An initial analysis of options for Marine Conservation Agreements (MCAs) in Ecuador was completed in 2005. Findings indicate that submerged waters in Ecuador are in the public domain. Private ownership does not appear possible within this public domain. Commercial leases (using some non-conventional formulas) and community leases for sustainable uses currently exist. It is possible to establish conservation leases, easements, contracts or management agreements in the name of local communities for sustainable fisheries, eco-tourism or similar purposes.
Similar to many countries in the region, Ecuador, has exclusive sovereignty and jurisdiction over its territorial sea and related underwater land.1 The coastal zone, known as the special management zone (Zonas Especiales de Manejo), must have a Management Plan in place if activities are going to occur there.2 The special management zones are:
- Atacames-Súa-Muisne, in Esmeraldas;
- Bahía de Caráquez-San Vicente-Canoa, in Manabí;
- San Pedro-Valdivia-Manglaralto, Guayas;
- Playas-Posorja-Puerto El Morro, in Guayas;
- Machala-Puerto Bolívar-Isla Jambelí, in El Oro;
- Galápagos, en el área definida por la Comisión Nacional; and
- Puerto López-Puerto Cayo-Ayampe, in Manabí.3
Local authorities serve as the Port Captains or officers designated by the General Director of Commerce.4
Coastal submerged land cannot be privately owned in Ecuador. Article 2 of the Constitution states that the territorial sea is not subject to sale. Article 4 of the Law of Waters declares that public national goods (including the seabed and the subsurface areas of the seabed) are not subject to appropriation.5
Leases and Management Agreements
Mangroves: Mangroves are given special protection in Ecuador and have been removed from commercial activities.6 Nevertheless, it is possible to undertake economic activities, such as aquaculture, in mangrove areas. Aquaculture activities are particularly prominent and important in the coastal region.7 While the law forbids exploitation of mangrove areas, local ancestral communities are able to exploit them (through commercial use of fishes, mollusks, and crustaceans) if the mangroves are used in a sustainable manner.8 The local communities must enter into agreements known as Sustainable Use and Custody of the Mangroves (Acuerdo de Uso Sustentable y Custodia del Manglar).9 Communities are bound to take care of the ecosystems and communicate any destruction of the areas.
Fisheries: A similar system is used for the local fishery regime in the Marine Reserve of the Province of Galápagos. This system gives exclusive rights to local fisherman for sustainable uses according to the Management Plan.10 The system is managed through vessel permits and allows the replacement of small artesian vessels with bigger vessels in the Galápagos region.11 The participating fishermen must be registered to a local trade union.12 The Coastal Resources Management Program of the Sub-secretary of Coastal Environmental Management (Programa de Manejo de Recursos Costeros de la Subsecretaría de Gestión Ambiental Costera) is the agency in charge of protecting coastal resources and authorizing the agreements.13
While not technically a lease, a recent project by Conservation International and the NAZCA Institute for Marine Research has used a contractual management agreement to engage a local fishing community. The agreement helps establish a framework for the establishment and planning of a formal Marine Protected Area. For more information, see the Ecuador Field Project.
In Ecuador, conservation easements have been used to protect private property that possesses ecological value.14 An express authorization exists in law to create easements for seabed areas.15 Specific authorization for easements in mangrove areas is found in the Article 34 of the Title on the Management of Coastal Resources:
It is possible to give leases for the use of managed zone, out of the protected areas, according to the category and approved management plan, for the building of canals of adduction and discharge for aquaculture, opening of transit easements and piers…
Approval of easements require: a) a final design of the project, b) an Environmental Impact Assessment, and c) a mitigation and remediation environmental program.16
1 Convenio Complementario a la Declaración de Soberanía sobre la Zona Marítima de Doscientas Millas [Complementary Convention to the Sovereignty Declaration over the two hundred miles of Marine Zone], Chile-Peru-Ecuador, Dec. 4, 1954.
2 Unified Text on Secondary Environmental Legislation, Book V, art 13
3 Id., art 15
4 Id., art 13
5 Ley de Aguas [Law of Waters], art Official Register No. 69, May 30th, 1972 (Ecuador)
6 Texto Unificado de la Legislacion Secundaria Ambiental [Unified Text on Secondary Environmental Legislation], Book V, art 22
7 Tarsicio Granizo, The Coastal Zone in Colombia and Ecuador.
8 Unified Text on Secondary Environmental Legislation, Book V, art 19.
10 Law 67 of 1998 or Ley Especial para la Provincia de Galapagos [Special Law for the Province of Galapagos] Official Gazette 278 of March 18th 1998, art 42
12 Id., art 43
13 Unified Text on Secondary Environmental Legislation, Book V, art 1
14 Centro Ecuatoriano de Derecho Ambiental, La Experiencia de la Servidumbre Ecológica en Ecuador [the Conservation Easement Experience in Ecuador]
15 Law of Waters, art 6 (Ecuador)
16 Unified Text on Secondary Environmental Legislation, Book V, art 35