The Republic of Ecuador
Before a complete view of Ecuador’s protected areas can be achieved some
background information is required.
Geography & Climate:
The Republic of Ecuador is located on the west coast of South America. It is
bordered by Colombia to the north and Peru to the south and east. The country is one
of the smallest countries in South America with a size of 275,830 km2. Ecuador also
includes the Galapagos Islands located 100km to the west in the Pacific Ocean.
Ecuador is so named because it straddles the equator giving a very unique
climate. Within Ecuador, climate changes drastically depending on the altitude. The
east side of the nation consists of the Amazon Rainforest which has a very tropical, wet
climate. Through the middle of Ecuador is the Andes Mountains. The climate of the
Andes varies from temperate and dry to tropical and wet and to temperate and wet.
The west side of Andes is a lowland area with a very tropical, coastal climate. Ecuador
has two rainy seasons and two dry seasons each year. It also has a very consistent
amount of daytime with the sun rising at 6am and setting at 6pm.
Figure 1 shows the location of Ecuador in relation to the rest of the world
Ecuador’s central location means that many cultures and civilizations have risen
and fell there. Some of the earliest civilizations include Quitus, Canari, Valdivia and
Machaila. Each of these cultures developed its own unique designs of pottery, style of
architecture and religions. The Shyris confederation united the different civilizations
through trade and is still present in Ecuador today. In 1463 the nations fell to the Incan
Empire through a series of bloody wars and strategic marriages. The Incan Empire only
lasted about 100 years in Ecuador. In 1530 the Spanish killed the Incan rulers and took
over control of the nation. The Spanish did not really settle in until 1563 when they
made Quito their capital. After 300 years of Spanish rule a cry for independence was
heard and Guayaquil became the first independent city in Ecuador in 1820. In 1822
Antonio Jose de Sucre defeated the Spanish forces and gained independence from Spain
only to join up with the Republic of Gran Colombia. In 1830 Ecuador became its own
Instability and war have continued in Ecuador until present day. Some important
events include the Liberal Revolution of 1895 which removed power from the clergy
and highland land owners. This shifted again during the military “Julian Revolution” of
1925. The 1930’s and 1940’s were times of instability with new political groups
forming. Ecuador had a war with Peru over territory in the Amazon Basin that lasted
from 1941 until 1998 when the Guarantors of the Rio Protocol set the national
boundaries. Figure 2 shows the territory that was in dispute for so long. The dark green
is the current country of Ecuador and the yellow is the country of Peru. The light green
area shows what was in dispute and has since been yielded to Peru.
Ecuador is a Unitary Presidential Republic with Rafael Correa serving as the
current president. The president is democratically elected to serve a four year term.
The executive branch includes 25 ministries and thirteen permanent committees.
Ecuador has 24 provinces, each with its own capital for administrative rule. The
government has not been incredibly stable in the last years but has finally settled into a
seemingly stable state. Part of the stability is because of the new constitution passed in
2008. This new constitution includes right for nature and for indigenous people; a
revolutionary approach for equality and environmentalism.
Figure 3 shows the 24 provinces of Ecuador including the Galapagos Islands.
Ecuador is a rather small country with an estimated population of 15,007,343 in
2011. Mestizo, Spanish and Native American descent, is its largest demographic at
65%. Native Americans make up the next largest group with 25% and Caucasians and
African Americans only make up 10% combined. The government has finally put
indigenous rights into its constitution in 2008. Some of their new rights are outlined in
figure 4 below.
Due to the high level of Spanish influence the main religion in Ecuador is Roman
Catholic consisting of 95% of the population’s belief. There are some protestant
branches and Judaism present in Ecuador but they are a drastic minority. One unique
aspect of religion in Ecuador is that in rural areas many communities have incorporated
catholic beliefs and indigenous beliefs.
Article 84, Ecuadorian Constitution
Maintain, develop and strengthen their spiritual, cultural, linguistic, social, political and
economic identity and traditions.
Maintaining possession of ancestral lands and to obtain their community free allotment,
according to the law.
Preserve the ownership of communal lands, which are inalienable, indivisible and
indefeasible, unless declared as public utility by power of the State. These lands are
also exempt from paying property taxes.
Be consulted on plans related to programs of exploration and exploitation of non-
renewable resources found on their lands and those that may have detrimental
environmental and/or cultural affects; to have a share in the benefits that these projects
will bring as soon as possible and to receive compensation for the socio-environmental
damage they cause.
Preserve and promote their management of biodiversity and their natural environment.
Not to be displaced, as peoples from their lands.
Maintain, develop and manage their cultural and historical heritage.
Ecuador is a nation of exportation. Its largest export is Crude Oil extracted from
the Amazon Basin region accounting for 40% of all export earnings. Fifty percent of
crude oil exported is sent to the United States while the remaining 50% is split between
Asia and the rest of South America (Fig. 5). Ecuador’s crude oil production has been
increasing and only recently saw a leveling out and slight decline. Such activities have
had very negative changes in parts of the Amazon Basin. Indigenous people have
fighting for rights to their land since the 1990’s and in 1993 Indian leaders sued Texaco
for $1 Billion dollars. Unfortunately nothing substantial happened. Water pollution has
decreased the number of indigenous communities in the areas and has a very negative
effect on the health of those who still live in the area. Ecuador also exports petroleum,
shrimp, timber, gold, and agricultural products. Very few of these resources are
harvested in sustainable ways and all have negative impacts on local ecosystems.
Lately the view drilling in Ecuador has substantially changed and the government
has foregone lucrative drilling opportunities to preserve the ecosystems of the area.
This radical decision took place in 2007 and was another environmental act by
President Rafael Correa. The proposed drilling was to take place in Yasuni National
Park, (Figure 6) one of the most biologically diverse protected areas in the world. The
proposed drilling area was also controversial because it was to take place on indigenous
lands that were under the government of the local communities. However, since
Ecuador is leaving 25% of its crude oil reserves untouched (846 million barrels) it is
demanding compensation from the international community. The likelihood that the
global community will pay Ecuador to not drill is very low at this point in time. The
most likely scenario is that polluting industries may buy up shares of the payment as a
form of Carbon Tax to ensure that the needed trees are there to recycle emissions. The
risk of not meeting Ecuador’s demands for payment is that the drilling may resume,
especially as half of their countries income is from crude oil exportation.
Ecuador is one of the fourteen megadiverse countries on the earth and has the
most biodiversity per square kilometer in the world. The unique climate of Ecuador has
given rise to over 6,000 butterfly species, over 1,600 bird species and over 25,000
vascular and non-vascular plant species. Ecuador also has an estimated 369 mammal
species (the most per square meter worldwide), 350 species of reptiles, 400 amphibian
species and over 1000 species of fish when Amazonian and pacific species are
combined. Figure 7 shows the worlds Biodiversity hotspots and Ecuador is included.
Such diversity has started a very strong conservation movement in Ecuador and has
given the small country a claim to fame other then crude oil.
National Protected Areas:
For a developing country Ecuador is very aware of the natural treasures it has to
preserve and 19% of the nation is already considered a protected area. Currently
Ecuador has 105 nationally recognized protected areas. These areas include wetlands,
forests and marine areas. Ecuador currently has 11 National Parks, 10 Wildlife Refuges
and 9 Ecological Reserves. Local communities in Ecuador are positive about protected
areas and a program called Sociobosque was introduced in 2008 gives them a chance to
help. Sociobosque is a unique public opportunity to try to protect private land. The
government will provide monetary incentives to private landowners or communities to
preserve their land as a natural ecosystem. Sociobosque has been very successful so
far as it has put protection over 2.3% of the country. Ecuador plans to have 32% of its
land protected, because they say that anything less is essentially useless. The figure
below (Fig. 8) shows the national protected areas of Ecuador.
International Protected Areas:
Internationally Ecuador is a very important biological hot spot and so has
attracted a lot of attention. The Convention of Wetlands (RAMSAR) currently has
twelve protected areas in Ecuador totaling around 200,000 hectares. RAMSAR
protection is a unique form of protection as it allows activities on the land but only in a
sustainable manner and only by communities that rely on the area for necessary
resources. Such protection is almost perfect for a developing nation as it still promotes
industry and growth. Efforts are being made by the Universidad Technica Particular de
Loja to several more wetlands added to the list of RAMSAR sites. Figure 9 below shows
the twelve RAMSAR Sites in Ecuador and lists their size. UNESCO has declared Quito
and the Historic Centre of Santa Ana de los Rios de Cuenca as World Heritage Cultural
Sites. UNESCO has also established that the Galapagos Islands, Yasuni Biological
Reserve, Sumaco Biosphere Reserve and Sangay National Park as World Heritage
Marine or Marine
Site Name Area
Abras de Mantequilla Terrestrial 22,500
Complejo de Humedales Nucanchi Turupamba Terrestrial 12,290
Humedales del Sur de Isabela Marine 872 513
Isla Santay Marine 4,705
La Segua Terrestrial 1,836
Laguna de Cube Terrestrial 113
Manglares Churute Both 35,042
Parque Nacional Cajas Terrestrial 29,477
Refugio de Vida Silvestre Isla Santa Clara Marine 46
Reserva Biológica Limoncocha Terrestrial 4,613
Reserva Ecológica Cayapas-Mataje Marine 44,847
Zona Marina Nacional Parque Machalilla Both 14,430
As Ecuador is trying to reinvent themselves as a tourist location rather than an
exporter of crude oils and country of political unrest mountaineering has really began to
take off. The three most popular peaks in Ecuador are Cotopaxi (19,348’), Cayambe
(18,997’) and Chimborazo (20,703’). Cotopaxi has turned into a significant tourist draw
as it is located in one of Ecuador’ beautiful national parks and is the highest active
volcano in the world. Cotopaxi is located along Ecuador’s “Avenue of Volcanoes” that
has appropriate climbs for beginners or experienced mountaineers. Another benefit of
mountaineering in Ecuador is that as it is located on the equator the climb can be
attempted at any time during the year. Mountaineering has brought a lot of industry into
Quito and the surrounding cities while also giving Ecuador another incentive to continue
to protect its unique ecosystems.
Ecuador is one of the most forward thinking countries in regards to establishing
protected areas. Ecuador has more land under protection than the USA and has goals
to establish even more protected areas. The increasing rates of eco-tourism have been
significantly contributed to the income of the country and have been slowly pushing out
their need to drill for oil. As the global community will continue to desire natural areas
to retreat too, and as the global citizen becomes more aware of what is occurring
Ecuador may preserve even more of its land and will hopefully continue to decrease its
oil production. The establishment and enforcement of national protected areas in
unclear but the international community has already begun protecting areas that are
most vulnerable and has helped the national government to establish systems of
protection. The world is incredibly fortunate Ecuador is willing to put aside monetary
value and protect its unique biological heritage.
Figure 4 -Mikaela Campbell