An alarm has been raised in Ecuador as a fleet of 260 Chinese-flagged fishing vessels have been spotted off the coast of the Galapagos Islands over the weekend. Although the ships are still in the corridor of international waters, the Ecuadorian Navy has set up patrols to ensure the vessels do not enter the Exclusive Economic Zone covering the Galapagos Marine Reserve.
Being one of the richest fishing areas and a hot spot for marine life, the Galapagos Islands have attracted Chinese fishing fleets to the region every year. In 2017, a Chinese fishing vessel was apprehended while trawling the marine reserve. It was in possession of 300 tonnes of marine wildlife composed mostly of sharks. The Galapagos Islands are located approximately 15,700 miles from Mainland China on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, with its surrounding waters tagged as a protected UNESCO world heritage site.
Ecuadorian Defence Minister Oswaldo Jarrin said they have deployed surveillance patrols to secure and make certain that the incident in 2017 does not happen again. A"protection strategy" has been designed and put in place by former Mayor Quito Roque Sevilla and ex-environment minister Yolanda Kakabadse. The strategy is aimed at safeguarding the waters of the archipelago, which is home to the largest concentration of protected shark species in the world and valued by the Chinese as table fare delicacies and medicinal miracles. Shark fins and shark liver are among the highly demanded products in Chinese markets, which has led to the near extinction of some shark species such as the hammerhead shark.
The unique ecosystem and biodiversity is what inspired Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution after his expedition to the Galapagos Islands in 1835.
In an interview by El Universo newspaper with Nicolas Vera of Frente Insular de la Reserva Marina de Galapagos, an organisation dedicated to the preservation of marine life in the islands, it was revealed that each ship in the Chinese fleet has a length of 60 meters and is carrying about 100 thousand hooks. "We are talking about 26 million hooks. It is a barricade of at least 400 miles. This technique affects manta rays, sharks, turtles and even birds."
Ecuador President Lenin Moreno has called on other Latin American countries spanning the coastline of the Pacific Ocean to form a joint regional stand on the impending marine life threat.