Saturday, August 11, 2007

Excuse my French !!!!

What comes to mind when you think of the Galapagos Islands?

A glance into trusted Wikipedia reveals the following:
They are famed for their vast number of endemic species and the studies by Charles Darwin during the voyage of the Beagle that contributed to the inception of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection."
"Though the first protective legislation for the Galápagos was enacted in 1934 and supplemented in 1936, it was not until the late 1950s that positive action was taken to control what was happening to the native flora and fauna.
In 1959, the centenary year of Charles Darwin's publication of The Origin of Species, the Ecuadorian government declared 97.5% of the archipelago's land area a national park, excepting areas already colonised.
The Charles Darwin Foundation was founded the same year, with its international headquarters in Brussels. Its primary objectives are to ensure the conservation of unique Galápagos ecosystems and promote the scientific studies necessary to fulfill its conservation functions. Conservation work began with the establishment of the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island in 1964.
In 1986 the surrounding 70,000 square kilometres (43,496 sq mi.) of ocean was declared a marine reserve, second only in size to Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
In 1990 the archipelago became a whale sanctuary.
In 1978 UNESCO recognised the islands as a World Heritage Site, and in 1985 a Biosphere Reserve. This was later extended in December 2001 to include the marine reserve."

And then, there's the Diving!
Clouds of schooling Hammerheads, the resident pack of supersized Galapagos Sharks on that corner in Wolf, the funny Redlipped Batfish, friendly Black Galapagos Sea Turtles, mating giant Whale Sharks right in front of Darwin's Arch, boiling bait balls, wandering flocks of Silkies, flights of Golden Cownose Rays - pure magic!

Well, it seems, not for long anymore.
  • One year ago, in its wisdom, the all-powerful Darwin Station cancelled all of the popular two-week dive cruises, no reasons given. In brief, you can forget about any meaningful diving in Shark Heaven, Wolf and Darwin Islands.
  • Then, it doubled the quotas of the fishermen operating in the area.
  • In June of this year, UNESCO has added the Galapagos to its List of World Heritage Sites in Danger.
  • One month ago, the Darwin Station withdrew the operating license of all diving vessels except for the two biggest operators. Again, no advance warning and no reasons were given, stranding scores of pre-booked tourists and causing untold damage to the reputation of the Industry. At the same time, huge foreign cruise ships are being allowed into the Archipelago, thus increasing pressure on the ecosystem.
  • Now Rafael Correa, the President of Ecuador, in his wisdom, has repealed Decree 2130, the Law of 2004 banning the fishing, commercialization and exportation of Sharks. No reasons given of course.
In the week following that decision, more than two tons of Shark fins alone have been seized, then released back to fishermen who claimed they had caught them as bycatch.
In brief, the floodgates have been opened for the indiscriminate slaughter of Sharks in the Galapagos. Half of the 29 Shark species that frequent those waters are considered threatened.
At the same time, Correa announced that he was expelling Sea Shepherd's Local representative in Ecuador, Sean O'Hearn Gimenez, who had organized the successful seizure. That unconstitutional attempt was successfully thwarted.

What the Hell are those Morons doing?

The Darwin Station has long been the laughing stock of the Conservation community. Its Galapagos Directorship is a revolving door and its policies are only noteworthy for their arrogance, incompetence and inefficiency. Millions in Park entrance fees are being squandered in its bureaucracy and their recent track record, as shown above, is abysmal. Need there be more warning than the move by UNESCO in June?
When will the Board finally stop this pathetic travesty?

As to Correa, what can I say.
Everybody knows that the Shark Fin trade is a Mafia money laundering operation mounted by the Chinese Triads. Big money, and plenty enough to buy the President of an impoverished thirld world country. And, it's election time.

Several organizations, among them Sea Shepherds, The National Geographic Society, Peter Hughes Diving (, my friend Dom of DiveAdvice ( and Wild Aid through its local representative Oswaldo Rosero ( are organizing public letter campaigns addressed to Correa, requesting him to reverse his decision.
Please, if you care, write such a letter and show this blog to your friends.

One request for support I received included the following piece of advice:
"Ecuador is a sovereign nation, and most of us are not citizens of Ecuador, so please be cordial in requesting President Correa's help."

Yeah - right!!!


Wolfgang Leander said...

Unfortunately, you are completely right with your assessment of the situation in the Galapagos.

I lived seven years in Ecuador, and I once dared to say to a couple of people that the Galapagos Islands should be put under the control of an international organzization given the fact that the Ecuadoreans are simply unable to protect the islands from human depredation - you should have seen the looks I got from resentful macho patriots who viscerally hate gringos meddling in what they believe are "internal" affairs....

I have very little hope for the sharks in the Galapagos (and the rest of Ecuador) - and yet, we have to try. I have also written a petition, signed by some 100 people, to be delivered to Correa by Oswaldo Rosero next week

Have a look at my blog:



Anonymous said...

I realize this post is from 2007 but it's pretty clear that you still think the argument you put forward then regarding the Charles Darwin Foundation (whom I presume you are referring to with "Darwin Station") is valid.

I think it's important to separate the roles of The Charles Darwin Research Station and the Parque Nacional de Galapagos, which you, much like the people on Puerto Ayora actually, regard as the same entity.

They are not. Unequivocally.

The Foundation primarily conducts research and ecological monitoring, and secondarily uses this information to advise the park on conservation management. They do this with a miniscule annual budget which is a fraction of what the park receives from the Ecuadorian government.

The park is responsible for the management of the marine reserve. They are the ones you should be holding accountable rather than a group of scientists and volunteers who aren't getting paid enough for the tireless work they do.

In theory, the park should be making these management decisions based on the research conducted by the station. In actuality, there's some pretty fucked up bureaucracy going on and relationship is complex and not at all a happy, cohesive one.

In regards to sharks, while I was there, many fishermen were telling us that they knew of others that were catching sharks for their fins in the western parts of the archipelago.

The park has two large vessels that are used to police the archipelago and are assisted by the navy. However, the archipelago is a huge area and its not a simple task.

I think its far too simplistic to blast the park for these issues without think about how these things play out on the islands. Ecuadorian bureaucracy and corruption are unbelievable but these issues are invariably not as simple as saying "look at these idiots fucking this up".

Anonymous said...

Case in point: Are you aware of what happened when The national park shut down the seas cucumber fishery?

That is a microcosm of the issues in play in relation to conservation management on the islands.