Protecting Galapagos’ species from climate change

GCT is working towards a more sustainable vision for the Galapagos Marine Reserve. We want to increase the resilience of the Galapagos artisanal fishery to the threats of climate change and marine plastic pollution. By protecting the
environment, we can help to stabilise climate change and, in turn, protect the wildlife of Galapagos, local livelihoods
and the ecosystem services needed by the international community.

A box full of dead fish

Livelihoods, such as fishing, will suffer from the effects of climate change © Jen Jones

Climate change is probably the single biggest threat facing the world’s biodiversity. If humans continue to live as we do today, rising temperatures and more frequent extreme weather events will cause widespread extinction. Whilst most policies created by world leaders focus on the crucial goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we must also protect the natural ecosystem services that are already combatting climate change, such as capturing carbon from the atmosphere.

Protecting communities and natural habitats

One of the key goals of the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in November 2021 is to ‘protect communities and natural habitats.’ Preserving existing habitats gives wildlife a greater chance of withstanding the impacts of a changing climate. This, in turn, will protect local communities and livelihoods.

Galapagos Penguin swimming

A range of species, including Galapagos penguins, are being affected by climate change © GCT

We know that climate change is already having an impact on a range of terrestrial species in Galapagos, affecting the food availability, nesting success and habitat structure of animals like the Galapagos giant tortoise. Marine species
are affected too, with consequences for fish, sharks, turtles and seabirds. Climate change will also inevitably impact the productivity of Ecuador’s commercial fisheries and thus Galapaguenian livelihoods.

Plastic pollution is also a problem in the fight against climate change. According to a report by the Center for International Environmental Law in 2019, greenhouse gases are emitted at every stage of the plastic lifecycle from extracting fossil fuels to managing plastic waste. Early evidence suggests that plastic at the ocean’s surface continues
to release methane and other greenhouse gases, which increases as the plastic breaks down further. There are also worries that microplastics in the oceans may affect the ocean’s capacity to absorb carbon dioxide. This is one of the many reasons that we are working to eliminate marine plastic pollution from the Islands.

Protecting Galapagos’ species

Sharks play an important role in keeping our oceans ecologically balanced and able to act as an effective carbon sink. Conserving sharks, therefore, has important implications for mitigating climate change as well as sustaining essential ecosystem services and livelihoods for coastal communities. However, although Ecuador does not formally recognise a shark fishery, the artisanal long‑line fleet continues to land more than 250,000 sharks every year and simply declares them as ‘bycatch’.

Whale shark swims past Darwin Arch platform - Jonathan Green

Conserving sharks has important implications for mitigating climate change © Jonathan Green/GWSP

GCT is working with its partners to provide the evidence needed to create new marine protected areas beyond the current boundary of the GMR, including vital migratory corridors through the Eastern Tropical Pacific. This should benefit important marine wildlife as well as fisheries both within the GMR and outside its border. However, this
has been met with resistance from some groups within the Ecuadorian fleet as it undertakes more than 20% of its activity within Galapagos’ exclusive economic zone. A better dialogue is needed to explore new opportunities, such as economic incentives for sustainable fishing through certification schemes and beneficial supply chains.

It is of vital importance to GCT that we reduce the destructive impact of climate change on the Islands’ unique
and vulnerable species whilst supporting sustainable livelihoods in Galapagos.