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Ecuador’s 68 protected areas account for almost 14% of its territory

Published on March 22, 2022

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There are 68 protected areas in Ecuador that make up the National System of Protected Areas (SNAP). They occupy more than 18 million hectares, which represent more than 13.78% of the country’s national territory.

However, not all protected areas are created equal. There are different types of protected areas depending on how they are managed and who manages them.

In Ecuador, there are 11 types of protected areas.Top of Form

Bottom of Form

National Parks

The National System of Protected Areas (SNAP) defines national parks as large conservation areas. National parks usually extend over 10 thousand hectares.

The goal of the national parks is to conserve landscapes, complete ecosystems, and a diversity of species of flora and fauna. To ensure protection, the national parks have park rangers who take care of the protected areas and ensure that unauthorized activities are not carried out, such as cutting down trees, extracting species, for example.

According to the SNAP, national park environments should have minimal human presence to prevent any impact on their environment Tourist activities are limited to certain areas, under certain regulations. Activities such as scientific research and environmental monitoring are prioritized in national parks.

National parks are managed by the Ministry of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition.

In Ecuador, there are 14 national parks in the 4 regions of the country:

  1. Galapagos National Park

Located in the province of Galapagos, in the insular region. It was the first national park created in Ecuador in 1959.

  1. Cotacachi Cayapas National Park

Located between the coastal province of Esmeraldas and the Andean province of Imbabura.

  1. Cayambe Coca National Park 

Occupies four provinces: Imbabura and Pichincha in the Sierra, and Sucumbíos and Napo in the Amazon.

  1. Cotopaxi National Park

Crosses three provinces: Cotopaxi, Pichincha and Napo. Most of its territory is in Cotopaxi.

  1. Cajas National Park

Located south of the Andean province of Azuay. It is 33 kilometers northwest of Cuenca.

  1. Machalilla National Park

Located in the southeast of the province of Manabí —Jipijapa, Puerto López and Montecristi— and the northeast of the province of Santa Elena. 

  1. Sangay National Park

Extends through five provinces: Tungurahua, Chimborazo, Cañar, Azuay and Morona Santiago.

  1. Yasuni National Park

Located in the heart of the province of Orellana and Pastaza. It is one of the most biodiverse places in Ecuador and the world.

  1. Podocarpus National Park

Located on the border between the Andean province of Loja and the Amazonian province of Zamora Chinchipe.

  1. Antisana National Park

Located in the eastern mountain range between two provinces: Napo in the Amazon, and Pichincha in the Sierra.

  1. Sumaco Napo-Galeras National Park

Extends through three Amazonian provinces: Napo, Orellana and Sucumbíos.

  1. Llanganates National Park 

Located between four provinces: Cotopaxi, Tungurahua, Napo and Pastaza.

  1. Yacuri National Park

Located in the Andean province of Loja and in the Amazonian province of Zamora Chinchipe, on the border with Peru.

  1. Rio Negro Sopladora National Park

Located in the eastern part of the Andean province of Azuay and the western part of the Amazonian province of Morona Santiago.

Marine Reserves

A marine reserve is a protected space that limits the exploitation of the marine resources that exist in that place. According to SNAP, marine reserves in Ecuador do not have a defined size and can be variable.

These reserves preserve the marine ecosystems and the species that live there.

Like national parks, marine reserves may only be little or moderately disturbed and the presence of human activities must be limited. Because Ecuador is a country that depends on fishing, fishing activity is allowed in some marine reserves. However, it is limited to certain areas —which are defined in the management plans of each reserve— and must comply with a series of regulations.

In the Galapagos marine reserve, for example, there are certain types of fishing that are prohibited, such as longlines, and in the Hermandad marine reserve —also in Galapagos—, there is an area where no fishing activity is allowed because it protects a migratory marine corridor of great importance.

The marine reserves are managed by the Ministry of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition. The control of the marine reserves is carried out by park rangers from the ministry.

There are 8 marine reserves throughout the country:

  1. Galapagos Marine Reserve

This reserve surrounds the Galapagos National Park and is located on the Pacific Ocean, more than a thousand kilometers from the Ecuadorian continental coast.

  1. Santa Clara Island Marine Reserve

Located in the coastal province of El Oro, at the entrance to the Gulf of Guayaquil. It is a little over 40 kilometers west of Puerto Bolívar.

  1. Galera San Francisco Marine Reserve

Located in front of the towns of Galera, Estero de Plátano, Quingue and San Francisco, to the southwest of the green province of Esmeraldas.

  1. El Pelado Marine Reserve

Located in front of the continental Ecuadorian coastline of the province of Santa Elena. It is close to the towns of Palmar, Ayangue, San Pedro and Valdivia.

  1. Cantagallo-Machalilla Marine Reserve

Located on the Pacific Ocean in front of the cantons of Puerto López, Jipijapa and Montecristi, in the province of Manabí.

  1. Bajo Cope Marine Reserve

Located in the waters that border the province of Santa Elena, a few kilometers from Montañita.

  1. Puerto Cabuyal-Punta San Clemente Marine Reserve

Located in the province of Manabí, from Punta Ballena in the Jama canton to Punta San Clemente in the Sucre canton.

  1. Hermandad (Brotherhood) Marine Reserve

The most recent protected area created in the Galapagos province. It stretches across the Pacific Ocean and extends around the Galapagos Marine Reserve for 60 thousand square kilometers.

Fauna Production Reserves

The fauna production reserves have a limited area; their average size ranges between 5,000 and 10,000 hectares.

In this type of reserve, the main objective is to conserve the ecosystems and susceptible species, particularly fauna, of the area. Like other kinds of protected areas, wildlife production reserves have limits set on human activity. It is less restricted than in areas such as national parks and biological reserves. However, the human activities that are allowed will depend on the diversity and biological resources of each place.

The main activities carried out in these areas are sustainable wildlife management, environmental education, ecosystem restoration, and sustainable tourism with a focus on nature conservation.

The fauna production reserves are managed by the Ministry of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition. To ensure their management, the fauna production reserves also have park rangers.

There are 4 fauna production reserves in the country.

  1. Cuyabeno Fauna Production Reserve

Located next to the Yasuní National Park between the provinces of Orellana and Sucumbíos in the northeast of the Ecuadorian Amazon.

  1. El Salado Mangrove Fauna Production Reserve

This protected area is in the province of Guayas, northwest of the Gulf of Guayaquil estuary.

  1. Chimborazo Fauna Production Reserve

It extends through Guano and Riobamba in the province of Chimborazo, Guaranda in the province of Bolívar and Ambato, in the province of Tungurahua.

  1. Santa Elena Puntilla Fauna Production Reserve

This reserve is located in the coastal province of Santa Elena. It separates the bay of Santa Elena from the Gulf of Guayaquil.

Ecological reserves

Ecological reserves are natural areas of variable areas in which there is little human intervention.

They are areas that have important natural resources or that are home to species of flora and fauna that are of great significance to the country. An example of this is the El Ángel ecological reserve that protects the frailejones, paramo plants that are only found in the reserve area.

The SNAP says that ecological reserves have the objective of conserving genetic material, ecological diversity, “scenic beauties” —that is, landscapes—and environmental regulation. As in national parks, biological reserves also carry out scientific research on species and natural phenomena. Environmental education projects are also carried out in ecological reserves.

Like other protected areas, ecological reserves have park rangers who take care of them. They are administered by the Ministry of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition.

The ecological reserves are also tourism points. However, tourist activities are limited to certain areas.

There are 7 ecological reserves in Ecuador:

  1. Churute Mangrove Ecological Reserve

In the Naranjal canton, to the southwest of the province of Guayas.

  1. El Angel Ecological Reserve

Located in the north of the country in the La Libertad and El Ángel parishes of the Espejo canton, in the center of the Andean province of Carchi.

  1. Los Ilinizas Ecological Reserve

Extends through four provinces: Cotopaxi and Pichincha in the Sierra, and Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas and Los Ríos on the Coast.

  1. Mache Chindul Ecological Reserve

This reserve is in the southwest of the province of Esmeraldas and north of Manabí. It is one of the “Cordillera de la Costa” (mountains over 800 meters) in the north.

  1. Cayapas Mataje Mangrove Ecological Reserve

Located to the northwest of the province of Esmeraldas, in the canton of San Lorenzo. It borders the Colombian border.

  1. Arenillas Ecological Reserve 

This protected area is located to the southwest of the province of El Oro, near the towns of Arenillas and Huaquillas. It is close to the border with Peru.

  1. Cofán Bermejo Ecological Reserve

Located north of the Amazonian province of Sucumbíos. It meets the San Miguel River, on the border with Colombia.

Biological reserves

Like national parks, biological reserves are also large conservation areas that comprise more than 10,000 hectares.

They are important because they protect entire ecosystems —which have been little altered— and the species that inhabit them. In biological reserves there is little presence of people, especially in areas where greater biological diversity has been identified.

According to SNAP, in this type of protected area, the priority activity should be biological, ecological, and environmental research, and the secondary activity may be environmental education.

In biological reserves, the use of natural resources is highly restricted so as not to alter natural ecological processes. The park rangers are the ones who ensure that there is no misuse of the resources and that activities that are not allowed within the reserves are not carried out.

Biological reserves are administered by the Ministry of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition.

There are 5 biological reserves in Ecuador:

  1. El Condor Biological Reserve

It is located south of the Amazonian province of Morona Santiago, where the Cordillera del Cóndor is also located, to which it owes its name.

  1. Limoncocha Biological Reserve

It is located in the Sacha-Shushufindi Corridor between two Amazonian provinces: Orellana and Sucumbíos.

  1. El Quimi Biological Reserve

It is located south of the Cordillera del Cóndor, in the Amazonian province of Morona Santiago.

  1. Cerro Plateado Biological Reserve

It is located in the Zurmi parish of the Nangaritza canton, southeast of the province of Zamora Chinchipe, in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

  1. Colonso Chalupas Biological Reserve

It is located in the cantons of Archidona and Tena, in the province of Napo. It also extends between the Antisana Ecological Reserve and the Llanganates National Park.

Wildlife refuges

Wildlife refuges are small conservation areas. SNAP estimates the average size of these areas to be less than 5,000 hectares.

These refuges exist primarily to protect and conserve endangered species and the ecosystems they inhabit. To ensure species conservation, wildlife refuges must be little disturbed and human activities must be limited. Park rangers control these activities.

According to Snap, the actions prioritized in these protected areas are habitat and species management, scientific research, and environmental monitoring. In addition, if necessary, the restoration of ecosystems is also prioritized.

The natural resources in these reserves are restricted and cannot be extracted.

Wildlife refuges are also managed by personnel from the Ministry of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition.

Throughout the country there are 10 wildlife refuges: 

  1. Pasochoa Wildlife Refuge

This protected area is in the Mejía canton of the Andean province of Pichincha. It is 45 kilometers southeast of Quito.

  1. Heart Islands and Fragatas Islands Wildlife Refuge

It is located 8 kilometers away from Bahía de Caráquez, in the province of Manabí.

  1. La Chiquita Wildlife Refuge

Located in the San Lorenzo canton, north of the province of Esmeraldas.

  1. Muisne River Estuary Mangrove Wildlife Refuge

Extends through the Muisne canton, in the province of Esmeraldas, and the Pedernales canton, in the province of Manabí.

  1. El Zarza Wildlife Refuge

Located in the Yanzatza canton, northeast of the Amazonian province of Zamora Chinchipe.

  1. El Morro Mangrove Wildlife Refuge

Located in the province of Guayas, north of the Gulf of Guayaquil and near Puná Island.

  1. Esmeraldas River Estuary Mangrove Wildlife Refuge

Located in the green province of Esmeraldas, at the mouth of the Esmeraldas River in the Pacific Ocean. Specifically, it is between the capital of Esmeralda and the parish of Tachina.

  1. ​​Pacoche Wildlife Refuge

This protected area is located in the cantons of Manta and Montecristi, in the coastal province of Manabí.

  1. El Pambilar Wildlife Refuge

Located in the Santo Domingo de Ónzole parish, north of the province of Esmeraldas.

  1. Samama Mumbes Wildlife Refuge

Located in the foothills of the western Andes mountain range, and extends through three provinces: Los Ríos and El Oro on the Coast, and Azuay in the Sierra.

Geobotanical Reserves

This class of protected area has the goal of conserving wild flora and important geological resources, including landscapes and geological formations, that have been formed by natural processes such as volcanic eruptions.

Geobotanical reserves protect this class of resources to ensure the continuity of natural evolutionary processes. Geobotanical reserves also have historical, cultural, and scientific value, so one of the activities promoted is education and tourism.

These reserves are also considered as a bank of genetic diversity of flora and fauna species that are in danger of extinction.

In Ecuador, the only geobotanical reserve —the Pululahua— is managed by the Ministry of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition.

  1. Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve

This reserve is in the province of Pichincha, a few kilometers from the Middle of the World monument, in Quito. It is the only geobotanical reserve in Ecuador.

National Recreation Areas

The national recreation areas are medium-sized protected areas that extend between 5,000 and 10,000 hectares.

 The main objective of these protected areas is the conservation of the natural landscape. However, they are areas that may be moderately altered, and that also support moderate human presence.

In these areas, the main activities carried out are related to the tourism and recreation sector. However, ecosystem restoration activities, research and environmental monitoring are also carried out.

The use of the natural resources of the national recreation areas is allowed with minor restrictions, depending on the place. The monitoring of these areas is done by the Ministry of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition.

In Ecuador, there are 6 national recreation areas:

  1. El Boliche National Recreation Area

This protected area is located next to the Cotopaxi National Park and extends through the provinces of Cotopaxi and Pichincha.

  1. Lake Park National Recreation Area

This recreation area is in the province of Guayas, west of the city of Guayaquil. It is exactly at kilometer 26 of the Guayaquil-Salinas highway.

  1. Santay Island National Recreation Area

In the Durán canton, in the heart of the Guayas province. It is a short distance from the city of Guayaquil.

  1. Los Samanes National Recreation Area

This recreation area is in the north of the port city of Guayaquil, in the province of Guayas.

  1. Playas de Villamil National Recreation Area

The Playas de Villamil National Recreation Area is in the province of Guayas and includes 14 kilometers of beaches.

  1. Quimsacocha National Recreation Area

Located in the cantons of Cuenca and San Fernando in the province of Azuay, about 90 minutes from the city of Cuenca.

Decentralized Autonomous Protected Areas

This type of protected area seeks to protect the natural resources and species of flora and fauna that are in an area. In addition, they preserve and recover the natural areas of the ecosystems that are present in the area.

These areas are distinguished from other protected areas because they belong to a particular municipality or decentralized autonomous government. This means that their management and protection are the responsibility of local governments and not the Ministry of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition.

In Ecuador there are 7 decentralized autonomous protected areas that also include the Municipal Conservation Ecological Areas:

  1. Siete Iglesias Municipal Conservation Ecological Area

Located mainly in the Amazonian province of Morona Santiago, in the cantons of San Juan Bosco and Gualaquiza. It also extends to the Andean province of Azuay.

  1. La Bonita Municipal Conservation Ecological Area

This ecological area is to the west of the Cordillera de los Andes. It extends through the province of Imbabura in the Sierra, and the province of Sucumbíos in the Amazon.

  1. Yacuambi Municipal Conservation Ecological Area

Located in the Yacuambi canton, northwest of the province of Zamora Chinchipe, in the Amazon.

  1. Mazán Municipal Conservation Ecological Area

Located in the Sayausí and San Joaquín parishes, in the Cuenca canton, in the Andean province of Azuay.

  1. Taita Imbabura Municipal Conservation Ecological Area

This ecological area is located in the cantons of Ibarra, Antonio Ante and Otavalo, in the province of Imbabura.

  1. Curiquingue Gallocantana Municipal Conservation Ecological Area

Located in the Tomebamba River Sub-basin, in the Azuay province.

  1. Cordillera Oriental del Carchi Decentralized Autonomous Protected Area

This protected area is in the cantons of Tulcán, San Pedro de Huaca, Montúfar and Bolívar, in the border province of Carchi. It is the only decentralized autonomous protected area in Ecuador.

Community Protected Areas

As their name indicates, community protected areas are conservation spaces that are managed by the local community and complement the National System of Protected Areas.

The local communities are the ones in charge of protecting the areas and of the budget for them.

Like other protected areas, its objective is the protection of ecosystems, species and biological resources that are in the delimited area.

There are 2 community protected areas in Ecaudor:

  1. Tambillo Community Protected Area

Located in San Miguel de Cuyes de Gualaquiza in the Amazon province of Morona Santiago. It was the first community protected area in Ecuador.

  1. Marcos Pérez Castilla Community Protected Area

Located in the southeast of Ecuador, between the provinces of Azuay and Loja in the Sierra and the province of Zamora Chinchipe in the Amazon.

Private Protected Areas

Private protected areas are similar to community protected areas. Their only difference is that they are not protected and managed by local communities, but by the private sector or other donors who are also private.

The first private protected area in the country —Bellavista— was created in 2019. It protects a part of the native forests of the Chocó Andino in the province of Pichincha.

There are 4 private protected areas in the country.

  1. Bellavista Private Protected Area

This protected area is located in the Tandayapa Valley in the province of Pichincha and is less than 2 hours from the city of Quito. It was the first private protected area in the country.

  1. Ichubamba Yasepan Private Protected Area

Located in the buffer zone of the Sangay National Park, between the Andean province of Chimborazo and the Amazonian province of Morona Santiago.

  1. Neblina Piedra Private Protected Area

This protected area of ​​188 hectares is in the province of Imbabura.

  1. Neblina Sur Private Protected Area

Like the Neblina Piedra private protected area, this protected area is also located in the province of Imbabura.

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