Scientific Diplomacy to Protect the Galápagos Islands from Illegal Fishing

Ecuador and Costa Rica collaborate on a proposal to extend their marine limits in a maritime zone between Cocos Island and the Galapagos Islands. This measure could curb illegal fishing in the area.

Tunas, sharks and squid generate great fishing interest in the environment of the Galapagos Islands. Last August, satellites detected hundreds of Chinese vessels in international waters in the vicinity of the marine reserve, warning of “very irresponsible behavior” that occurs “every year,” the Ecuadorian ambassador to Germany, Manuel Mejía-Dalmau, lamented in conversation with DW.

“The fleet that we saw recently is basically dedicated to fishing for Humbodlt squid, which in fact today is already in decline due to overfishing in the entire Pacific area,” Maximiliano Bello, executive advisor of Public Policies of the Ocean for the Mission Blue organization, explained to DW.

Although the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Convemar) limits the exclusive economic zone of each country to 200 nautical miles, it is also contemplated that it can be extended as long as it is shown, based on scientific studies, that said extension is the extension natural of its territory under the sea.

If the proposal is accepted, the countries acquire rights to the natural resources of the seabed of the enlarged area. And for this, Costa Rica and Ecuador have joined forces in a unique bilateral cooperation exercise.

“Ecuador, like Costa Rica, has always focused its efforts on the prevention of illegal fishing and the conservation of marine ecosystems, and the fact that both countries belong to the Convemar gives them important international tools for this purpose”, a spokeswoman for the Ecuadorian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility told DW.

Scientists from both countries have identified the geological characteristics of the seabed.

In 2013, both countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work on the extension, taking into account the maritime zone that borders between Cocos Island and the Galapagos Islands.

“As of the signing, both countries began a process of joint work and coordination, which has included the holding of numerous binational meetings, as well as the realization of four binational bathymetric campaigns, the first in early 2017 and the last in March of 2020 ”, explained to DW Arnoldo Brenes Castro, General Coordinator of the Commission of Technical-Scientific Advisory on the Extension of the Continental Shelf of Costa Rica.

On August 18, the first meeting of the Costa Rica-Ecuador Binational Publishing Group was held, “the official coordinating body between both countries for the preparation, editing and review of the Costa Rica-Ecuador Joint Partial Presentation,” said Brenes. He added that it is expected to take place next December.

“At the moment there is information on the existence of important mineral deposits on the seabed of the areas to be extended,” the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry spokesperson pointed out to DW, advancing that future exploitation of these resources will be considered “the use of highly specialized technologies, which should take into account the possible effects to prevent marine pollution.”

Although Ecuador banned the hammerhead shark trade in the country, Migramar scientists warn that the presence of foreign fleets in international waters can undermine these conservation efforts.

Conservation without extraction

The richness and biodiversity that are concentrated in the sector between the northern flank of the submarine Cordillera de Carnegie, and the southeast flank of the submarine Cordillera del Coco is explained by the convergence of “the Humboldt current that comes from southern Chile bringing with it very cold waters with a lot of oxygen content that allows the rotation of these nutrients ”, stressed Bello.

According to Migramar, a group of scientists who have investigated the migratory species that inhabit the Eastern Pacific, several species that are in danger of extinction, such as the green turtle, the pelagic thresher shark, the shark and the leatherback sea turtle use the Cordillera del Coco to move between the Cocos Island National Park and the Galapagos Marine Reserve.

The overexploitation of fishing resources not only threatens the natural balance of marine ecosystems, but also the food security of Ecuador.

However, in the last 15 years this network has detected a 45% reduction in hammerhead sharks within the marine protected areas of the Eastern Tropical Pacific. For this reason, they demand greater protection for the marine corridor that connects the Galapagos Marine Reserve with the Isla del Coco National Park and propose the creation of the MigraVía Coco-Galapagos, which should be designated as an area of ​​strict protection for any type of extractive activity.

The recovery of marine ecosystems, the mitigation of the effects of climate change and the improvement in the conservation of threatened species are some of the advantages that this conservation would represent, they point out.

Bello was also in favor of this measure because “the expansion of these marine protected areas is key to making room for migratory species that are highly vulnerable.”

However, he considered that this measure “will not solve the issue of Chinese industrial fishing or others that are operating outside the exclusive zone of Ecuador, but it will work for tuna fishing in Ecuador itself ”. According to the Chilean expert, “the tuna fleet has a tremendous impact” and that is why “Ecuador has a yellow card in the European Union for governance reasons.”

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


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