Beaches of three provinces developed characteristics of marine areas protected against confinement by COVID-19, reveals Ecuadorian study

Through satellite images, an improvement was found in four resort beaches during confinement.

Angel Paez
10 July 2021

In July of this year the clarity of the water can still be observed on the San Lorenzo de Salinas beach. 
Photo: Courtesy Franklin Ormaza

In the first months of 2020, in much of the planet, restrictive circulation measures were issued in order to stop the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. Despite the consequences of this disease in humans, there was a sector of the planet that ‘benefited’ from the effects of confinement.

Animals returned to spaces in which they did not appear for many years, as well as an improvement of beaches and rivers. In Ecuador, the investigation of this aspect did not stop and the work carried out is reflected in a study published on July 1 in the scientific journal Frontiers.

The investigation was in charge of the oceanographer Franklin Ormaza, Divar Castro and Peter Statham. The magazine grouped it with six other prominent articles on the impact of landfill on regional and global oceans and coasts.

Through online surveys, citizens who were close to the sea sought to determine whether the perceived quality of the beaches and adjacent waters had improved during confinement by COVID-19. Four locations were selected: Salinas, Manta, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and Puerto Ayora

Faced with this situation, three sets of questions were prepared, in the first two locations they were practically the same, but in Galapagos it varied slightly because it was located in one of the most important marine reserves.

The first survey was of a cross-sectional type and was conducted in May 2020 and the second survey was in July.

“The majority (97-99%) suggested that the beaches had improved significantly from visual observations during confinement. On a scale of 1 (worst) to 5 (best), the beaches of Salinas and Manta, respectively, were rated 2.2 and 2.8 (less than acceptable) before quarantine, and 4.5 and 4.3 after; the results of the second survey (after 18 weeks of restrictions) were very similar. The responses from Galapagos showed a similar trend, but with less marked differences,” the study indicates.

Ormaza explains that given the situation that was beginning to arise from the COVID-19 pandemic, he tried to look for the positive side and thought that if the problem of the beaches is in pollution, it should have improved as they evidenced. 

He remarks that one of the problems is the low capacity for the treatment of domestic water in coastal localities, which causes the contamination of these spaces. Initially they presented in a journal the answers that people had given and later they supplemented it with technical data through satellites.

July 2020. Photo: Courtesy Franklin Ormaza

One of the phenomena detailed by the respondents was the presence of marine species in greater numbers. The reason, they identified as the reduction of luminosity and noise on the coast.

“These two factors create stress, distraction, create a terrible impact on many marine species. The music that is produced very close to the beach generates really threatening noise that causes the species to move away from the coasts and precisely on the coasts is where they have the main primary biological processes. The same thing happened in Galapagos, an observer who was quarantined on a boat showed much more sightings of turtles, sharks and whales and then this was corroborated with other observations and reports that were made in the international press,” says the researcher.

If we do not stop this issue, if we do not reflect, if we do not take a moment to ‘be still’, this pandemic has given us the opportunity because no one imagined that this was going to happen, it is an opportunity that life and nature gave us. If we don’t take advantage, I think we will go from bad to worse.

Franklin Ormaza, oceanographer

Through NASA satellite instruments they measured the temporal and spatial changes of chlorophyll, as well as the attenuation coefficient from March to May.

“The diffuse attenuation coefficient (Kd), which is an indicator of the turbidity of the water column, was used quantitatively to measure the transparency of the water. These data show that during the same period in which the chlorophyll changes, the water column in 2020 was clearer than in 2019, except where there were coastal blooms of phytoplankton ,” the study states.

With these data it was found that the water was clearer and this was recorded through several videos. One of the factors that led to this situation was because the Ecuadorian coast has a capacity for renewal due to the different currents that clean it.

Improvement in species

Ormaza states that after the relaxation of the restrictive measures and the opening of the beaches, he has observed that contamination returned to these spaces and after a new confinement at the beginning of 2021 an improvement was once again evident. He says that several species of fish also increased in size, such as the pinchagua.

Within the research, the adoption of Integrated Coastal Zone Management processes is recommended, as well as an improvement in cultural awareness of environmental quality, encouraging a different approach to beach tourism that also stimulates a local cultural heritage.

The oceanographer explains that sustainable tourism should not generate an impact on the environment and be based on information prior to the effect it can cause. He also highlighted the human resources that the localities have to put this in motion.

“It has always been the issue that for sustainable tourism there has been no prior information because this criterion was already started since the beaches were contaminated, etc … but now the beaches have returned to their natural system, they have almost become marine reserves and it is the opportunity to have the database upon which to base sustainable tourism strategies,” says Ormaza.

What did the polls show?

In the first survey, 120 people participated, while in the second the number increased to 195. In the answer about whether the beach and the water had visually changed, 99% of those surveyed in Salinas said yes, 86% said yes in Manta and 73% in Galapagos in May when responses were collected. While in July the percentage did not vary significantly.

While 47% in Salinas indicated that the beaches and water were cleaner, 28% said that there was less plastic and 25% that the water was more transparent. For Manta beach, the responses were 43, 35 and 22% in the same order. In the case of Galapagos, 60% in Puerto Ayora thought that the water was clearer than before the pandemic, while in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno this percentage rose to 69%. (I)

Read the original coverage from El Universo at

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


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