Galapagos Islands, Ecuador —(Map)
Ecuador is carefully watching a huge group of 260 Chinese fishing boats located just outside a special protected ocean area near the Galapagos Islands. The government is worried that the ships could threaten many endangered fish and sharks.
The Galapagos Islands are a special group of islands 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) off the coast of Ecuador. Because the islands are so far from land, they are home to many plants and animals that can’t be found anywhere else.
That’s true in the sea, too. Galapagos waters hold many kinds of sea life that can only be found there.
The special ocean conditions around the Galapagos also attract many larger sea animals which don’t stay in one place. They travel through the area as an important part of their migration patterns. This includes groups of special sharks, such as endangered hammerhead sharks and whale sharks.
Because the seas are so full of life, they have long been a favorite spot for large fishing companies, especially Chinese fishing companies.
Sharks are popular targets. Sometimes the sharks’ fins are cut off and the animals are simply thrown back in the ocean to die.
In 1998, the Ecuadorian government created the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR), which helps protect the waters around the Galapagos Islands. Beyond that is a special protected “Exclusive Economic Zone” (EEZ) which can only be fished with permission from the Ecuadorian government.
The GMR covers 51,000 square miles (133,000 square kilometers) of ocean. The GMR and the larger EEZ do a good job of protecting the animals inside, but they leave the Ecuadorian government with a lot of area to watch. And they can’t protect against fishing boats that anchor just outside the protected waters.
Every year, many Chinese fishing boats anchor outside the protected area, right in the path of migrating sea life. This year there are far more boats than normal. Satellite images show 260 fishing boats located right at the edge of the EEZ.
The Ecuadorian government and groups that work to protect the oceans are very upset about the situation.
Ecuador wants to prevent a repeat of what happened in 2017, when even more Chinese fishing boats were anchored in a similar position. At least one of the boats entered the GMR. It was later found with over 600,000 pounds (272,000 kilograms) of fish, including many endangered sharks.
Roque Sevilla, who works for Ecuador to protect the GMR, says Ecuador is asking the Chinese government to help reduce the number of fishing boats in the area.
“Unchecked [unlimited] Chinese fishing just on the edge of the protected zone is ruining Ecuador’s efforts to protect marine life in the Galapagos,” he said.
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Ecuador’s Navy is watching carefully to make sure that the Chinese fishing boats stay out of the EEZ. Ecuador is also hoping to use international agreements which protect migrating animals to keep the situation under control.
In the long term, Ecuador wants to expand the protected zone. One plan is to protect the entire area between mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos, since it is used by many migrating fish.
Did You Know…?
China has around 17,000 fishing boats working to catch fish in ocean areas far away from China.
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