EFESanta Cruz Island, Ecuador

The Galapagos Islands’ all-important nature tourism industry, which provides a living to some 90% of the local population, is showing signs of recovery as fresh impetus is placed on conservation efforts, encapsulated by the recent decision to expand the marine reserve area around the archipelago.

Ecuador president Guillermo Lasso announced during the recent United Nations COP26 climate summit that the marine reserve area would be boosted by 60,000 square kilometers, up to 200,000 sq km, as part of what he described as possibly the largest “debt swap” for conservation to take place. It would reportedly be carried out in exchange for retiring $1.1 billion in debt.

The Galapagos Islands, a Unesco Natural Heritage Site since 1978, thus returned to the global spotlight at a time when the local economy was sent reeling by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The number of visitors dropped from a record of 276,000 in 2018 to 72,000 last year according to official figures.

But now, with over 92% of the population vaccinated, the archipelago wants to turn the page.