MPA Perspective: Protecting the Marine Resources of Northwest Ecuador with Local Communities - Creation of the First Marine Reserve in Mainland Ecuador

MPA News

Editor's note: Soledad Luna is Director of the Instituto Nazca de Investigaciones Marina, an Ecuadorian NGO. Patricia Zurita is Senior Director of the Conservation Steward Program at Conservation International. Tannya Lozada is the Undersecretary of Natural Capital at the Ecuadorian Ministry of the Environment. Manfred Altamirano is the Undersecretary of Coastal Environmental Management at the Ecuadorian Ministry of the Environment. Luis Suárez is the Executive Director of Conservation International Ecuador.

By Soledad Luna, Patricia Zurita, Tannya Lozada, Manfred Altamirano, and Luis Suárez

The Galera-San Francisco area on the northern coast of Ecuador is part of both the Chocó-Darién-Tumbes-Magdalena hotspot and the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape. This area features an outstanding variety of coastal and marine habitats including mangroves, estuaries, rocky reefs, and coral patches, with high levels of biodiversity. However, these ecosystems are threatened by overfishing, habitat destruction, deforestation, pollution, and uncontrolled coastal development. Local residents are strongly dependent on natural resources for their subsistence, and artisanal fishing is one of their main activities. Unsustainable fishing practices - including high bycatch rates and extensive trawling activity by industrial vessels from elsewhere in Ecuador - have resulted in the collapse of marine resources, jeopardizing the biodiversity of the area and the well-being of the local community.

To address this, Ecuador's Ministry of the Environment and the Ecuadorian NGO Nazca - with the support of Conservation International (CI), The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and EcoFondo - began a complex but successful process to designate the country's first MPA off its mainland coast, the Galera-San Francisco Marine Reserve. (The offshore Galápagos Islands already had a marine reserve.) Marine resources in Ecuador are managed by multiple institutions and legal systems. Thus, the creation of an MPA requires a participatory process with a wide variety of stakeholders. In the case of Galera-San Francisco, the process led by the Ministry of the Environment included multiple government institutions (the Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Defense, the Fisheries Under-secretariat) and local communities, with the support of national and international NGOs. The objective: to reach consensus on designating a co-managed protected area that would benefit local people and conserve biodiversity.

Conservation agreements

The local communities supported the idea of the MPA and were willing to engage in its management. However, they wanted to see benefits from their involvement. Nazca and CI proposed using conservation agreements to maintain the local communities' support.

Under conservation agreements in general, local resource owners agree to protect natural ecosystems in exchange for a steady stream of structured compensation from conservationists or other investors. Financial mechanisms such as endowments and trusts allow for the long-term provision of the compensation, and rigorous monitoring ensures that both conservation and socio-economic results are being achieved. CI has tested conservation agreements in 17 countries around the world and was interested in using the tool for the creation of MPAs. [Editor's note: For a description of such agreements, see "A Role for Marine Conservation Agreements" in our October 2008 issue (MPA News 10:4).]

In the case of Galera-San Francisco, Nazca and CI instituted an introductory conservation agreement to test the concept and provide benefits to local communities during the political and technical process of MPA planning. Under the proposed agreement, local fishermen will receive gasoline payments to support their assistance with the zoning process, and funds to help organize their fishing associations. These legal associations are necessary in order for the Galera-San Francisco fishing community to access benefits that the government provides to fishing communities.

While the conservation agreement was negotiated, Nazca and the Ministry of the Environment organized a multi-institutional management committee for the MPA. The management committee comprises all the institutions involved in planning the MPA, and is responsible for the development and implementation of the site's management plan. A longer-term conservation agreement will be negotiated to implement the conservation activities proposed in the area.

From this open and participatory process, the 546-km2 Galera-San Francisco Marine Reserve was established on 31 October 2008. Final zoning and fishing regulations are still being negotiated. Access by trawlers from outside the area will be regulated throughout the MPA, and certain zones will be off-limits to local fishermen, too. The restrictions on local fishermen and the management activities to be included in the management plan are the reasons for a longer-term conservation agreement, in support of which CI is now seeking funds for an endowment. The endowment is intended to complement government funding to ensure the provision of MPA-related benefits to local communities over time. CI is committing five years of financial support to complement government funding for the agreement, allowing time for the endowment to be established.

The strong leadership of the Ministry of the Environment and the technical and financial support of local institutions like Nazca and international organizations (CI, TNC, The Lighthouse Foundation and the Jeffrey Cook Trust) have made the conservation of Galera-San Francisco a reality. The vision of the Ministry of the Environment has established a model that can be replicated in building an MPA system in Ecuador. The combination of political leadership and transparent, participatory processes with mechanisms that provide tangible benefits to local communities has provided an effective mix for protecting rich marine biodiversity in this South American nation.

For more information:

Soledad Luna, Nazca Institute for Marine Research, Quito, Ecuador. E-mail: soledadl [at] gmx.de

Patricia Zurita, Conservation International, Arlington, Virginia, U.S. E-mail: p.zurita [at] conservation.org

Tannya Lozada, Ministry of the Environment, Quito, Ecuador. E-mail: tlozada [at] ambiente.gov.ec

Manfred Altamirano, Ministry of the Environment, Quito, Ecuador. E-mail: maltamirano [at] ambiente.gov.ec

Luis Suárez, Conservation International Ecuador, Quito, Ecuador. E-mail: l.suarez [at] conservation.org