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4 April 1998

The Charles Darwin Foundation congratulates the government and people of Ecuador for having this month approved, after years of effort, special legislation for the Galapagos Islands. The overall effect of the law should be very beneficial for the biodiversity of the Islands, for it addresses several issues on which conservationists have long called for action.

The law aims to promote conservation of biodiversity and sustainable development of the Province of Galapagos. The principal threat to the biodiversity of Galapagos is the presence of alien plants, diseases, insects, and other organisms that people continue to bring inadvertently to the Islands. Though far more pristine than other archipelagos, Galapagos is being degraded at an accelerating rate. To serve conservation, the law must help to overcome the alien species problem, which is a formidable obstacle to the goal of harmonious coexistence between the people and the unique flora and fauna of Galapagos. The salient features of the law that affect the alien species are:

Regulations: The law refers to control of introduced species in its general principles and in its definition of sustainable development.It regulates transport of introduced organisms, their eradication in agricultural lands, a quarantine inspection system, environmental impact assessment (EIA) and audit. The law says little about regulation of tourism, an activity which is both part of the introduced species problem and part of the solution.

Local appreciation, participation, and incentive: Environmental education is strongly promoted. Institutions and individuals have a duty to participate in all aspects of control of introduced species.

The issue of incentive is addressed by promoting local economic benefit, in terms of improved social services, exclusive rights to future tourism and fishing opportunities, and promotion of locally-based tourism. Local responsibility for the conservation and development of the Islands is greatly enhanced through participation in the INGALA Council (see below) and the Marine Reserve authority, and other measures such as decentralising education and assigning additional responsibilities to Town Councils.

Local skills: The law provides tax incentives for organisations that train local residents. However, it also obliges employers to hire available permanent residents rather than contract outsiders as temporary residents. This provision should be regulated in a way that allows employers to select on merit; otherwise, standards will drop and outward migration be discouraged.

Conservation institutions: The Galapagos National Park Service (GNPS) will be strengthened by the retention of 40% of visitor entry fees. The quarantine system, Marine Reserve, and the Navy receive 5% each. Town Councils and other local authorities will receive 40%,which they must use for projects and services related to the environment and tourism. The Town Councils have also been given additional environmental protection duties. The law recognises the importance of science in guiding the conservation of Galapagos and makes the Charles Darwin Foundation a non-voting member of the Council of INGALA (see below), but does not provide any financing for the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS).

Coordination: INGALA (Instituto Nacional de Galápagos) has been re-created with responsibilities for coordinating policies and planning throughout Galapagos. Such coordination is much needed, because most introduced species colonise inhabited areas and thence invade the Park. Its 13-member Council and three committees will be key for a for resolving conservation and development problems. It will be important that their decisions are based on technical information and the principles established in the law and that, within the protected areas, policy differences between INGALA and the protected area authority should be resolved in favour of conservation.

Population size: The law introduces residence controls, which are a vitally important requirement for conservation of Galapagos. The measures should reduce inward migration, provided that INGALA is able to implement them effectively and transparently in the face of strong economic incentives for inward migration. However, the residence provisions have a series of weaknesses, which will reduce the effectiveness of the law in curbing population growth, make genuine residents vulnerable to continuing inward migration by people who live elsewhere but have permanent residence rights, and prevent the stabilisation of population at a reasonably low level. The latter is imperative because of the alien species problem. Minor reforms of the law could deal with the weaknesses to the benefit both of conservation and of genuine residents.

The second major threat to Galapagos biodiversity, after alien species, is the misuse of marine resources. The CDRS and the GNPS initiated in mid-1997 a participatory planning process, which generated a consensus within Galapagos on the principles for marine conservation. After much debate and opposition from the industrial fishing sector, these principles were adopted in the law, which provides for: * Establishment of the Marine Reserve as a protected area, to be managed by the GNPS in collaboration with local stakeholders, under the overall authority of and inter-institutional committee composed of four ministries and three stakeholder groups (tourism, fisheries, and a science/biodiversity/education group).

* Expansion of the Reserve boundaries to 40 miles around the whole archipelago, within which area only tourism and local artisanal fishing are permitted.There will still be much difficult negotiation ahead, for example, on the definition of "artisanal." Nevertheless, the law provides an historic opportunity to protect one of the world's most important marine ecosystems and, at more than 13,000 sq km, its second biggest marine reserve.

In conclusion, the law provides an excellent framework for conservation of the Marine Reserve. It also represents an important advance in conservation of the terrestrial component of Galapagos biodiversity, notwithstanding weaknesses in measures to curb the population growth which underlies the central threat of introduced species. And the law will do much to encourage all the Islands' residents to participate in, and take responsibility for, the conservation of Galapagos.

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