1. FFI Australia
  2. FFI US
  3. Conservation Circle

Closer look: New approaches to marine conservation in Ecuador

A shoal of ‘silvergrey grunt’ (credit: F. Rivera / Nazca Institute for Marine Research)
Written by: Alison Gunn
Other posts by Alison Gunn

Hidden treasures off the Ecuador coast

The eastern shores of the Pacific Ocean harbour a dazzling diversity of marine life. Remarkable numbers of species have been recorded, including five species of sea turtles, twenty kinds of whale and dolphin, hammerhead and whale sharks, manta rays and countless species of fish, corals and molluscs.

Recognising the importance of Ecuadorean waters for both marine biodiversity and coastal communities, the Government of Ecuador is striving to establish a national network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

For Fauna & Flora International (FFI), this presented an exciting opportunity to get involved in the conservation of one of the region’s most important marine ecosystems.

We are working with a number of partners to ensure that local stakeholders and communities are able to participate in the conservation and management of almost 200,000 hectares of Ecuador’s marine and coastal habitat.

Painted-ghost-crabs - Credit S Luna - Nazca Institute for Marine Research

These painted ghost crabs are a common sight on the sandy beaches of the Galera-San Francisco Marine Reserve

Our project is focused on three biodiversity-rich sites critical for the conservation of both migratory and resident species: Galera-San Francisco Marine Reserve, Machalilla National Park and the mangrove swamps of the Jambeli archipelago.

These areas serve as breeding grounds for humpback whales, nesting sites for four species of threatened sea turtles, and also support numerous species of migratory birds. Galera-San Francisco alone has twice as many species of molluscs, corals, worms and jellyfish as the Galapagos Islands.

Building collaboration and empowering local communities

The fishing communities that live along Ecuador’s coastline are well aware of the need to conserve their marine resources.

Commercially valuable species, which have provided a living for coastal communities for generations, are now becoming scarce due to overfishing, destructive shrimp trawling and degradation of coastal habitats.

Although the local people are committed to marine conservation and sustainable resource management, historically they have struggled to influence conservation and fisheries management decisions.

With the financial support of The Darwin Initiative, FFI is now working to empower them as custodians of their marine ecosystems. We are focusing on establishing management plans and legal frameworks for the new MPAs that encourage the involvement of local communities.

Crew proudly flying the Marine Reserve flag - Credit S Luna - Nazca Institute for Marine Research

The Galera-San Francisco crew proudly flying the Marine Reserve flag

FFI has partnered with the Foundation for the Future of Latin America (FFLA), a regional organisation working on sustainable development processes. FFLA specialises in resolving resource management conflict, promoting dialogue between different sectors, and establishing innovative governance models for protected area management.

We are also collaborating with Ecuador’s Ministry of Environment, the Nazca Institute for Marine Research, the San Francisco University of Quito, as well as grassroots community organisations to implement practical management solutions and sustainable use of marine and coastal biodiversity.

Developing fair and sustainable marine management

A central challenge in this project is how to ensure that both local fishing cooperatives and government bodies can get involved in decisions about the conservation and management of these marine sites.

A long debate process (facilitated by FFI and FFLA) has allowed stakeholders at Galera-San Francisco to clarify legal responsibilities and develop management structures that meet the aspirations of local communities while respecting the role of government.

Together with the Nazca Institute and FFLA, we have also been working with stakeholders and authorities to find the best possible scheme for sustainable livelihoods and biodiversity conservation.

In September 2011 community leaders presented a draft management plan to the Ministry. This plan outlines the agreed management structures and also addresses the difficult question of who should have access to which resources in the reserve.

The Galera-San Francisco communities have opted for the establishment of a No-Take Zone of almost 5,000 hectares in the middle of the Reserve, plus a further 1,500 hectares of community managed near-shore waters.

Local fisherman measures green spiny lobster - Credit S Luna - Nazca Institute for Marine Research

Local fisherman Carlos Solórzano measures the weight and length of a green spiny lobster as part of the Galera-San Francisco biodiversity monitoring programme

No-Take Zones offer a great opportunity for communities to participate in surveillance, monitoring and enforcement of regulations, and ultimately the local communities themselves will reap the benefits of a recovered ecosystem.

Creating a regional network of marine conservation initiatives

The fundamental issues at the heart of this project are not confined to Ecuador. The lessons we learn from these three sites will help us develop solutions elsewhere, and we hope that this initiative will provide a model for replication along the coast.

Our aim is to build regional collaboration, initially with partners in Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Honduras, combining shared knowledge and lessons to develop programmes that strengthen local stewardship of marine biodiversity.

Written by
Alison Gunn

An ‘old hand’ of the Americas & Caribbean team, Alison joined FFI in July 2004. As Programme Manager, she is responsible for supporting the development and management of projects across FFI’s Americas & Caribbean programme. Alison began her fieldwork career researching social behaviour in primates, following her academic interest in the evolution of cognition, having studied Neuroscience (BSc) and Cognitive Neuropsychology (MSc) at university. She has since gained over 8 years experience in wildlife research, biodiversity conservation and protected areas management in Latin America and East Africa.

Other posts by Alison Gunn

Our marine project in Ecuador presents a really exciting opportunity: by empowering communities to get involved in the protection of their natural resources we can ensure that both biodiversity and local livelihoods are protected

Rob Bensted-Smith

Regional Director, Americas & Caribbean

Related places to explore

Support Fauna & Flora International


Fauna & Flora International (FFI) is a company limited by guarantee, incorporated in England and Wales, Registered Company Number 2677068. Registered Charity Number 101110
Fauna & Flora International Australia (Ltd) is a company limited by guarantee, and recognised as a Charitable Institution (ABN 75 132 715 783, ACN 132715783)
Fauna & Flora International Inc. is a Not for Profit Organisation in the State of Massachusetts. It is tax exempt (EIN #04-2730954) and has 501(c) (3) status
Fauna & Flora International Singapore is a public company limited by guarantee, Registration Number 201133836K. Registered charity under the Singapore Charities Act