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School of eagle rays numbering about 20 swimming along the edge of the reef at Wolf Island.
Credit: Getty Images

Leaders in Central and South America are making good on their promise to build a brand-new highway. But, this one isn't for you or me to travel along. This one is strictly for the fish.

In January, Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso signed a decree officially creating the new Galapagos Marine Reserve, aptly named Hermandad or "Brotherhood." The new reserve expands the total protected marine area in the archipelago by 45 percent, taking it from 51,351 square miles to 74,517 square miles, or as officials noted, making it two-and-half times the size of the state of Maryland and three times the size of Belize.

The ceremonial signing was also attended by President of Colombia Ivan Duque, the Foreign Ministers of both Panama and Costa Rica, and former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

"There are places that have made a mark on the history of humanity, and today, we have the honor of being in one of those places," President Lasso said at the signing. "These islands that welcome us have taught us many things about ourselves. So, instead of acting as the absolute masters of these lands and seas, shouldn't we act as their protectors?"

This, however, isn't the end of the conservation to come in the region. The new marine zone is just a piece of the larger plan to create an "ocean highway" connection with Costa Rica's Cocos Islands — a migratory route used by millions of sea turtles and rays — which will eventually connect the two marine UNESCO World Heritage Sites and create an ocean highway of "Finding Nemo" proportions. And, as Reuters reported, it will also help protect several critically endangered species, including hammerhead sharks and whale sharks.

The long-term goal is to see the "ocean highway" run through Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, and Costa Rica, whose leaders committed to creating an Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor between their countries during the COP26 summit in Glasgow in 2021.

The new protection zone will allow travelers to come and experience the majesty of the ocean for generations to come. Though, when paying a visit to the Galapagos and surrounding waters, it's important to pick a tour operator who cares about the environment just as much as you do. For sea-based adventures, look to charters like the Galapagos Sky, Galapagos Aggressor III, Humboldt Explorer, Galapagos Master, and Nortada, which are all designed specifically with scuba divers in mind. For a more luxurious, but equally eco-conscious choice, try booking a room onboard a vessel with Ecoventura, a company that puts the natural world front and center in its brand ethos. Read more about how to plan a trip to the islands to see as many marine and land animals as you can here.