Ecuador to expand Galapagos marine reserve, president says

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Ecuador's president, Guillermo Lasso, arrives for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain, November 1, 2021. REUTERS/Phil Noble/Pool

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QUITO, Nov 1 (Reuters) - Ecuador will expand its Galapagos marine reserve by some 60,000 square kilometers and seek a conservation debt swap to finance it, President Guillermo Lasso said on Monday from Glasgow, where he is attending the UN climate conference.

The Galapagos island reserve is already one of the largest in the world, at 133,000 square kilometers, but the expansion will add the Cocos Ridge, which extends toward Costa Rica and is a feeding and migration area for endangered species.

"I announce the declaration of a new marine reserve in Galapagos," Lasso said at a news conference on the sidelines of the COP26 summit. "It will be nothing less than 60,000 square kilometers to be added to the existing reserve."

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The new reserve will be divided in two equal areas. In one, fishing will be totally banned, while in the other only fishing without so-called long lines will be allowed.

Ecuador will seek to swap debt for conservation, in a bid to create a trust that will allow it to finance the preservation of the areas and invest in better infrastructure and technology for the islands.

"We estimate it will be the biggest debt swap for conservation that has taken place globally until now," Lasso said, without providing a figure or further details.

Lasso - a conservative ex-banker who took office in May - said he is examining several options for the swap, including with multilateral organizations.

A massive Chinese fishing fleet operating near the Galapagos gained global attention last year over concerns about the potential impact to marine wildlife in the remote islands that inspired British scientist Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

The COP26 summit, which began on Sunday, will attempt to complete the rules to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement - which aims to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial times - and secure more ambitious commitments from countries to meet its targets.

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Reporting by Alexandra Valencia in Quito, Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb Editing by Matthew Lewis

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