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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Regional Director, Americas & Caribbean