Nature conservation

Nature conservation

A paradise in need

The Galapagos Islands are famous for their unique wildlife. Yet its habitat is at risk due to the increasing number of tourists and inhabitants on the archipelago. Decentralised wastewater treatment plants are now helping to protect the fragile ecosystem of the archipelago.

Tailor-made solution

Environmental engineer Max Martin explains how the wastewater is treated on the Galapagos Islands (KfW Group/Alexandra Frank).

In the midst of paradise, only a few metres from the turquoise blue Laguna Las Ninfas, where mangrove trees grow rampant and seals circle the waters, there is a quiet chugging sound. This comes from four large tanks, well concealed under the wooden terrace of a hotel, right by the pool and the guests’ sun-loungers. “This will safeguard our future”, says hotelier Juan Pablo Larraga Herrera proudly as he points to the plant. The wastewater unit has been running for a good year and half in the Hotel Fiesta, which is one of the largest accommodations on the Galapagos Islands with 30 rooms. “Our guests come here to enjoy the unique nature and animals of our archipelago”, he adds. “So we have to protect these.”

The wastewater treatment unit, which is innovative on the Galapagos, is part of a pilot project for sustainable water management on Santa Cruz, the second largest and most populous island in the archipelago. This step into the future was set up by the company ATB Water from Porta Westfalica, supported by EUR 198,000 from DEG – Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft as part of the programme of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Fact about Galapagos

“Until now most water on the Galapagos islands has not been reprocessed because there is no centralized treatment plant on Santa Cruz”, explains ATB Project Leader Thomas Gester. Wastewater seeps away, almost untreated, into the lava rock and through the porous subsoil into the sea, or it is discharged directly into the Pacific Ocean.

This endangers not only the scarce freshwater resources for humans but also the world of sensitive ocean dwellers: more than 500 species of fish, including over 50 species of shark and ray, mussels, snails and starfish, as well as turtles and sea iguanas, sea lions, seals and marine birds, which are exposed to the environmental pollution caused by untreated sewage.

This is why ATB, the German market leader in small wastewater treatment plants, is focusing on decentralized systems in conjunction with its collaborative partner, the engineering firm Blumberg that specializes in plant-based systems, and its Ecuadorian distribution partners Caduceus and Orcatec.

Many advantages

What has changed at the hotel Fiesta since the implementation of a water treatment plant (KfW Group/Alexandra Frank).

An advantage of the ATB wastewater treatment systems is that they can be integrated into pre-existing simple multi-chamber cesspits, as at the Hotel Fiesta. At the hotel an existing three-chamber cesspit was adapted and, as well as biological purification, and a downstream UV disinfection facility with sand filter was fitted.

“It’s important that Fiesta is the first hotel close to the lagoon to have installed ecological wastewater treatment”, says the German environmental engineer Max Martin from Orcatec, who maintains the units locally for ATB and is installing new systems. “Hopefully this will encourage neighbouring guesthouses to treat wastewater properly.”

There is a lack of space in the inhabited parts of the islands, which lie on the equator about 1000 kilometres west of Ecuador. 97 per cent of the land area is part of the national park and is subject to strict regulations. Therefore the space available for the ever-growing urban population, is very limited.

Hotelier Juan Pablo Larraga Herrera, Galapagos
Well-thought solution

Hotelier Juan Pablo Larraga Herrera in front of his pool. Right behind him, the tanks of the water treatment plant are well concealed.

This is why hotelier Juan Pablo Larraga Herrera was also relying on finding a space-saving, low-cost solution. As well as protecting the environment, the wastewater treatment plant has a practical benefit from his own point of view. In the past the hotel had to arrange for a tanker truck to come regularly to pump out the simple cesspits into which the sewage used to run. That was smelly, noisy and annoyed the guests. “Today we not only spare ourselves this tedious process”, he says, “but we also have process water that we can use to irrigate our grounds and for cleaning purposes.” An innovation on the Galapagos where water is hardly ever recycled.

Recycling of cleaned wastewater is also being planned in the Copropag fish factory which, like the Hotel Fiesta, is located in Puerto Ayora, capital of Santa Cruz. The Managing Director Fernando Brito hopes it will very soon be used as rinse water in the company’s sanitation facilities. As part of the project, which was successfully completed at the end of 2017, a second demonstration plant has been set up on the factory premises. This system combines a mechanical pre-cleaning process with a plant-based treatment facility, which means that another approach to reprocessing wastewater is being tried out.

Plants clean water

The fish factory at Santa Cruz uses an innovative method to clean its waste water (KfW Group/Alexandra Frank).

“Wastewater from a fish factory has fat, blood and leftover scales mixed in”, explains Max Martin, “making it especially challenging when it comes to water treatment.” The advantages of plant-based systems are that they are environmentally friendly, robust and low-maintenance because they have the capacity for self-adjustment. Even when they are not being fed with wastewater, say on public holidays, the plants survive anyway thanks to rainwater and the high air humidity. “Admittedly they do need more space than a mechanical plant”, says Max Martin, pointing to an area at the periphery of the factory site where sugar cane, manioc, reeds and bananas are growing in six large plant basins.

Before the wastewater is biologically clarified by the plants, it runs through a fat sieve and a bow screen to screen out fat and solids. Once it has gone through all the treatment processes, it is not just clear and odour-neutral but – like the cleaned water in the Hotel Fiesta – it would even meet German wastewater standards. An environmentally friendly solution for a company that previously discharged its wastewater unfiltered into the volcanic rock. Stricter environmental regulations for the export trade forced the fish company to take action.

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“As a company we should also be a pioneer for other businesses”, says Managing Director Fernando Brito. A lot of enterprises and hotels still do not see wastewater as an issue because there is no statutory obligation concerning its treatment. “Many people just sit back and hope for a centralized wastewater solution”, says Hannes Poehlmann, managing director at Caducecus. Yet that is expensive and still a long way off.

This is precisely why the KfW subsidiary DEG committed to the project: “Our expectations of this project were that this private initiative would become a role model and would inspire others”, explains Claudia Makowski, Senior Investment Manager at DEG and responsible for the project. In fact, two more plants were already being set up in a hotel and an apartment building during the period of the project.

Read more under the picture gallery.

Cover CHANCEN ”Innovation“

This article was published in the spring/summer 2018 issue of CHANCEN ”Neue Ideen erhellen die Welt“.

To German edition

The increasingly strict environmental regulations affecting tourism businesses and guesthouses should cause other responsible persons to reflect, especially since there is undoubtedly a personal benefit to having an in-house wastewater treatment facility because the purified water can be re-used.

ATB and its partners produced a manual presenting the two systems and sent it to more than 50 businesses on the Galapagos, including the Charles Darwin Research Station where scientists from all over the world do research on the fragile ecosystem of the islands, and it proved successful. Three hotels and one new development area, relying on the technology of ATB and its partners, are due to follow this year.

Published on KfW Stories: Tuesday, 3 April 2018


All United Nations member states adopted the 2030 Agenda in 2015. At its heart is a list of 17 goals for sustainable development, known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Our world should become a place where people are able to live in peace with each other in ways that are ecologically compatible, socially just, and economically effective.