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 New Patrol Vessel for Machalilla National Park in Ecuador

WildAid donates a patrol boat to Machalilla National Park to expand humpback whale rescues and decrease illegal fishing.

Isla de la Plata in Machalilla National Park has some of the most biodiverse and productive waters on Ecuador’s coast. Known for spectacular wildlife sightings including giant mantas, humpback whales, sharks and sea turtles, it is not uncommon to see tourist vessels taking visitors to the island by day and illegal fishing boats by night. WildAid assisted the park this month in acquiring a new patrol vessel to protect these waters from illegal fishing.

The Rangers at Machalilla risk their lives every day to patrol the waters surrounding Isla de la Plata, removing ghost nets (fishing nets that have been left or lost in the ocean by fishermen) to prevent accidental bycatch and intercepting illegal fishing. Additionally, the Rangers started a humpback whale rescue program to rescue whales entangled in illegal fishing gear, as well as a wildlife rehabilitation hospital to treat injured marine wildlife along the coast.

Last year, WildAid helped the Machalilla Park Rangers increase surveillance of the area by installing a long-range camera and AIS at Isla de la Plata. However, the Park Rangers only had access to one patrol boat to travel from the mainland control center to the island station. Thus, if surveillance equipment spotted illegal fishing activity near Isla de la Plata, a patrol boat could take up to three hours to intercept the fishers, who would be long-gone by then.

In response, WildAid procured a patrol vessel for use specifically at Isla de la Plata to ensure that Rangers stationed there had quick access to better intercept illegal fishers. In addition to its help in enforcement activities, the new vessel will be crucial for the expansion of the humpback whale rescue program. As the majority of humpback whales that visit this region of Ecuador congregate in the waters surrounding Isla de la Plata, the risk of encountering illegal fishing gear there is greater than closer to the mainland. Last year, Machalilla Park Rangers rescued five whales that had been entangled in fishing lines and nets and this year expect to increase rescues due to the new patrol vessel.

This work is part of a three-year project in Ecuador to reduce illegal fishing in six of its coastal marine protected areas. Our work includes a comprehensive marine protection plan for each site, support for regular patrols, surveillance equipment, training for Rangers and fisher/ community outreach.

WildAid has helped decrease illegal fishing on Ecuador’s coast since 2014 thanks to the support of the Sandler Foundation, Conservation International, the Walton Family Foundation, the Overbrook Foundation and the Stellar Blue Fund.

Adapting C3 Tactics for Marine Conservation

WildAid supports Pacoche, Santa Elena and El Morro marine parks in providing reliable communication equipment and systematic training of Rangers in maritime operations.

Communications, command and control (C3) models are used throughout the U.S. armed forces to ensure mission objectives. This assures situational awareness and getting critical information to the right users at the right time. At WildAid, we’ve adapted these principles to the marinescape with the dual goal of protecting precious fisheries and Park Wardens, as exemplified by the following scenario.

A small artisanal boat is moored in a popular local fishing spot in the Santa Elena Wildlife Refuge when two divers emerge with bags full of their catch. Upon inspection, the Santa Elena Rangers find illegally caught sea cucumber mixed with the rest of the catch. Faced with the threat of seizure, the fishers and boat captain become aggressive… Now what?

Most would expect the rangers to radio their control center to report the situation and request backup; However, up until recently, the Rangers did not have a reliable means of communication often relying on personal cell phones with limited reception.

With funding from the Stellar Blue Fund, WildAid supported the marine parks of Pacoche, Santa Elena and El Morro in the procurement of reliable communication equipment and the systematic training of Rangers in maritime operations. As most Rangers are trained in biology rather than enforcement operations, they lack the basic tactical skills and training to avoid the dangers associated with fisheries law enforcement. Compounding issues, many are often ill-equipped to perform their duties.

Since its installation, the communication system combined with specialized Ranger training has been a success in field operations at all three sites. In El Morro, Rangers now report feeling safer during patrols knowing that they can communicate at will with their control center as well as with the Navy. Contraband, fuel and drug trafficking are ubiquitous throughout coastal areas of Ecuador and a simple boarding of an unsuspecting vessel can quickly go wrong. With reliable communications, Rangers are also able to communicate from a distance with suspicious vessels to avoid dangerous encounters with armed fishers or traffickers.

In Pacoche, where patrols are severely limited by fuel costs and its large geographic area, the radios allow rangers more flexibility to conduct targeted patrols and interceptions. Rangers conducting beach patrols communicate with rangers at sea when they spot fishing vessels or other suspicious activity from shore, thus allowing the patrol boat to quickly intercept illegal fishing activities and prevent fuel waste.

Likewise, in Santa Elena, the communication system allows rangers to quickly gather information about the fishers they’ve intercepted by reporting fishing and boat license information to the control center as well as inform their colleagues to prepare for an arrest.

This work is part of a three-year project in Ecuador to reduce illegal fishing in six of its coastal marine protected areas. We are grateful for the support of the Sandler FoundationConservation International, the Walton Family Foundation, the Overbrook Foundation and the Steller Blue Fund in decreasing illegal fishing along Ecuador’s coast since 2014.


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.

WildAid and Partners Host a Maritime Operations Training in Ecuador

WildAid hosts a maritime operations training for park rangers from 17 Ecuadorian marine protected areas and other marine practitioners to ensure surveillance and interdiction knowledge and safety at sea.

Park rangers in Ecuador risk their lives every day to protect marine areas from illegal fishing and destruction of critical habitat. Together with Conservation International, WWF, the Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment and the Galapagos National Park Service, WildAid hosted a maritime operations training for park rangers from 17 Ecuadorian marine protected areas, ministry of environment officials, fishery officers and other marine practitioners last month to ensure the rangers have the right knowledge to handle any situation that comes their way. Rangers often venture unarmed at night in the face of danger including armed illegal fishers and pirates, to protect Ecuador’s marine environment and endangered species. According to one of the Machalilla park rangers, even a simple task like retrieving a fishing net from the water comes fraught with risk.

Recently, the Machalilla park rangers conducted a night patrol near Isla de la Plata (where all fishing is prohibited) and spotted flashing lights in the water. They realized the lights were coming from an illegal gill net and were used to mark its position since the weighted net cannot be seen from the surface. The rangers waited for someone to retrieve it, but when nobody did, they pulled the 800-yard net onto their boat. While pulling up the net, they spotted four sea turtles entangled in the mesh and quickly released them back to the ocean—saving them from a slow death as incidental bycatch.

Bringing the gill net onboard the Machalilla ranger vessel (Machalilla National Park).

However, their actions did not go unnoticed, and other fishers on the water that night spread the word that rangers had confiscated fishing gear and were unaccompanied by armed Navy officials. The rangers realized they were being followed by angry fishers. They turned off their lights and called the Navy via radio to provide backup, while they found a safe place to land. Luckily the rangers escaped unharmed that night, but this story could have had a much different turnout had the rangers not realized they were being followed.

Unfortunately, stories like this are all too commonplace for the rangers protecting Ecuador’s waters. The use of simple tools like VHF radios and planning for emergency situations possibly saved lives that night. Together with partners, we provide the resources that these rangers need to fulfill their job and increase safety at sea. We also provide training that ensures effective planning, tactics to deal with dangers and to ensure that when they catch an illegal fisher, there are repercussions.

The workshop last month emphasized safety at sea, best practices for patrolling, evidence collection and boarding procedures. It also included hands-on exercises allowing the rangers to brainstorm ways to increase compliance, role-play different scenarios, learn new navigation techniques and ensure that illegal activities are penalized.

Boarding exercises with the rangers.

Enforcement of marine regulations ensures both sustainable fisheries and responsible tourism is being practiced in Ecuador’s coastal marine parks. Systematic training, a key component of our model, is vital for refreshing skills and fostering collaboration between enforcement agencies. It also gives the rangers the opportunity to prepare strategies to deal with risky situations, which are inevitable as they perform their duties.

Thanks to the support of our donors, WildAid has been working in coastal Ecuador since 2014 to strengthen enforcement, prevent illegal fishing and ensure the protection of its pristine marine environments.

How to Strengthen Community Support for Marine Conservation

As Palau transitions from traditional to legislative management of their marine areas, we explore how to foster this change in culture and emphasize the authority of newly appointed marine wardens.

During our latest visit to Palau, a beautiful island nation between the Philippines and Indonesia, WildAid’s marine team explored some interesting approaches to strengthening support for marine conservation.

One of the greatest concerns among the nations we work with is how to ensure that communities support and respect marine regulations. In developing nations especially, communities often rely on marine resources to supply both daily nutrition and their economic livelihood. In coastal communities, fishing is a way of life and regulations can be seen as an intrusion into local tradition. Thus, community interactions must be important considerations in any enforcement plan.

Boarding practice at Ngarchelong

Historically, Palauan people protected the ocean via a concept known as bul whereby village chiefs declared bans on fishing at the first sight of resource scarcity. However, as populations grew and culture evolved, traditional management systems have given way to regulations grounded in legislation. This transition is by no means easy as fostering change in culture takes time and the new marine wardens anticipate challenges to their authority based on their youth and resistance to the new regulations.

To resolve this challenge, we explored methods to bolster their authority. For example, in Palau, as in other countries, an authoritative stance, voice and knowledge of regulations help assure that the community respects the marine wardens. Our training emphasized studying the regulations, creating a personal script to introduce themselves and establish their credentials, as well as practicing their duties.

Likewise, we emphasized the role of community leaders in helping the marine wardens gain respect and compliance. Palau is a small nation and so communities see each other as family. Youth often call elders aunt or uncle, and their peers cousin. We suggested appealing to the “auntie” network in their community outreach because Palau is a matriarchal society and thus the women command the greatest respect. This strategy would help ensure community pressure to respect the wardens and regulations. We also discussed other places to educate the community about the new regulations and their importance. Marine wardens worked on sample scripts and content for various tools such as brochures, radio ads, and even stickers to help boat captains adhere to catch sizes.

These types of methods have been applied successfully in Indonesia, where we work with local non-profit Baseftin. New protections for mantas dramatically changed the community of Lamakera’s economic structure. Baseftin worked with university students and village elders to bolster compliance and lend credibility to their work. They provided training on alternative livelihoods and created an internship program with local students to assist in community outreach and produced a series of videos and posters to educate the community about new regulations. Because of this focused approach, compliance with the new regulations in Lamakera has been largely adopted and manta conservation has generated widespread support in the region.

Hands-on training in Palau

Overall, compliance requires both community will and effective enforcement. While the marine wardens in Palau continue to educate their communities and appeal to leaders, WildAid is helping to bolster enforcement in the Northern Reef states with comprehensive training and the tools needed to protect their natural resources. Over the next year, we will install a surveillance camera at Palau’s most important port and install a radar at one of the Northern Reef sites to better monitor fishing activity from Koror to the Northern Reefs. Additionally, we will help create effective patrol routes and provide necessary patrol tools, such as safety equipment, navigation tools, and important legislation to ensure punishment for lawbreakers.

Protecting Palau’s Marine Environment

WildAid, TNC and the Palau Conservation Society host a two-week workshop for Northern Reefs marine wardens to promote best practices in surveillance and operations of their reserve and prepare for new legislation.

The small island nation of Palau, located in the Western Pacific Ocean between the Philippines and Indonesia, is building on its already-strong support for marine conservation. Last month, two states in Palau’s Northern Reefs are ensuring that artisanal fishing is done in a sustainable fashion with a greater degree of enforcement and accountability from its citizens. Previous legislation includes the world’s first shark sanctuary in 2009 and a declaration in 2015 that over 80% of its waters would be protected as a marine sanctuary.

Palau’s coral reefs, part of the Coral Triangle, have been named one of the Seven Underwater Wonders of the World. They boast more than 500 species of corals, 1,300 species of reef fish and numerous endangered species such as the dugong, saltwater crocodile, sea turtles, and giant clams.

Palauans have a long history of bul, a traditional ban where village leaders set aside small areas to recover from fishing practices and only fish what their families need to survive. However, due to the increase in tourism and fishing pressures, new laws can bring extractive activities under control in an attempt to let threatened fish species, such as tiau, recover. Along with national regulations protecting specific endangered species, and the new marine sanctuary, Kayangel and Ngarchelong state recently enacted new regulations that require fishing permits to fish within their waters and set minimum catch sizes for threatened species. This law provides clear penalties for illegal fishers and grants state rangers greater power to protect their marine environment.

Last month, WildAid visited Palau to host a two-week workshop with The Nature Conservancy and Palau Conservation Society for the Kayangel and Ngachelong state rangers. This workshop built off a training held in 2015 and emphasized best practices for patrolling, evidence collection and boarding procedures. It also included hands-on exercises allowing the rangers to brainstorm ways to increase compliance, plan community outreach projects, role-play different scenarios, learn new navigation techniques and ensure that illegal activities are penalized.

Enforcement of Palau’s marine regulations ensures that both Palau’s citizens and visitors harvest its resources sustainably and protect its coral reefs from additional stressors. Systematic training is an important component of WildAid’s marine program and the enforcement of Palau’s waters because it ensures continuity in these programs and collaboration between enforcement agencies.

Thanks to the support of our donors, WildAid has been working in Palau since 2014 to help strengthen enforcement of the Northern Reef states of Kayangel and Ngarchelong, prevent illegal fishing and ensure the protection of its pristine marine environments.

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.

Protecting Marine Wildlife in an Ecuadorian Sanctuary

An update on sea turtle conservation and marine patrols in Santa Elena MPA in Ecuador.

WildAid is visiting Ecuador’s coastal marine protected areas (MPAs) this week, where we’ve been working for the past year and a half with Conservation International. One of these sites is Santa Elena MPA, the western-most point of Ecuador and home to hundreds of species including humpback whales, sea turtles, sharks, mantas, albatrosses, pelicans and 86 fish species.

Injured blue footed booby nursed back to health by Santa Elena MPA park rangers (Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment).
Injured blue footed booby nursed back to health by Santa Elena MPA park rangers (Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment).

Fishing pressure has increased in Santa Elena since 2009 with the growth of artisanal and commercial fishing efforts that create conflicts between the two sectors and fishing modernization incentives that often endorse non-selective fishing gear. These types of gear are responsible for much of the bycatch in the area and threaten sea turtles, humpback whales and sharks that get caught on longlines or nets. Increasing tourism, currently an estimated 50,000 tourists per year, also threatens the ecosystems through pollution, destruction of habitats and the introduction of invasive species.

We developed an enforcement plan for Santa Elena that focuses on conservation priorities of the area. As per the plan, Santa Elena park wardens carry out both preventive and control measures to protect the reserve’s marine wildlife.

Preventive activities include identifying and protecting endangered sea turtle nests and releasing an estimated 3,000 hatchlings annually, organizing and conducting marine and coastal clean-ups to remove plastics and other debris, as well as conducting outreach activities geared towards local fishers and surrounding communities on park rules and regulations.

An important component of these activities is collecting data from stranded wildlife to track patterns in frequency and cause to identify new threats. Park rangers also nurse injured animals back to health and re-release them back to sea. Those that can’t be saved undergo necropsies to understand the cause of death and to develop preventative strategies.

Control activities include preventing commercial vessels from entering the reserve, monitoring tourism vessels, confiscating illegal gill nets to decrease bycatch of endangered species, such as humpback whales, as well as ensuring artisanal fishers comply with local sea cucumber, lobster and zoning regulations.

Over the past year, Santa Elena Rangers carried out over 225 maritime patrols with a total of 78 infractions broken down in the following manner. Approximately 73% of all cited infractions were sanctioned by the Provincial office. This is crucial as often times there is little to no follow-up or penalties associated with violations.

This year, WildAid will help them increase their patrols to further prevent the use of gill nets and increase the number of sea turtle hatchlings protected from predators and human interference. Building off our work in Pacoche MPA, we will aid park rangers in improving their signage and developing community education programs to encourage sea turtle conservation, as well as promote sustainable fishing methods.

Because of your support, WildAid helps protect endangered species in Ecuador.