Understanding Convemar and Ecuador’s Maritime Borders


    • On land, Ecuador borders Colombia and Peru and all three countries have associated maritime territory. 
  • Due to the location of the Galapagos Islands (600 km west of South America), the maritime territory of Costa Rica extends south in the direction of the islands. 
  • Maritime and land boundaries are established and changed over time and some Ecuadorian borders have only been set recently. 
    • For example, the territorial boundary along the Mataje river between Ecuador and Colombia was decided by joint declaration in June 2012.
    • Based on this geography, Ecuador needed to establish maritime boundaries with three countries – Colombia, Peru and Costa Rica. 
      • 1954: Peru-Ecuador limit established
      • 1975: Colombia-Ecuador limit established
      • 2014: Costa Rica-Ecuador limit was negotiated – set to start Sept 2016; update of 1985 agreement delimitating maritime areas between the 2 countries
      • 2016: Costa Rica, Ecuador and Colombia ratify a version of the original 2014 boundary agreement between Costa Rica and Ecuador. 
        • This agreement is commonly known as CONVEMAR, or Convención del Mar
        • CONVEMAR is currently a major subject of debate in Ecuador – this agreement is intertwined with the outrage over current Chinese distant-water fishing fleets threatening Ecuadorian waters
    • In Sep 2016, Luis Guillermo Solís (Costa Rica), Rafael Correa (Ecuador) and Juan Manuel Santos (Colombia) appeared in solidarity to ratify and enact CONVEMAR, or the Convención del Mar. 
    • This is the culmination of the original 2014 treaty reached between Costa Rica and Ecuador.
    • News sources celebrate this agreement highlighting that CONVEMAR:
      • Formalized a maritime boundary equidistant between Cocos Island (Costa Rica) and the Galapagos (Ecuador)
      • Dramatically expanded the maritime territory of Ecuador, whose maritime territory is now 5.3 times larger than its continental territory
      • Completed the ratification of all of Ecuador’s borders for the first time
    • Ecuador delivered a carta naútica, or “nautical letter,” which is not traditionally associated with boundary treaties
    • The boundaries are now formalized, but are all areas within this maritime territory protected to the same degree? 
    • How are these maritime waters classified and what is allowed in different areas? 
    • By 2016, CONVEMAR was not just a boundary treaty – the agreement also reclassified maritime zones that were already recognized as Ecuadorian territorial waters
      • The Pacific Treaty (1952) states that Ecuador has a territorial zone of 200 miles from the coast. 
      • CONVEMAR (2016) reduces the territorial zone to 12 miles and converted the remaining 188 miles to an economic exclusion zone (EEZ). 
    • Critics argue that establishing the boundary between Costa Rica and Ecuador was not the main intent of CONVEMAR – the goal was to shrink the areas classified as territorial zones
    • In 1952, Chile, Peru and Ecuador signed the Pacific Treaty. This agreement established territorial waters of each country that extend 200 miles from the baseline (basically the coastline). 
    • Once a territorial agreement is signed, it is registered with the United Nations and other countries have an opportunity to file a challenge. 
    • If no challenges are filed within 10 years, the agreement becomes international law. 
    • Since no challenges were filed, the Pacific Treaty became international law in 1962.
    • Beyond the economic impact and environmental concerns, the Pacific Treaty has been important for Ecuador in the past. 
    • In the 1970s, the US was fined and punished for illegally fishing within Ecuador’s territorial waters during the “tuna war”
    • Enforcing the Pacific Treaty against American fisherman was considered a military victory for the Ecuadorian Armada.
    • This case also set a legal precedent for the enforcement of 200 miles as a territorial zone, not the reduced 12 miles that are under CONVEMAR
    • Unlike CONVEMAR, this treaty is already recognized as international law
    • Some argue that the CONVEMAR agreement between Ecuador, Costa Rica and Colombia runs counter to the pre-existing Pacific Treaty, which is already considered international law. 
    • While publicity in 2016 praised that the maritime holdings of Ecuador expanded under CONVEMAR, the protected territorial waters were greatly diminished. 
    • By reducing territorial waters from 200 miles from the coast to 12 miles and converting the remainder to economic exclusion zones, the protected territorial waters were reduced by more than 1 million square kilometers
    • What’s the difference between a territorial zone and an economic exclusion zone (EEZ)?
      • Territorial zones have very defined rules and are highly protected marine areas
      • Economic exclusion zones are not as protected as territorial zones. Ecuador has two economic exclusion zones – the one surrounded the Galapagos Islands (insular) and the one adjacent to the shore (continental). 
    • The name economic exclusion zone is misleading – this indicates that Ecuador has the ability to exclude vessels from other countries BUT that does not mean that they will exclude other countries. 
    • Ecuador can choose to set rules that other countries need to obey but by losing their status as a territorial zone, it is much easier for other countries to gain permission to enter and fish in these waters. 
    • By expanding the economic exclusion zone and shrinking the territorial waters, CONVEMAR opened up more than 1 million square kilometers of water to possible foreign fishing pressure.
    • It is possible that there are legal grounds to challenge CONVEMAR since it is not yet international law. 
      • Maritime territorial agreements require 10 years on file with the UN without any challenges from other countries before they become international law
      • A challenge must be raised by a governmental body rejecting the changes enacted under CONVEMAR.
    • Reinstate the minimum 200-mile territorial water protection. This minimum protection was recognized as international law due to the Pacific Treaty (1952). 
    • Expand protections for waters that are not classified as economic exclusion zones or territorial waters
    • Demand ongoing transparency about activities conducted by foreign entities within Ecuadorian waters. This step is necessary to rebuild public trust that Ecuadorians and their government share the same conservation goals. 
    • Spread awareness that foreign industrial fleets exploit legal gray areas and target the edges of these protected zones. Setting up protected areas is a step in the right direction, but it is not always enough as these fleets become more sophisticated
    • Challenge the validity of CONVEMAR and pressure officials to recognize all 200 miles as Ecuadorian territorial waters, not an economic exclusion zone
    • Share the challenges the Galapagos Islands are facing with the rest of the world – the issues are complex and can be hard to follow news coverage if Spanish is not your first language
    • Educate yourself on the possible challenges faced by marine ecosystems in your part of the world, including the maritime political landscape
    • Demand greater transparency in political agreements. Demand that the information is publicly available regarding permits and permissions that Ecuador grants to other countries
    • Educate yourself on distant-water fishing fleets around the world, including your area. Check free monitoring sites (such as Global Fishing Watch or Fleet Mon) to track large-scale fishing pressure worldwide
    • Follow @sosgalapagos on Instagram or at @sosgalapagos593 on Twitter for the latest news coming out of the Galapagos Islands. Learn more about the history of #sosgalapagos and their advocacy work for conservation and accountability in the islands.

Informing and sharing news on marine life, flora, fauna and conservation in the Galápagos Islands since 2017
© SOS Galápagos, 2021

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