The Galapagos Islands, prized for its unique and diverse wildlife, has now received additional protection. On March 21, Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa declared the seas around Darwin and Wolf Islands a marine sanctuary.
The new Darwin-Wolf Islands reserve is 38,000 square kilometers (15,000 square miles) – an area the size of Belgium. It will be off limits to all fishing as well as oil and mineral exploitation. The only activities that will be allowed are tourism and scuba diving. This will protect the existing shark population by preserving its habitat and providing a breeding ground for them.
This area in the extreme north of the Galapagos Islands has the world’s highest concentration of sharks, with over 34 species that include hammerhead, whale and Galapagos sharks. The four warm and cold ocean currents that flow around the Galapagos create one of the world’s most biodiverse marine ecosystems in which over 3,000 species of fish, marine mammals, invertebrates and the unique marine iguana live.
This new shark sanctuary adds to the 207,199 square kilometers (80,000 square miles) of the Galapagos Marine Reserve which was formed in 1998. Now, 32 percent of the reserve’s waters will be safe from activities that can damage the fragile marine ecosystem.
The Ecuadorian government stated that extra protective measures are necessary because of the increased pressures of global warming, as well as the presence of illegal shark fin fishers and industrial trawling.
Economic incentives may also have influenced the Ecuadorian government to form the new reserve around Wolf and Darwin Islands. According to a new study by the University of California – Santa Barbara and the National Geographic Society’s Pristine Seas Project, a live shark generates over $5 million in its lifetime by increasing tourism and scuba diving. A dead shark, sold to the Asian black market, brings in only about $200 to fishermen.
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