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.

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.

A New Canine Unit to Protect the Galapagos from Invasive Species

WildAid and the Galapagos Biosecurity Agency launch a canine unit to prevent the spread of invasive species in the Galapagos islands.

Rex undergoing training.

Invasive species pose one of the greatest threats to the conservation of the Galapagos Islands. That’s why together with the Galapagos Conservancy, WildAid helped the Galapagos Biosecurity Agency (ABG) form a specialized canine unit to protect these unique islands from invasive species.

In 2016, we selected and trained two dogs and three handlers, as well as constructed the necessary infrastructure (kennels and offices) for the unit. The canine unit will provide a versatile and low cost method of detecting illegal substances to prevent their entry into the Galapagos archipelago.

The first stage of the training was done in Quito, where the dogs spent three months training in the identification of nine odors selected by the ABG because they are prohibited from entering the Galapagos, but are commonly found on passengers attempting to smuggle them onto the islands, including oranges, dragon fruit, and passion fruit.

The dogs were tested on their success in detection and their adaptability by identifying the odors in different locations. Unfortunately, one of the canines presented some skin sensitivity issues during this phase and had to be returned to the organization Cobra Canina for a replacement. The new canine is expected to arrive in the next few months.

The canine handlers.

The second phase of the program was done in Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos and consisted in the selection and training of canine handlers. A pool of 11 candidates underwent a rigorous selection process, and of those we selected three canine handlers. The process included basic personality tests, psychomotricity tests (the relation between mental and physical processes) and other aptitude tests to select the best candidates.

After their selection, the three candidates were trained in basic care and maintenance of the canines and their kennels, storage of scent samples, canine handling techniques for detection of target scents including general search strategies in large areas, open areas, closed areas, proper walking techniques and reintroduction of scents.

Over the next few months, we will conduct onsite training at airports and ports for the canine teams and problem correction, as well as conduct initial training for the replacement canine from Cobra Canina for his introduction to the unit. The unit will officially launch in April with three handlers and two canines.

Thanks to the support of IGTOA and the Helmsley Charitable Trust, as well as our partners Galapagos Conservancy and the ABG, this canine unit will act as a strong and unobtrusive tool in the identification of hidden organic products in passenger luggage and cargo upon entry to the archipelago. The prevention of these products, along with our work in biosecurity in the Galapagos, could signify a decrease in the spread of invasive species or diseases that could affect the biodiversity, human health and agricultural development of the Galapagos Islands.