The national system of protected areas (Sistema Nacional de Areas Protegidas-SNAP) is the group of natural protected areas that ensure the coverage and connectivity of important ecosystems at the terrestrial, marine and coastal marine levels, of their cultural resources and of the main water sources. (MAE 2006).

SNAP covers the four regions in the country and is home to 56 natural reserves that extend on approximately 20% of the Ecuadorian surface.

Objectives. The defined conservation objectives for the National System of Protected Areas are:


General Objectives

  • Conserve the biological diversity and the genetic resources contained within SNAP.
  • Offer sustainable use alternatives for natural resources and for the provision of goods and environmental services.
  • Contribute to the bettering of the quality of life of the local community.

Specific Objectives

  • Protect representative samples of terrestrial, fresh-water, marine and coastal marine ecosystems.
  • Protect the watershed basins, wetlands, and other surface and underground water resources.
  • Protect endemic species and those that are in danger of extinction.
  • Manage scenic, historical, archeological, paleontological resources and outstanding geological formations.
  • Manage natural spaces that contribute to the maintenance of cultural events and of ancient ancestral practices of the local communities, indigenous and afro-Ecuadorian towns.
  • Restore intervened natural spaces.
  • Recover species populations that are in danger of extinction.
  • Facilitate scientific research and environmental education.
  • Provide environmental goods and services that are valuable and sustainably utilized.
  • Offer sustainable tourism and recreation alternatives and environmental interpretation.
  • Offer sustainable management and use of wildlife.

The Ecuadorian Constitution of 2008 recognizes the rights of nature and it emphasizes the importance that biodiversity has for the country pointing specifically that “The national system of protected areas ensures the conservation of the biodiversity and the maintenance of their ecological functions.” Similarly the Constitution defines the structure of SNAP, which is comprised of four subsystems:

  1. State
  2. Autonomous and decentralized
  3. Community based
  4. Privately owned

1. State Owned Heritage Natural Areas Subsystem (Subsistema de Patrimonio de Areas Naturales del Estado- PANE)

The state subsystem receives the State Heritage Natural Areas denomination. This subsystem is comprised of 48 protected areas that represent approximately 20% of the national territory. “Ecuador is one of the Latin American countries with the most territory dedicated for the protection of ecosystems” (Elbers, 2011. Pg. 143).

2. Private Protected Areas Subsystem (Subsistema de Areas Protegidas Privadas- APPRI)

The private subsystem is advancing similarly to its consolidation. The Environment Ministry as well as the National Environment Authority, considers society involvement the key for conservation actions and that´s why it is working towards the generation of guidelines for the declaration of private areas.

3. Community Protected Areas (Areas Protegidas Comunitarias- APC)

The subsystem of indigenous and afroecuadorian community protected areas are in the process of getting structured. Several initiatives stand out such as those of the Shuar Arutam community in the Condor mountain range, that has a proposal for a protected indigenous territory; the initiative of a great Chachi reserve in the Esmeralda province, and the community areas proposal for the mangrove’s conservation in several strategic points of the Ecuadorian coast.

4. Autonomous Decentralized Government Protected Areas (Areas Protegidas de los Gobiernos Autonomos Descentralizados- APG)

The autonomous decentralized subsystem gathers the protected areas declared by the autonomous decentralized governments. Several initiatives standout such as the first protected area declared in the year 2012, “Siete Iglesias”

National Parks

Large conservation area (more than 10,000 hectares) that has as main objective of scenery, complete ecosystem and species conservation. Their environments must remain little tampered with, with a minimum of human presence. The main activities are related with research, environmental monitoring, making the development of tourism feasible as support activity for the conservation of the natural resources. The level of restriction for its use is high (restricted access).

Number of areas: 11 national parks

Galapagos, Machalilla, Cayambe-Coca, Cotopaxi, Llangates, Sangay, El Cajas, Podocarpus, Yacuri, Sumaco-Napo-Galeras, Yasuni.

Marine Reserve

Variable size areas, whose priority conservation elements are the marine ecosystems and species of this environment. They must be little of moderately altered, and human presence is related with the intensity in which fishing is made, same which must be adjusted to conservation necessities and to the zoning defined in management plants.

Number of areas. 3

Galera San Francisco, El Pelado, Galapagos

Ecological Reserves

These are natural areas of variable extensions with little human intervention. These areas have outstanding natural resources and are also the sites for species of great national significance. The main objective is that of saving genetic material, ecological diversity, scenery beauty, special phenomena and environmental regulation for scientific research of natural elements and phenomena along with environmental education. When there is no conflicts between education and research some limited areas become available for tourism and recreation activities, as long as the characteristics of the resource allow it.

Number of areas: 9 protected areas.

Manglares Cayapas Mataje, Mache Chindul, Manglares Churute, Arenillas, El Angel, Cotacachi Cayapas, Antisana, Los Illinizas, Cofan Bermejo.

Biological Reserve

Large conservation areas (more than 10,000 hectares) whose main conservation objectives are those of whole ecosystems and their species, little altered and with minimal human presence. This type of reserves, whose main activities are those of biological, ecological, and environmental research, being environmental education as secondary activity also possible. The usage restriction level of its natural resources is very high (very restricted) to ensure the development of ecological processes.

Number of areas: 5 areas

Limoncocha, El Condor, El Quimi, Cerro El Plateado, Colonso Chalupas

Flora and Fauna Production Reserve

Medium size área (between 5,000 – 10,000 hectares) whose main conservation objectives are those of susceptible management of ecosystems and species, which must be little altered, but have a medium level of human presence (people depend on local biological resources). The priority actions are related with the sustainable management of wildlife, environemtal education, ecosystem restoration, and tourism oriented towards nature. The usage restriction level is low (little restrictions).

Number of areas: 5 areas

Puntilla de Santa Elena, El Salado Mangrooves, Chimborazo, Cuyabeno.

Wildlife Refuge

Small size conservation area (less than 5,000 hectares) whose main conservation objectives are those of endangered species and their related ecosystems. The general conservation state of the area will be little altered, with a minimal human presence. The priority actions are related with the management of habitats and species, environmental monitoring and research, ecosystem restoration, and environmental education. The usage restriction level is high (restricted).

Number of areas: 10 areas

La Chiquita, Esmeraldas Estuary, Rio Muisne Estuary, El Pambilar, Corazon and Fragatas Island, Coastal Marine, Pacoche, El Zarza, El Morro Mangroves, Santa Clara Island, Pasochoa.

Natural Recreation Areas

Medium size áreas (between 5,000-10,000 hectares) whose main conservation objective is the natural scenery that might be moderately altered, handles moderate human presence. The main activities are related with tourism and recreation, ecosystem restoration, and environmental monitoring and research. The usage restriction level is low (little restricted).

Number of areas: 6 areas

Villamil Beaches, Lago Park, Los Samanes, Santay Island, El Boliche, Quimsacocha.

Geobotanical Reserve

This extensive area is destined for the conservation of wild flora and of outstanding geological resources. It seeks to protect in its natural state the areas with diverse ecosystems, scenery, and exceptional geological formations, with the goal of ensuring the continuity of natural evolution processes, and at the same time it is inclined to the recovery of altered areas due to human intervention; these are important categorization objectives. It provides recreational, tourism, and cultural education opportunities for its visitors, national and international tourists, due to its historical, cultural, scientific, and landscape value. It constitutes a germplasm bank of flora nd fauna species that are in danger of extinction.

With this category there is only one protected area identified: Pululahua.