Regional Collaboration to Make MPAs Effective

Over nearly two decades, WildAid worked with the Galapagos National Park Service to build a comprehensive marine protection system, slowly garnering community support, developing a robust sensor suite, building their patrol vessel fleet, and creating training systems. While illegal activity still occurs within its borders, the results have been impressive. In 2009 at least 12,000 sharks were being poached annually from the Park’s waters, today it has the highest concentration of sharks in the world. Since 2011, WildAid has developed a model for regional collaboration using peer-to-peer exchanges to connect the people in the field with their peers in other locations so together they can share best practices and learn through mutual experience.

By bringing together the right people, in the right place, at the right time, using the right systems, our peer-to-peer exchanges have led to increased collaboration between MPA managers and the creation of support networks for our sites. For example, in 2018, we hosted a peer exchange between rangers in Galapagos National Park and Santa Elena Marine Reserve in Ecuador’s coast. The rangers of Santa Elena had previously lacked the confidence to intercept commercial fishing vessels that were illegally fishing in their waters. With the help of the Galapagos rangers, they learned how to do so safely and effectively, and managed to intercept their first vessel independently that same week.

Bringing together the right people means that we identify the best participants to achieve the exchange’s primary goal. For example, in Mexico, we hoped to foster political will to establish a Marine Protection System in the Midriff Islands and enact joint patrols between the Mexican Navy and the park rangers. Thus, we led peer exchanges in 2015 and 2016 with high-level officials from Ecuador’s Ministry of Environment, Navy, and park directors, to meet with their peers in Mexico to present their successes using this approach to enforcement. As a result, Mexican officials were not only impressed with the system but approved investments in surveillance for the Midriff Islands. Likewise, the Santa Elena exchange focused on improving operations, which meant that instead of high-level government officials, we brought together the rangers conducting daily patrols so they could learn from their peers.

The right place means that we host our exchanges at the sites that can exemplify a complete Marine Protection System or a particularly solid approach to an issue, and the visiting countries are often those where we hope to gain political will for protection or sites that have specific challenges that can be solved by shared learning. For example, when we conduct exchanges with Galapagos rangers, it often helps to host the exchange within the Galapagos National Park to demonstrate what an effective patrol looks like in their waters, provide tours of their control center, and show their everyday work in fisheries monitoring at the dock. Likewise, in Mexico, the exchange took place in Baja California to show the Mexican officials the beauty of their protected areas, the daily work their rangers conducted, and demonstrate its conservation-importance.

The right time means that we provide plenty of time for unstructured conversation and interactions during our peer exchanges. For example, in July 2018, we hosted a regional workshop in the Galapagos with 7 countries and participants representing 30+ MPAs. While we had an agenda for presentations, field demonstrations, outings to the site’s control center or other specific locales, and breakout sessions, we also made sure to provide opportunities for our participants to interact with each other (such as during field trips) so that they could form those bonds and trust that is so important in a connection. As a result, and nearly 8 months later, our participants are still active in a WhatsApp WildAid created event participants, and continually seek ways to collaborate.

Lastly, the right systems mean that we provide our participants with avenues for connection after the event, such as sharing contact information between participants, setting up WhatsApp groups, and even providing follow-up events to continue the discussion. This was helpful when our Galapagos control center spotted an illegal fishing vessel on the coast of Ecuador using their vessel monitoring system and alerted Machalilla marine reserve about the vessel. The timely notice allowed the Rangers to head out and intercept the vessel. Likewise, the Ecuadorian Navy sends regular reports to the Galapagos National Park rangers about their findings using electronic monitoring, due to their long-standing relationships formed by joint trainings and communication.

Overall, we believe in the power of regional collaboration to amplify and catalyze effective marine conservation worldwide. Being a ranger can be a lonely endeavor, and by creating these support networks, we help rangers find peers doing similar work, facing similar issues, and celebrating similar successes.

That is why we will be using an approach we call Regional Leadership Hubs to continue scaling WildAid’s marine program. This approach incorporates what we’ve learned from peer exchanges, and allows MPA practitioners to learn from their peers in the region that share similar threats, approaches, and cultural nuances. Our hubs will have a set curriculum to enable our partners to better establish a complete Marine Protection System.

We look forward to sharing additional lessons learned with you as we develop our Regional Leadership Hubs.

WildAid World Oceans Day Challenge 2018

WILDAID’S OCEANS WEEK CHALLENGE

Happy World Oceans Week!

With your support, WildAid is answering the call to protect our oceans from the threat of illegal fishing and ghost fishing gear by strengthening enforcement of the world’s marine protected areas – designated sanctuaries that are vital for mantas, sea turtles, sharks and other marine animals.

A WildAid donor will match online contributions up to a total of $25,000 through June 8 to support marine protection in Ecuador, which is under threat from illegal fishing and ghost fishing gear.

WildAid supports Ecuador’s Ministry of Environment to protect Ecuador’s network of marine protected areas — a series of pristine coastal habitats that harbor an amazing diversity of marine life including 20 kinds of whales and dolphins, hammerhead and whale sharks, and countless species of fish, corals, and mollusks. We have helped Machalilla National Park rangers to:

  • Recover hundreds of ghost fishing nets and longlines (abandoned fishing gear that entangles marine life) over the last two years;
  • Rescue 15 humpback whales entangled in longlines and nets since 2013;
  • Increase patrols by 162% since 2016;
  • Successfully rehabilitate 75 injured sea turtles and release them back to the sea.

In honor of this year’s World Oceans Day focus on plastics, we will tackle ghost fishing gear, which accounts for over 100,000 dolphin, whale, sea turtle and sea lion deaths every year. A recent study found that gill nets specifically, trap and kill over 40,000 sea turtles every year in Ecuador alone. The rangers at Machalilla National Park patrol their waters every day and recover abandoned fishing gear during their patrols. As they work, they release marine life trapped in nets or longlines, including sea turtles, sharks, and mantas. To support the rangers, we need your help to:

  • Renovate their ranger station with the installation of plumbing and electricity, which would allow rangers to stay there during multi-day patrols. This would decrease operating costs for the park and increase time on the water to defend against illegal and ghost fishing gear.
  • Install a second surveillance camera to monitor 100% of the reserve to better detect poachers leaving their fishing gear and deter them from entering the protected area.
  • Fund ranger patrols around Machalilla’s abundant waters to defend them from the threat of illegal fishing.

Please help us meet our goals this year with your donation of just $100, which will pay for one patrol. We thank you in advance!

ABOUT MACHALILLA NATIONAL PARK

In the heart of Ecuador’s coast, Machalilla National Park and its famous Isla de la Plata, host the largest population of giant manta rays in the world with over 1,500 individuals, feeding zones for humpback whales, aggregations of thousands of nesting and hatchling sea turtles, pristine coral reefs, crabs, and tropical reef fish.

“Isla de la Plata is the undiscovered jewel of the Pacific. Lying just offshore of the mainland of Ecuador […], this little diamond in the rough boasts some of the most spectacular manta ray diving in the world and unforgettable up-close encounters with massive mature individuals.” — Dr. Andrea Marshall, Ray of Hope expeditions and “Manta Queen”

Unfortunately, its extensive biodiversity also attracts illegal fishing. Species, such as giant mantas, that swim slowly and near the surface are particularly at risk for entanglement in illegal long lines and gill nets.

“Ghost gear has become a huge but overlooked threat to marine life, and 640,000 metric tons of it are added to the oceans each year – a rate of more than a ton every minute.” — The Independent

We are committed to protecting the unique ecosystem at Machalilla National Park from the threat of ghost gear and illegal fishing for years to come.

A New Ranger Station to Protect Sharks in Galapagos

Home to nearly 3,000 marine species the Galapagos Islands encompass a truly unique ocean environment, hosting humpback whales, sea turtles, manta rays, and a 2016 National Geographic Pristine Seas study found that the northern area of the Galapagos, around the small islands of Darwin and Wolf, was home to the largest shark biomass in the world. The Ecuadorian government announced the creation of a new 15,000-square-mile marine sanctuary — an expansion of the “no-take” zone of the Galapagos Marine Reserve — to protect the area surrounding Darwin and Wolf in March 2016.

Unfortunately and despite sharp declines, illegal fishing is still a problem given the Reserve’s abundant marine life. Most of these commercial fishing infractions take place at the borders of the reserve, which requires trips as long as 575 miles to Darwin and Wolf from Santa Cruz and last as many as five days. WildAid together with Galapagos National Park has developed a plan to reduce patrol distances and decrease operating costs for the park by more than $2.4 million annually, all while providing greater coverage for the reserve and investing in a new patrol fleet for the park.

A crucial part of this project is the construction of a new ranger station at Pinta Island, which is inside the Darwin and Wolf and will allow rangers to quickly intercept illegal fishing infractions at the Darwin and Wolf Marine Sanctuary. You can help us achieve this goal and protect sharks and other marine species in the Galapagos.

Sentencing of Chinese Vessel Crew Detained in Galapagos Marine Reserve Ratified by Appeals Court

Last month members of a judiciary tribunal in a provincial appeals court ruled in favor of the Galapagos National Park in the months-long case against the crew, captain and owner of the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999.

They ratified the sentence for the captain and crew ranging from one to three years in prison for possession and transport of protected species within the Galapagos Marine Reserve. Jail time for the captain was slightly decreased from the original four years specified.

Additionally, the owner of the vessel was fined US$6 million as reparations for damages to the marine ecosystem. This is an increase from the original US$5.9 million sentencing. The sentencing in August also included confiscation of the vessel with sales proceeds (if applicable) to benefit the Galapagos National Park. However, the judge overturned this ruling. The vessel will be returned to the original owner upon receipt of the US$6 million payment.

The cargo vessel was caught in August this year illegally transiting through the Galapagos Marine Reserve with a hull filled with 6,623 sharks, including juvenile hammerhead and silky sharks.

“The court ratified the actions taken by the Galapagos National Park. They confirmed the park’s statement that the crew’s human rights were respected. The park staff acted in accordance to the Ecuadorian constitution in defense of the rights of nature,” Walter Bustos, director of Galapagos National Park stated.

The cargo vessel, Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999, was detected and tracked using the Galapagos National Park Service’s new AIS monitoring system—procured and installed by WildAid, WWF and Sea Shepherd. Galapagos park rangers and Ecuadorian Navy officials intercepted the vessel 34.5 miles off the coast of the island of San Cristobal and arrested its crew of 20. Upon inspecting its hold, they found 300 tons of frozen sharks and fish.

Chinese Vessel Crew Detained in Galapagos Marine Reserve Sentenced For Transport and Possession of Endangered Sharks

On Monday an Ecuadorian judge sentenced the crew of a Chinese ship to prison terms ranging from 1-4 years for possession and transport of protected species within the Galapagos Marine Reserve. In addition, the crew of the vessel was fined US$5.9 million as reparation for the damages to the marine ecosystem. The vessel was confiscated and, if sold, proceeds will benefit the Galapagos National Park. The cargo vessel was caught earlier this month illegally transiting through the Galapagos Marine Reserve with a hull filled with 6,623 sharks, including juvenile hammerhead and silky sharks.

Ecuador’s Minister of Environment Tarsicio Granizo emphasized that this sentence is in accordance with the government’s zero tolerance policy toward environmental crimes, and that the case sets an important precedent for the country and the world.

Yesterday Ecuador’s National Assembly released a resolution to further emphasize the country’s commitment to prevent illegal fishing within its territorial waters.

“The only way to stop illegal fishing of protected species is to inflict serious penalties on those caught in the act, especially the boat owners. All too often there are small fines and a slap on the wrist,” said Peter Knights, CEO of WildAid.

The cargo vessel, Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999, was detected and tracked using the Galapagos National Park Service’s new AIS monitoring system—procured and installed by WildAidWWF and Sea Shepherd. Galapagos park rangers and Ecuadorian Navy officials intercepted the vessel 34.5 miles off the coast of the island of San Cristobal and arrested its crew of 20. Upon inspecting its hold, they found 300 tons of frozen sharks and fish.

In response to the sentencing, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters that “the Chinese government opposes all forms of illegal fishing and adopts a zero-tolerance attitude towards illegal trading in endangered wildlife and the products derived from them. We will not condone illegal fishing in any form.”

The spokesperson said during a press briefing Tuesday that “the Chinese government is launching its own investigation and verification. Any illegal actions, if found, will be severely punished by international law and China’s domestic laws.”

She further stated that “China has noted the sentence delivered by the Ecuadorian side. We hope that Ecuador will deal with this case in a just and unbiased way based on the objective facts and guarantee the legitimate and lawful rights and interests of the Chinese crew.”

Fins from up to 73 million sharks are used for shark fin soup each year, including those from endangered species. To stop shark finning in the Galapagos, WildAid works with park rangers and the Ecuadorian Navy to monitor the vast reserve. This is the first interdiction of a foreign vessel since the installation of the new AIS software this year and the announcement last year of a marine sanctuary at Darwin and Wolf to protect sharks.

Galapagos National Park Director Walter Bustos said that the ship was the largest vessel ever caught in the reserve’s boundaries. He further stated that the enforcement of environmental policies in Ecuador through this case has created greater global awareness for the problems faced in our oceans daily, which may inspire greater action on an international level against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, known by the acronym IUU.

WildAid also works in China to decrease demand for shark fins through targeted celebrity-led awareness campaigns. Our Say No to Shark Fin campaign previously aired on TV, video boards in subway and train stations, airports, and university campuses featuring Yao Ming, sports icon David Beckham, actor and director Jiang Wen, and actress Maggie Q. These campaigns have contributed to a reported 50-70% decrease in Chinese shark fin consumption.

WildAid applauds both Ecuador and China for their firm stances and swift actions in this case.

Largest Wildlife Trafficking Bust in Galapagos

Earlier this week, a Chinese cargo vessel was caught illegally transiting through the Galapagos Marine Reserve with a hull filled with thousands of sharks and tuna.

The cargo vessel, the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999, was detected using the Galapagos National Park Service’s new AIS monitoring system—procured and installed by WildAid, WWF and Sea Shepherd earlier this year. The Galapagos National Park control center monitored its trajectory and vectored a patrol vessel to interdict. Galapagos Park Rangers and Ecuadorian Navy officials intercepted the vessel 34.5 miles off the coast of the island of San Cristobal and arrested its crew of 20. Upon inspecting its hold, they found 300 tons of frozen sharks and fish, including juvenile hammerhead and silky sharks.

Galapagos National Park director, Walter Bustos, said that the ship was the largest vessel ever caught in the reserve’s boundaries. The crew of the boat, which could face up to three years in prison, are currently being detained pending the elaboration of a case file and potential court proceedings. “Not necessarily all of the catch came from the marine reserve, but the fact that it included young sharks, even baby sharks, indicates that they could have been caught inside the reserve,” Ecuador’s environmental minister, Tarsicio Granizo was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.

An estimated 73 million sharks are killed each year for the illegal shark fin trade around the world. To stop shark finning in the Galapagos, WildAid works with Park Rangers and the Ecuadorian Navy to monitor the vast reserve and prevent illegal fishing. Last year, Ecuador announced that all its vessels, no matter their size, will be monitored in real time via AIS. Previous legislation mandated hourly monitoring only for larger vessels larger than 20 gross tons using satellite VMS, leaving small vessels to navigate unchecked. Together, WWF, Sea Shepherd and WildAid procured and installed AIS transceivers and software to complement the existing satellite technology system in the park’s control center to track all fishing and tourism vessels. Since the installation of electronic monitoring systems in 2009, park rangers have used the technology to capture and sentence more than 100 industrial and artisanal fishing vessels. This is the first interdiction of a foreign vessel since the installation of AIS this year and the announcement last year of a marine sanctuary at Darwin and Wolf to protect sharks.

WildAid also works in China to decrease demand for shark fins through targeted celebrity-led awareness campaigns. Our Say No to Shark Fin campaign previously aired on TV, video boards in subway and train stations, airports, and university campuses featuring Yao Ming, sports icon David Beckham, actor and director Jiang Wen, and actress Maggie Q. These campaigns have contributed to a reported 50-70% decrease in Chinese shark fin consumption.

WildAid has used its comprehensive marine protection model to decrease illegal fishing and protect nearly 3,000 marine species in the Galapagos Marine Reserve since 2002 thanks to the support of the Helmsley Charitable Trust, Conservation International, IGTOA, the Walton Family Foundation, Conservation International and WWF.

The Quarantine Chain

The greatest threat to biodiversity in the Galápagos Islands is the introduction of invasive species. Once a species is introduced, it may be too late or costly to implement a successful eradication program and irreversible damage may occur to native or endemic species of plants, animals, or insects. In recent years, the biological isolation of the archipelago has been significantly reduced given the growing number of planes and cargo reaching the islands. As tourism and population numbers increase exponentially, so do the threats of introducing invasive species.

In this assessment, WildAid analyzed the maritime cargo system that serves as the umbilical cord for the economy and human life on Galápagos. We evaluated all aspects of the current shipping system: mainland and island port facilities, qualifications of biosecurity personnel, equipment, cargo handling at both embarkation and arrival, and cargo vessel standards; essentially all key links in the quarantine chain. We illustrated that there is an urgent need to improve the efficiency and efficacy of maritime cargo handling. We also include a 30-year cargo growth forecast using current demographic trends to inform decision-makers on the future scale of actions required for a biosecure maritime cargo system. Large investments will be required in infrastructure, personnel, and recurring outlays in the not-so-distant future. The assessment concludes with a series of recommendations to improve current inspection and quarantine procedures along each link of the quarantine chain as well as implications for the future.

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.

Mexican Fishermen Team Up With Scientists to Save the Vaquita

WildAid and Monitoreo Vaquita protect the Mexican vaquita from extinction by removing gill nets that entangle the vaquita and tracking their population.

The world’s smallest porpoise is on the brink of extinction. The vaquita marina (little sea cow) is only found in the Northern Sea of Cortez and less than 30 individuals remain (a dramatic decrease from last year). While fishermen do not target the vaquita directly, its numbers are decreasing due to entanglements in gillnets.

Between 1990-2010, gillnets used to catch Mexican shrimp resulted in the loss of over 70% of the vaquita population. At that point, fishermen increased the use of gillnets within the vaquita habitat to fulfill the latest fad: the resurging hunt for the endangered totoaba fish and its prized swim bladder.

In China, a single totoaba swim bladder can sell for as much as $31,000-50,000 on the black market. As a result, many local fishermen are willing to risk capture by authorities in an attempt to cash in before the totoaba itself is gone. In 2015, the Mexican government enacted a two-year ban on the use of gillnets in the vaquita habitat and permanently banned them this year. However, due to lax enforcement and legal loopholes, the vaquitas’ numbers continued to plummet.

WildAid is helping to protect the vaquita by reducing demand for totoaba and improving enforcement in Mexico through a partnership with Monitoreo Vaquita, a group of local fishermen, to remove gill nets that entangle the vaquita and track their population.

Since 2010, Monitoreo Vaquita have placed 84 hydrophones in the water and worked with international scientists to determine accurate population counts for the vaquita. This data is used to make scientifically-based policy and management decisions.

In addition to their scientific research, Monitoreo Vaquita has removed 115 gill nets from vaquita habitat in the past year. Each net could weigh up to 800 lbs and creates a deadly hazard for any vaquita in the area as it sits in the water column. The situation is fraught with risk and some of the fishers have been threatened by poachers.

Through our partnership, we hope to expand the work of Monitoreo Vaquita with the purchase of additional hydrophones and support for their patrols.

A canine unit to prevent invasive species in Galapagos

Invasive species pose one of the greatest threats to the conservation of the Galapagos Islands. That’s why WildAid helped the Galapagos Biosecurity Agency form a specialized canine unit to protect these unique islands from illegal products that may contain invasive species.

Last year, we selected and trained one dog, Rex, and three handlers, and built kennels and offices for the unit. Rex spent three months training in the identification of nine odors prohibited from entering the Galapagos, but commonly found on passengers attempting to smuggle them onto the islands. Their handlers were selected using a variety of personality and aptitude tests, and trained on canine care and handling.

The canine unit is a versatile and low-cost method to prevent the entry of invasive species on the islands. You can help us grow this unit with the addition of a new dog and specialized training to protect Galapagos ports.