The Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR) is one of the largest marine protected areas in the world and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in its own right, a mark of recognition for its environmental, economic and cultural importance. Formally designated as a protected area in 1998, the GMR now covers an area of 198,000 km² following the addition of the new Hermandad Marine Reserve in 2022, and is home to a host of iconic marine species, including some of the world’s largest schools of scalloped hammerhead sharks, Galapagos sea lions and Galapagos penguins.
The Galapagos Islands are located in the Eastern Tropical Pacific, a region of high importance to ocean biodiversity conservation. This region is subject to intense fishing activity by international industrial fleets, and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is rife, leading to concerns that these destabilised marine ecosystems will be more vulnerable to negative climate change and pollution impacts. Regional plastic waste leakage from poorly managed continental sources is estimated to be one million tonnes annually and for the portion that reaches the sea, there is a high risk of this pollution reaching the GMR.
IUU fishing and pollution pose severe threats to vulnerable species that live in or migrate through the GMR, including the Critically Endangered scalloped hammerhead shark, as well as threatening the livelihoods of local artisanal fishers that depend on the Reserve’s health. Despite the iconic status of many endangered marine species in the GMR, basic ecological data is often lacking, meaning that the impact of conservation interventions, including protected areas, are hard to measure, as are trends that may correspond to climate change.
How we’re tackling it
Key to improving impact measurement is strengthening marine biodiversity baselines and our understanding of the movements of migratory species within and outside of the reserve, which we seek to address, ensuring that the impact of protections can be tracked over time (such as on species recovery). This will also help to create a stronger case for greater protections and ensure effective management strategies in different habitats and for individual species.
By transforming field and data analysis methods into a cohesive ‘MPA impact measurement toolkit’, we will prioritise accessibility for the Galapagos National Park Directorate and other MPA managers in the Eastern Tropical Pacific region, to give our research the best chance of resulting in management, behaviour or policy change.
Galapagos Day 2022: Protecting Species & Preventing Extinctions
How you can help
With your help, we can protect the spectacular biodiversity of the Galapagos Marine Reserve.
Endangered Sharks of Galapagos
"Every year, globally, humans harvest 100 million individual sharks from our oceans."
The Galapagos Marine Reserve is unique in its high concentration of shark species. We are supporting research that will ensure protection for these vulnerable sharks throughout their lifetime.
Galapagos Whale Shark Project
"The whale shark is the world’s largest fish, reaching lengths of up to 20 metres, yet surprisingly little is known about it."
By tagging individual whale sharks, the project team is hoping to build a robust set of data that will tell us about their migration behaviour and inform future protections.
Endangered Rays of Galapagos
"The Galapagos Marine Reserve is home to over 50 species of sharks and rays, yet there is very little data for rays in Galapagos."
This project is investigating three species of ray found in Galapagos, looking at their population dynamics and genetic connectivity in order to better understand their conservation needs.
Tackling Plastic Pollution
"45% of all plastic used along the Pacific coastline of South and Central America is inadequately managed, leaking 1 million tonnes of plastic each year."
The Plastic Pollution Free Galapagos programme is a multi-million pound, multi-year project, which feeds into broader work looking to tackle pollution across the Eastern Pacific region.