new marine reserve in Galapagos around the islands of Darwin and Wolf in March of 2016. By instituting this change, one-third of the greater Galapagos Marine Reserve is now designated as an NTZ.


Mapping the Value of Marine Conservation is a collaborative effort between SFG, the Bren School, and National Geographic - Pristine Seas.