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.

Check out our interactive timeline and review new updates, videos, research findings and updates from the Galapagos Islands in 2020

Want to learn more about the foreign distant-water fishing fleet near the outskirts of Ecuador’s Insular EEZ, which surround the Galápagos Marine Reserve?

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

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