THE PINK DOLPHIN: Ecuador creates Galápagos marine sanctuary to protect sharks
Ecuador creates Galápagos marine sanctuary to protect sharks
Belgium-sized area around northern islands of Darwin and Wolf will be off-limits for fishing in bid to conserve sharks and unique habitat
A group of hammerhead sharks swims over a sandy bottom with garden eels at Darwin Island. Photograph: Enric Sala/National Geographic Pristine Seas
By Jessica Aldred
Ecuador has created a new marine sanctuary in the Galápagos Islands that will offer protection to the world’s greatest concentration of sharks.
Some 15,000 square miles (38,000 sq km) of the waters around Darwin and Wolf – the most northern islands – will be made off limits to all fishing to conserve the sharks that congregate there and the ecosystem on which they rely.
Several other smaller “no-take” areas have also been created throughout the volcanic archipelago, a biodiversity hotspot around 600 miles (1,000km) off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean.
The announcement of the new reserve, which is the same size as Belgium, means that 32% of the waters around Galápagos will now be protected from fishing and other extractive industries. It will be incorporated into the existing 80,000-square mile marine reserve created in 1998.
Until now, small-scale local fishing cooperatives had been allowed to operate in the area, but the government says additional protection is now essential as the habitat has come under increased pressure from global warming and incursions by industrial trawlers and illegal shark fin hunters.
More than 34 different species of shark can be found off the shores of the Galápagos including the largest shark species, the filter-feeding whale shark, the migratory hammerhead shark and the Galápagos shark.
The world’s shark populations are in steep decline. Scientists estimate that about 100 million sharks are killed every year, representing 6-8% of all sharks and far outstripping the ability of populations to recover.
A Galápagos sea lion chases a large school fish. Photograph: Enric Sala/National Geographic Pristine Seas
The government hopes the new protection will support a breeding ground that can allow sharks to grow to full size and repopulate the world’s oceans. It hopes the shark sanctuary, together with the existing marine reserve, will strengthen international pressure for ocean conservation, action on shark finning and more ambitious action on climate change.
Environment minister, Daniel Ortega Pacheco, said: “These pristine waters around the Galápagos archipelago are precious not just for Ecuadorians but for the whole balance of our ocean systems. Shark populations in steep decline around the world come here to rest and breed and we want to guarantee complete sanctuary for them.”
The Galápagos Islands were the source of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and are seen as a priceless “living laboratory” for scientists.
The combination of cold and warm ocean currents make it one of the most biodiverse marine habitats in the world, supporting almost 3,000 species of fish, invertebrates and marine mammals, endemic seabirds and the world’s only marine iguana. Because of their remote and isolated nature, many species – such as the famous giant tortoises – are found only in the Galápagos and have not changed much since prehistoric times.
Almost 99% of the land area of the islands, which are recognised by Unesco as a world heritage site, are protected as a nature reserve with no habitation allowed and strictly-regulated tourism. The existing marine reserve – one of the world’s largest – was created 18 years ago to protect the unique habitat from industrial fishing.
At the launch of the newest reserve, Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, will say: “The establishment of this marine sanctuary represents a major breakthrough, not least because it hosts the largest biomass of sharks in the world, which is an indicator of the pristine condition of the site as well as the importance of conservation.”
The scheme has been supported by the National Geographic Foundation, which has offered compensation to the local fishing cooperatives. The government says evidence from other no-take zones around the world shows there is net benefit for local fishermen through an increase in fish numbers outside the protected zone.
A 2015 economic study calculated that the tourism value of a shark over its lifetime in the Galápagos is US$5.4m (£3.75,) while a dead shark brings in less than US$200.
Mangroves at Fernandina Island provide habitat for juvenile snappers, but also for adults, which prey on the abundant small fish. Photograph: Enric Sala/National Geographic Pristine Seas
Source: The Guardian
Researchers find a shark paradise in Galapagos. Now they want to protect it.
A new study of the marine life surrounding the Galapagos Islands reveals it contains the largest shark biomass ever reported, with researchers hoping their findings will push Ecuador to further enhance the protection of the Galapagos and its surrounding waters.
The study focused on the northern Galapagos islands of Darwin and Wolf, known to be a hotspot for sharks and other reef fish. Set apart from the rest of the islands within the Galapagos archipelago and 1,000 kilometres off the coast of Ecuador, these small and isolated islands -Darwin and Wolf measure just one and two square kilometres respectively- recently came fully under the protection of Ecuador’s no-take Galapagos Marine Reserve (where all forms of fishing are prohibited).
The Galapagos is unique in being at the crossroads of three major ocean current systems, bringing both cold waters from the west and southeast from Peru and warm water from the northeastern Panama Current. This confluence makes it a rich source for marine life and for food to attract predatory fish and other animals.
Using a diver-operated stereo-video system to gauge fish biomass surrounding Darwin and Wolf, the researchers from the Charles Darwin Research Station and the National Geographic Society were able to measure the biomass at 12.4 tons per hectare, with 73 per cent of it composed of sharks, primarily hammerheads (48 per cent) Galapagos sharks (19.4 per cent) and blacktip sharks (5.1 per cent).
This “inverted biomass pyramid” is typical of healthy marine ecosystems, say the study’s authors, and occurs when the top levels of the food chain have a much slower growth rate than their prey and where predators are able to top up their food intake from sources outside their area, as is the case at Darwin and Wolf where hammerhead sharks are known to make daily foraging excursions into surrounding waters.
“This study adds to the growing body of literature that highlights the ecological uniqueness and the global irreplaceable value of Darwin and Wolf,” say the study’s authors, who note that although the Galapagos Marine Reserve prohibits fishing, small scale illegal fishing of sharks within the reserve still takes place by locals keen to profit from the abundance of marine life. Not just sharks but other predatory reef fishes like leatherbass and the sailfin grouper are being caught.
“These species are highly prized by Galapagos artisanal fishermen,” say the study’s authors, “but their life histories (long lives, slow growing) make them extremely vulnerable to overfishing.”
Overfishing has caused shark decreases worldwide of over 90 per cent, with one in four species now threatened with extinction. But sharks are worth more alive than dead, according to studies on the economic benefits of ecotourism. A 2012 study of the Isla del Coco National Park in Costa Rica, a tourist haven for shark viewing, estimated that each hammerhead shark that visits the region brings in $1.6-million (USD) over its lifetime to the country in tourist dollars (compared to a paltry $195 if caught and sold at market).
For a Galapagos shark, the net present value is listed at a remarkable $5.4-million -roughly $360,000 per year- making them the most valuable living sharks on the planet.
While the establishment of marine protected areas such as the Galapagos Marine Reserve has been proven effective in helping marine ecosystems to recover from overfishing, in Canada, the David Suzuki Foundation has been critical of the federal government over the small fraction (less than 0.1 per cent) of Canadian waters that have come under such protection, stating that, “While Canada has committed to establishing these planning processes under the mandate provided in the Oceans Act and Oceans Strategy, these processes are not well-developed and suffer from lack of funding.”
Gustavo López Ospina
Pieter Jan Brouwer
Assistant: Emilia Romero
The Amazon Pink Dolphin’s Voice is associated with the International Environmental Mission, a grass roots citizens movement created by Chilean Senator Juan Pablo Letelier.
SELVA Vida Sin Fronteras acknowledges Kevin Schafer’s important contribution towards protecting the highly endangered Amazon pink fresh water dolphin. Title photographs of our “The Amazon Pink Dolphin’s Voice” were taken by Mr. Schafer.