Following up on the Galapagos Shark massacre

Deep Sea News has been publishing so many must read stories I can’t keep up!  For example, See Rick M’s great follow up on the Galapagos shark saga;

The truly unfortunate fact is that this news is neither new nor uncommon. And it is global

Designation of any parcel of ocean “as protected”, formally or informally, is no guarantee of protection. The Galápagos National Park became a World Heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1978. In 1986, Ecuador established the Galápagos Marine Reserve, encompassing the 27,000 square miles of ocean surrounding the Galápagos Islands…  

Conservation efforts have been so eroded by these threats that in 2007 UNESCO designated the Galápagos Islands a World Heritage Site in Danger. The islands continue to be in need of help. In 2007, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society stepped in to fill that void and assist the Ecuadorian Environmental Police in busting a major shark-fin cartel based on the Ecuador mainland. Sea Shepherd also partnered with the Galápagos National Park to hound poachers within the Marine Reserve and confiscate or destroy their gear and vessels. However, Sea Shepherd’s direct-action activities ground to a halt in 2008 when their vessel fell into disrepair. Even after an overhaul, the ship has no crew and (to my knowledge) remains anchored in the harbor on Santa Cruz Island.

Scott Henderson, a shark expert at Conservation International has a cheery if accurately titled article; shark “massacres” happen every day…we just don’t hear about it. I want to second his kind words about the Galapagos National Park’s efforts to protect sharks and countless other species in the Galapagos Marine Reserve. So many places I work, the local authorities seem indifferent to poaching in marine reserves. Not here. The park biologists and other staff are well-trained and committed.

What is newsworthy about this story is that targeted shark fishing is illegal in Ecuador, and all kinds of shark capture in Galápagos are forbidden. Yet despite their limited resources, the Galápagos National Park Service — with the staunch support of the Ecuadorian Navy — managed to chase down a relatively large commercial fishing vessel with a medium-sized speedboat and force the vessel back to port for a thorough, well-documented and transparently reported inspection and judicial process.

The pressures on the park service to turn a blind eye to such illegal activities and let vessels involved in them slip away undetected, or unapprehended, are immense. Yet a transformation has occurred in Galápagos; protecting sharks, not sitting idly by and watching them systematically eliminated, is now business as usual for both the park and the navy. Virtually no one recognizes the park service for this dedication, which in the past has led to gunshots and wounded park guards.

After nearly 30 years working in the Galápagos Marine Reserve I can say that although some battles have been lost, and continuing shark declines are deeply worrying, the fact that Galápagos remains a sanctuary where large shark concentrations still persist is a tribute to the Galápagos National Park Service, the Ecuadorian Navy and the Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment, who have demonstrated the leadership and willingness that few other nations have shown to work hand in hand with organizations such as ours and take concrete steps to curb overfishing.

If sharks, and the ocean health that depends on them thriving, are to have a fighting chance, other nations and marine protected areas are going to have to develop the skills and commitment to protect them as effectively as the Galápagos National Park Service.

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