Reducing Plastic Waste in the Galapagos

WildAid and the Galapagos National Park Service launched a two-month campaign in the Galapagos to reduce plastic use in schools.

WildAid has embarked on a new campaign to ensure protection for marine species in the Galapagos Marine Reserve. This week, together with the Galapagos National Park Service, we launched a campaign in the Galapagos to fight plastic pollution. Named “+Life – Trash”, the two-month educational campaign intends to reduce the use of plastic bottles in Galapagos schools.

Our oceans currently receive 5-13 million metric tons of plastic waste each year. The results of this can be seen in the oceanic garbage patches— vortexes of plastic debris; overwhelming pollution in coastal areas, including an uninhabited island in the South Pacific that had nearly 38 million pieces of plastic on its beaches; and marine wildlife deaths due to ingestion of plastic pieces, including a whale that died last week due to starvation after ingesting dozens of plastic bags.

Unfortunately, plastic waste continues to increase across the world and a new investigative report by the Guardian found some troubling figures:
One million plastic bottles are bought every minute;

  • One million plastic bottles are bought every minute;
  • By 2021, demand for plastic bottles is slated to rise by more than 20%;
  • Fewer than 50% of the bottles bought in 2016 were recycled;
  • And only 7% of those recycled were turned into new bottles –
    the rest ended up in landfills or the oceans

These numbers support a report published by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation that by 2050, our oceans will contain more plastic than fish. Unsubstantial fishing practices have already overexploited or depleted 90% of commercial fisheries and the impacts of climate change threaten to destroy critical marine habitat, which could further decimate marine species.

However, effective marine management could help to protect places like the Galapagos, whose marine biodiversity is a beacon of hope for other nations and where illegal fishing has severely declined over the last decade due to increased enforcement.

WildAid’s plastics-reduction campaign is being piloted on 488 students at a local elementary school in the Galapagos, as well as parents and teachers. The campaign will track plastic use throughout the year and compare it to current numbers to measure its effectiveness. Using a combination of games and infographics, our team will explain why plastic pollution is a problem for our oceans and how it impacts bird, turtle, and marine mammal species, as well as our own health and economy. Students will also be given a reusable water bottle to incentivize its use over single-use plastic bottles.

WildAid is reducing plastic use in the Galapagos thanks to the support of National Geographic—Lindblad Expeditions. This campaign is part of our work with the Galapagos National Park Service to increase sustainability in artisanal fisheries, increase safety at Galapagos tourist sites, and provide environmental education for Galapagos residents.

Machalilla National Park and WildAid Partner to Save Humpback Whales

Park rangers in Ecuador’s Machalilla National Park have just completed their fourth year of rescuing humpback whales, which are often found entangled in fishing gear. So far, park rangers have saved 13 whales, including four rescues this year alone.

From June through September, humpback whales are a prominent sight along the coast of Ecuador where they travel thousands of miles to take advantage of the temperate waters to mate and birth their calves. Every June, the community of Puerto Lopez celebrates their return with the annual humpback whale festival. Their arrival is cause for celebration for the small community of Puerto Lopez, which heavily depends on revenue from whale watching tourism.

According to a study by the Pacific Whale Foundation, whale watching is one of world’s fastest-growing tourism sectors, and one that brings tens of millions of dollars in tourism revenue to coastal Ecuador. Nearly 60% of tourists in Machalilla are driven by the humpback whale breeding season off the coast of Isla de la Plata, making the park one of Ecuador’s top tourist destinations.

However, humpback whales and other large marine animals including sharks, sea turtles and mantas are threatened by unsustainable fishing methods, illegal fishing and climate change. Thousands of whales and cetaceans die every year as bycatch. Humpback whales, attracted by krill and small marine species, often get entangled in fishing lines or nets, which can cause the animals to drown.

In response, in 2013 Machalilla National Park authorities established a whale rescue unit that has been trained in procedures for entangled whales, using special tools to free them. The park rangers also developed an outreach component to inform tour operators and other boat captains about the program so that they can report whales in need of help.

Thanks to the support of our donors, WildAid is helping the park rangers at Machalilla to prevent illegal fishing, and also launch operational missions, including humpback whale rescues. We work directly with park rangers to train and support them in their work, underwrite operations, enforce tourism regulations, arrest illegal fishers and deliver outreach campaigns to educate local communities on the benefits of a healthy marine environment and the importance of reducing fishing pressures in specific areas.

Saving Injured Sea Turtles in Ecuador

WildAid partners with the Machalilla Wildlife Hospital to rescue and rehabilitate injured sea turtles and other marine wildlife on Ecuador’s coast.

We’re excited to announce that WildAid has now partnered with the Machalilla wildlife hospital in Ecuador to provide comprehensive protection for sea turtles.

The seven species of sea turtle found today have been around for 110 million years. Unfortunately, six of those species are listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List as endangered or critically endangered, primarily due to longline fisheries, harvesting of turtle meat and eggs, predation and habitat degradation, among others.

Did you know that the temperatures of the sand at sea turtle nesting sites determines the gender of the hatchlings? Cooler temperatures are mostly males and warmer temperatures are mostly females. (Laura Wais)

After spending many years at sea (females from different species reach maturity at different ages, with some as old as 20-50 years of age), sea turtles return to the same spots to nest– migrating as far as 1400 miles between their feeding and nesting grounds.

Ecuador’s beaches provide an ideal nesting spot for four sea turtle species (Green Turtles, Leatherbacks, Olive-Ridley and critically endangered Hawksbill sea turtles). Over the past year, we’ve partnered with park rangers along Ecuador’s coast on various sea turtle conservation projects that include underwriting at-sea patrols, removing abandoned drift nets, marking and protecting nests from predators, releasing more than 15,000 sea turtle hatchlings into the sea, and educating the local community about the importance of sea turtles.

Sea turtles, which can live up to 80 years, are an important part of a healthy marine ecosystem and can generate more than one million dollars in annual tourism revenue. This year, WildAid is expanding sea turtle conservation efforts by working with a grassroots wildlife rehabilitation hospital at Machalilla National Park that has treated nearly 150 sea turtles, 10 sea lions and 300 sea birds over the last four years.

Sea turtles treated in the wildlife rehabilitation hospital suffer from various injuries including lesions and internal damage by fishing hooks or from getting trapped in or consuming marine debris/plastics. The wildlife hospital volunteers treat injured marine wildlife from the entire country’s coast.

A sea turtle recovering in Machalilla’s wildlife hospital.

It is the only facility of its kind in Ecuador and was previously funded from t-shirt sales and donations from the community. With improved infrastructure and equipment provided by WildAid, the hospital will expand operations to provide more marine wildlife with a second chance at life. Currently, there are 17 resident turtles undergoing treatment and with our support, veterinarians will be able to treat up to 27 turtles over the next year.

Work with sea turtle populations provides an opportunity to inform our future work in Machalilla, as well as that of other regions. Data collected may include trends in wildlife injuries, infectious diseases, migration patterns, systemic medical issues, and human-animal interactions, among others. This data can help inform and educate tourism and fishing policy, and provide best practices for managing Ecuador’s MPAs and fisheries to conserve the country’s marine biodiversity.