The Galapagos, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is now not only home to unique flora and fauna and extreme biodiversity, but thanks to a 15,000-square-mile (40,000-square-kilometer) marine sanctuary, the species inhabiting the pristine crystal clear waters of the Galapagos are now also under official protection as of March 21, 2016.

The creation of the marine sanctuary is the result of efforts to resolve various polemic situations, such as climate change and illegal shark fin poaching, leading these pristine waters to be under increased pressure.

In December 2015, the National Geographic Society conducted a Pristine Seas expedition, led by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala, and a Pristine Seas team of international filmmakers and scientists examined and documented the waters around the islands, with a particular focus on both deep and offshore environments, and thus concluded the need for greater protections.

They successfully achieved their goal, helping to make Ecuador a leader in conservation by protecting one of the planet’s most precious natural treasures and at the same time, preserving an important economic engine for the country: tourism.

Tourists travel from around the world to visit the islands and dive with the sharks with more than 34 different shark species, making the shark’s touristic value far outweigh their value to the fishing industry.

This new sanctuary makes it so that now one-third of the waters in the Galapagos are protected from fishing, mining or oil drilling.

While 97% of Galapagos’ land mass is under protection as a national park, until now, less than one percent of the waters were fully protected, which is very important keeping in mind that there is a dense concentration of marine species due to the Galapagos’ unique location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean where four major currents converge.

The Galapagos marine sanctuary is now the second largest in the world and is centered on two of Galapagos’ northern islands, Darwin and Wolf, remote areas that are paradise for underwater divers, containing the world’s largest concentration of sharks, especially hammerheads and reef sharks.

Discover this natural paradise and wildlife sanctuary in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Let our travel experts do the planning for your visit to the Galapagos Islands.