Marine sanctuaries where fishing is totally banned and marine life can thrive, represent less than two percent of the global ocean. Yet every day, these rare protected places are threatened by industrial fishing fleets that enter these sanctuaries to fish illegally. The illegal trade of wildlife, including shark fins, represents a global lucrative industry and governments in lower-income and developing countries struggle to keep the bad guys at bay. The Galapagos Islands in Ecuador have the largest concentration of sharks on the planet. I know this first hand because I lead this study published in 2016 (more info here). This makes them a global diving mecca, and shark alive in the Galapagos is worth much more to the tourism industry, that killed for its fins (more info here). This is why the Ecuadorian government decided to totally protect sharks from fishing in 1998 in the Galapagos Marine Reserve, and establish the Darwin and Wolf Marine Sanctuary to protect hammerhead and other sharks in 2016. However, these huge shark concentrations are also a target for pirate fishing fleets that seek one-off economic gain by killing an estimated 100 million sharks a year globally. Keeping the bad guys at bay from an area of 138.000km2 it is technically challenging and very expensive. The development of electronic surveillance has made things easier, but it has not replaced the fact that vessels need to be captured in-situ by a park ranger and accompanying Ecuadorian Navy Officer. With plummeting oil prices, Ecuador economy has suffered over the past years and the budget of the Galapagos National Park has been considerably reduced. This has in turn affect the park rangers’ capabilities to chase the bad guys as I could witness first hand last Sunday when we tried to chase a 100-meter Chinese fishing vessel using a 4-meter, single engine zodiac. The bad guys outraced us that day and this highlights the need for urgent help if we want to preserve Darwin’s living laboratory for the years to come.
So here is my pledge: let’s get two kick-ass, commando-style, chase boats to keep the bad guys away from the Galapagos Marine Reserve. This will definitely not be the final solution, but will for sure contribute significantly to give park rangers a much-better chance next time.