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Ecuadorian plan to protect Galapagos Islands' ecosystems receives IDB loan for $10.4 million

An Ecuadorian program to reverse mounting environmental threats to the Galapagos Islands, one of the world's most treasured ecosystems, will be launched with the help of a $10.4 million IDB loan to Ecuador, the Bank announced today.

The financing approved by the Bank's Board of Executive Directors will help the Ecuadorian authorities manage a marine reserve that surrounds the 15-island archipelago. It will also help reduce threats from invasive species, strengthen environmental management and enable municipalities to improve their sanitation facilities. The new initiative, which grew out of an IDB-financed feasibility study, will complement other programs being financed by international organizations, private foundations and donor countries.

Past efforts to protect the Galapagos ecosystems have often met with resistance and occasionally violence. The new program will reach out to local people and community groups, providing them with training and education and an opportunity to participate in management decisions. "The program's success will depend on building a shared vision of a community that is responsible for managing its resources," said IDB program team leader Eduardo Figueroa.

The Galapagos Archipelago, which straddles the equator 1,000 km off Ecuador's coast, contains some of the world's most remarkable marine and land ecosystems. The islands are home to many endemic species. Many of these species evolved on the islands from common ancestors, making the archipelago a unique living laboratory for scientists studying the process of natural selection.

The islands' unique and often remarkably tame fauna has also made the archipelago a world-class tourist destination. Between 1988-98, visitors to the Galapagos increased from 42,000 to 64,700. Tourism on the islands earns Ecuador an estimated $100 million annually.

But the islands' biological riches have come under mounting pressure from an influx of people from the mainland who are drawn by economic opportunities offered by tourism as well as fisheries. Migration has increased to the point where 75 percent of the current population of 16,000 originally came from the mainland. The 6.7 percent annual population growth rate is far outstripping the availability of services, such as potable water, sewerage, and solid waste disposal, resulting in pollution problems.

Under a new law, the Special Regime for the Galapagos, the government will seek to limit migration, guide development, and protect the islands' unique ecosystems.

Pressure on the Galapagos' marine environment has become particularly intense. Export markets for sea cucumbers, shark fins, and lobster have led to an unsustainable increase in fishing, which is often carried out without regard to laws regarding seasons and quotas, in spite of the efforts of the Ecuadorian authorities.

One of the major threats to the islands' native plants and animals is competition with exotic species, such as cats, goats, rats and dogs. Altogether, some 25 vertebrate animals have been introduced in the Galapagos, in addition to about 460 species of plants and hundreds of invertebrates.

Due to their long isolation from the mainland, the native plants and animals have evolved few defense mechanisms to the foreign invaders. Native species which are seriously threatened include birds, land iguanas, and even the impressive animals from which the islands take their name, the giant tortoise, called Galapagos in Spanish.

The new IDB-financed program will start up the management plan for the Galapagos Marine Reserve, one of the measures the Ecuadorian government has taken to protect the islands. The program will be carried out by the Galapagos National Park Directorate*, which administers 97 percent of the land area on the islands as well as the marine reserve.

The IDB program will include a system of participatory management intended to reduce conflicts over resources and ensure sustainable protection of marine and coastal ecosystems. Local fishermen will be registered and monitored, and they will be offered training to help make the transition to activities that have less environmental impact.

The plan will also finance a maritime security and control system for detecting boats in the reserve area. The system will include installing radar and satellite positioning equipment and purchasing boats for patrols to enforce regulations and respond to emergencies at sea.

Management activities for the marine reserve also include environmental education and training for members of fishing cooperatives, shipbuilders' associations, tourism operations, and other grassroots organizations. Research and monitoring will establish a baseline for marine biodivesity and measure stresses on the ecosystems. The data will indicate noncompliance with the new law to limit migration.

A second major part of the IDB program will be the control of further entry and spread of exotic species, pests and diseases. Quarantine offices will be built and equipped.

The program will also provide training and consulting to strengthen the institutions responsible for management and protection of the islands. The islands' municipalities will receive assistance to improve their ability to deliver services and manage finances. As a result, the municipalities will have greater potential access to sources of financing such as the IDB and foreign governments.

A final program component will be the preparation of studies for improving potable water, sewerage and wastewater disposal systems in the islands' population centers.

The total cost of the program is estimated at $13 million. The IDB loan is for a 25-year term, with a four-year grace period, at a variable interest rate, currently at 6.77 percent. The local contribution of $2.6 million will come from the income generated from entrance fees paid by visitors to the Galapagos National Park.

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