The creation of the Galapagos Marine Reserve, (GMR) in 1998 heralded a new era and level of
protection and conservation for the waters surrounding this iconic archipelago. Many of the species
found here are endemic or unique to the Galapagos.
However most of the pelagic species, sharks, rays, turtles and marine mammals do not remain within
the protected area and are highly migratory, literally crossing the oceans.
In 2005 the Galapagos Whale Shark Project was initiated in order to study the local and regional
movements of whale sharks, Rhincodon typus, a species known to move extensively in the marine
environment, both vertically and geographically.
Data from satellite tags showed graphically just how far these sharks are travelling and how much of
their time is spent in unprotected waters, exposed to the risks of industrial fisheries, vessel collision and
Their tracks also showed a high level of connectivity with other geographical areas and island
ecosystems such as the Cocos National Park of Costa Rica, considered another biodiverse marine
hotspot of our planet.
Data from similar studies, that included many other pelagic species also confirmed the importance of a
marine corridor, or “Swimway” that exists between Galapagos and Cocos and that in order to provide
further protection to these species, this area was identified as one of high priority for conservation by
scientists and marine conservation organisations.
This combined data was then presented to the governments of Ecuador and Costa Rica and in October
of 2021, the Presidents of the two nations declared the Swimway a Marine Protected Area, effectively
creating a conservation area of 120,000km2 (75,000 sq. miles).
This is a major step towards protecting the Chinese fleet that have repeatedly converged on the GMR
with over 300 vessels. The world was shocked by the detention of the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 in 2017,
inside the marine reserve with over 7000 sharks, including many endangered and critically endangered
It is hoped that the creation of the Galapagos – Cocos Swimway and further protective measures will
help prevent such practices in the future but more action is needed. The Galapagos Whale Shark Project
is supported by conservation groups such as the Galapagos Conservation Trust and Save our Seas
Foundation and dive operators like Galapagos Shark Diving that help raise awareness and funding with
dive trips to the Galapagos Islands.
Find out more about how YOU can help here: