Presence of foreign fleet threatens Galapagos marine life and Ecuador’s mineral resources

The hammerhead shark reaches sexual maturity at the age of 13 and lives to be 30. Photo: Private archive

By Isbael Alarcon
August 2, 2020 00:05

The corridor that is formed between the Continental Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Ecuador and the Insular one has become a strategic point for foreign fleets. The arrival of these ships, especially Asian ones, is repeated every year and it is estimated that their impact on biodiversity is increasing. But what is it that makes them mobilize from the other side of the world to this point?

Pablo Guerrero, director of Marine Conservation for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Ecuador, explains that the interesting thing about this area is the oceanographic conditions, since there is a confluence of currents such as El Niño, Cromwell and Humboldt. The latter brings very cold water masses that produce the emergence of areas of upwelling of nutrients, which are the base of the trophic chain of the oceans.

The productivity of this area attracts species of commercial importance and others necessary for the conservation of ecosystems. Although the ships that are between the Continental and Insular EEZ have not entered Ecuadorian waters, they have become an obstacle for sharks, turtles and all kinds of threatened fish. “Whether the ships crossed the border or not is irrelevant because the animals have already made them,” says Alex Hearn, a professor at the San Francisco University of Quito.

Whale shark. It is listed as ‘Vulnerable’, according to the IUCN listing. Photo: Private archive

Squid fleets, such as those currently found, are known to arrive at this point in the ocean in search of the giant Humboldt squid. This is a resource already affected by overexploitation and the effects of climate change. Its massive extraction produces impacts on ecosystems and sharks, since it is their main food

In the case of longline fleets, the concern is bycatch. Hearn identifies five species of sharks that inhabit this area as the most threatened by the presence of these boats. The whale shark is one of those that could have the most contact with fleets.

The researchers believe that these animals leave the coastal area in January and arrive in the Galapagos from the southwest, which is a high productivity area, where they feed. In June they go up to Darwin, they go west and again they move along the equatorial front.

Another of the most threatened is the common or red hammerhead that went from ‘Endangered’ to ‘Critically Endangered’ in 2019. These are more vulnerable for the Ecuadorian or Costa Rican fleet because every year they leave the marine reserve and begin their route to Isla del Coco.

For Hearn, the silky is the one that can have the most problems with foreign vessels. There is not much information on this species in the country, but an individual tagged in the Galapagos in 2012 was later recorded in Clipperton, in southwestern Mexico. The data say they may be open water nomads; but when they come across an islet like Darwin and Wolf, they tend to stay because it is a productive area.

In Galapagos you can find two species of yellowtail sharks that are the pelagic and the big eye. Both are listed in CITES and are considered ‘Vulnerable’. Although it is not known about their abundance in the area, they were found inside the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 boat in 2017.

Regarding commercial species, Guerrero says that the Galapagos Marine Reserve is a major exporter of biomass from large pelagics such as tuna, billfishes and dorado. These are concentrated in these places where they find suitable conditions to feed and then leave for other areas of the eastern Pacific.

Despite the fact that Ecuadorian fleets must abide by certain rules that include respecting closures, closure zones, and carrying observers on board in vessels of a certain size, Asian longline fleets do not necessarily follow these rules. This is a problem, says Guerrero, since without the presence of observers, it is not possible to know if its long lines are entering the EEZ, even if the ship is in international waters.

This area, in addition to being rich in biodiversity, has a large amount of minerals. Theofilos Toulkeridis, a geologist at the University of the Armed Forces ESPE, explains that these are more abundant in places where the oceanic plate is younger. On the Galapagos seabed there are nodules of ferromanganese and basic metals such as lead, cadmium and zinc. Toulkeridis says there is no exploitation technology yet, but tests are underway in Japan and Germany.

Maximiliano Bello, executive advisor of the international organization Mission Blue, says that “unfortunately” the entire submarine mountain range is not protected and the presence of foreign fleets acting in the area means that they are taking the resources that are born and grow in this corridor between the mainland and islands.

For Bello, there is sufficient evidence that it is necessary to close this step and include it as Ecuadorian waters. The researcher says that Ecuador should lead the negotiation for a regulatory framework on the high seas and call on neighboring countries to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

Other points highlighted by the specialists are the elimination of the subsidies granted by Asian and European countries to their fleets, which encourages the overexploitation of the seas, and that transshipment at sea is totally prohibited, which would make fishing unviable. of these boats in the outer Galapagos.

This content has been originally published by Diario EL COMERCIO at the following address:

Informing and sharing news on marine life, flora, fauna and conservation in the Galápagos Islands since 2017
© SOS Galápagos, 2021


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