Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands have been a World Heritage Site since 1978 and, together with the surrounding marine protected areas, serve as what the U.N. describes as a “unique living museum and showcase of evolution.” They also represent a core piece of Ecuador’s economy, with travel to Ecuador’s environmentally protected areas accounting for more than a third of its tourism revenue.
Yet sufficient funding for conservation areas has not generally been available, as seen by alarming rates of illegal fishing there. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated Ecuador’s already high sovereign debt levels, relegating its debt-to-GDP ratio to its worst since 2000.
The U.N. has estimated that investors globally will need to triple their conservation efforts from existing levels to ensure the preservation of critical natural habitats—a shortfall compounded by the fact that the vast majority of governments employ conservation funding for domestic use.
Latin America has particularly low conservation investments despite hosting a large share of the planet’s natural wealth and biodiversity.
Solution and Impact
In May 2023, DFC provided more than $656 million in political risk insurance (PRI) that enabled Ecuador to exchange $1.6 billion of its international bonds for a $656 million loan financed with the issuance of a Galapagos marine conservation-linked bond (Galapagos Marine Bond).
The transaction is expected to generate more than $450 million for marine conservation in the Galápagos Islands and more than $1.1 billion in lifetime savings for Ecuador through reduced debt service costs.
Credit Suisse arranged and structured the issuance of the Galapagos Marine Bond, and the transaction was also supported by the Inter-American Development Bank, Oceans Finance Company, and the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy. Ultimately, a group of 11 private insurers provided more than 50 percent reinsurance to facilitate the project.
DFC is one of the few organizations that provides PRI, an important tool for building investor confidence and mobilizing private capital—a core tenet of DFC’s mission—in markets where it’s needed most. Coverage can be as much as $1 billion against losses due to currency inconvertibility, government interference, and political violence including terrorism. DFC also offers reinsurance to increase underwriting capacity.