Since 2004, NAZCA has focused its research and conservation efforts on the north coast of Ecuador, specifically in the Galera-San Francisco peninsula. This zone was identified as a priority area for the conservation of marine biodiversity and recently was designated as a Marine Reserve.
The reserve encompasses 54,604 ha, ranging between 0 and 800 m in depth, and covers 37 km of coastline, making it the largest marine protected area in continental Ecuador. The classification of “Marine Reserve,” according to Ecuadorian law, implies a multiple use focus and a participatory management plan that includes local community participation so that conservation objectives directly coincide with an improved quality of human life.
The Galera-San Francisco Marine Reserve possesses a wide diversity of coastal marine habitats that are home to species characteristic of tropical zones. Among the most representative habitats are gorgonian reefs and other types of corals. Evidence also exists that the biggest populations of black coral in the country live in this region. There is also a wide variety of fish species associated with rocky and coral bottoms, many of which are potentially important as tourist attractions, such as the grouper and whale shark, a a few species provide valuable fisheries, such as the bearded brotula, snapper, and dolphin-fish. This is also an feeding area for five species of sea turtle and at least 20 different species of whales and dolphins, among the most significant, humpbacked whales, pilot whales, common and spotted dolphins, and sperm whales.
From the anthropologist’s point of view, the Galera-San Francisco zone provides an excellent example of a Tolita cultural settlement. Additionally, the lighthouses of Punta Galera and San Francisco act as a revealing historical testimony documenting the history of colonial Ecuador.
Seven costal populations founded on fishing and agricultural industry lay adjacent to the marine reserve. These local populations have been key actors in the process of declaring the marine reserve as well as planning the implementation of conservation activities. An effective management strategy requires the development and support of a sustainable ecosystem-based fishery management plan in coordination with the conservation of the extraordinary biodiversity of this area.
For the past 5 years Nazca has worked in projects that promote the participation of local communities in conservation action. We have completed a diagnostic analysis of the marine coastal environments, artesian fishing activities, and socio-economic status of the populations. We have also prepared an alternative management study as well as an analysis examining the potential for conservation agreements. The compilation of these studies forms the baseline for information about the reserve. Accompanied by political and technical support from the environmental ministry, the Muisne municipality, as well as institutions including Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy, The Lighthouse Foundation, The Jeffrey Cook Trust, FFLA y ECOLEX, these studies resulted in the declaration of the Galera-San Francisco Marine Reserve on October 31st, 2008.
Nazca works extensively with artisanal fishermen from the marine reserve coastal zone in order to promote responsible fishing. We are also in the process of collecting cartographic and ocean floor data and implementing a program of submarine monitoring. The information that we are compiling will serve as the basis needed to further elaborate the management and zoning plans for the reserve. The implementation of the first phase of conservation agreements, including the mapping of artisanal fishing areas and biological and socio-economic monitoring, is the first step toward an effective management plan promoting conservation within the reserve.
– MAP: Location of the proposed Marine Reserve and the interpretation centre (4,96 MB, pdf). Also available in the PUBLICATIONS section.
– POSTER: Participatory initiative to protect key marine ecosystems in Ecuador (232 KB, pdf). Also available in the PUBLICATIONS section.
– ARTICLE: Private Incentives to Conserve Ecuador’s Coast (150 KB, pdf).Also available in the PUBLICATIONS section.