Government hopes Galapagos preservation plan can help protect biodiversity throughout Ecuador

Jul 16, 2023

In May, Ecuador concluded the largest debt-for-conservation swap in history with the goal of protecting the unique ecosystem of the Galapagos Islands, demonstrating, according to Foreign Minister Gustavo Manrique, that the Andean nation is “as rich as any rich country in the world, with the difference that the currency is called biodiversity.”

Foreign Minister Gustavo Manrique

Located in the Pacific Ocean about 1,000 km (620 mi) off mainland Ecuador, the islands are home to more than 7,000 species, many of them found nowhere else on the planet.

In a deal involving multiple public-sector and private institutions, Quito converted $1.6 billion in commercial debt into an $656 million loan, financed through the Galapagos Marine Bond, issued by Credit Suisse.

Over the roughly 18-year life of the loan, Ecuador is to put $17.4 million annually toward conservation, including $5.4 million earmarked for a permanent endowment.

Decisions about how to spend money donated to Ecuador for conservation purposes will be made by the Galapagos Life Fund, a trust under the leadership of an 11-member board of directors comprising five government officials and six representatives of the artisanal fishing, local tourism, and academic communities.

Manrique said that in addition to the debt swap, Ecuador recently received a donation of $20 million for water and sewer projects on the archipelago’s three largest islands: Santa Cruz, Isabela, and San Cristobal, which together are home to some 35,000 people.

“Typically to generate economic resources you take the fish (from the ocean), but here, Ecuador says ‘I’m not going to touch’ and they send $1.121 billion (in forgiven debt) and also another $450 million,” he said.

Manrique says he is open for other debt-for-conservation swaps to protect other parts of Ecuador’s environment. “This approach presents many possibilities, but its central theme is to protect our ecosystems, which are the most biodiverse in the world.”

The international community is rewarding Ecuador for expanding the protected area in the Galapagos and for restrict fishing there, Manrique says, despite its “having the largest fishing fleet in the Eastern Tropical Pacific and with basic needs unmet,” the foreign minister said.

“We have developed a paradigm-shattering formula where for not exploiting (resources), you have income in perpetuity,” he said.

Manrique dismisses claims by the political opposition that Ecuador is relinquishing sovereignty over the Galapagos in the debt-for-conservation swap deal. “This is ignorant nonsense and political adventurism put out for political gain,” he said. “Anyone familiar with the arrangement knows better.”

The archipelago – which consists of 13 major islands, six smaller islands and scores of islets and rocks – was made famous by 19th-century British naturalist Charles Darwin, whose observations of life on the islands inspired him to develop his theory about evolution, natural selection and the origin of species.
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Credit: La Prensa

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