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Protecting Cuba’s Pristine Marine Ecosystems

Reef sharks in the Gardens of the Queen (Noel Lopez Fernandez)

Havana, Cuba welcomed a diverse group of visitors last month when President Obama, the Rolling Stones, and WildAid’s marine team made their way to the city. While we certainly enjoyed the President’s historic speech and the Rolling Stone’s landmark concert, WildAid’s trip to the island nation had a more serious intent. Our team traveled 12 hours from Havana to the southeast to better protect Cuba’s largest marine reserve, the 850 square kilometer Gardens of the Queen.

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South Africa Rejects Rhino Horn Trade Legalization

CAPE TOWN (April 21, 2016) — After months of speculation, South African officials said Thursday that they will not submit a proposal to legalize trade in rhinoceros horn to the 17th Conference of the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), to be hosted in Johannesburg in September. 

Illegal Fishermen Arrested in Galapagos Marine Reserve

Illegal fishing vessel Maria Tatiana IV (GNPS)

Late last week, a commercial fishing vessel and its six fiberglass boats were caught illegally fishing within the Galapagos Marine Reserve with a catch of 160 sharks and other fish.

The Maria Tatiana IV, a fishing vessel from continental Ecuador entered the Galapagos Marine Reserve’s boundaries late Thursday night. Park rangers in the Galapagos National Park control center monitored its trajectory using technology provided by WildAid while patrol vessels sped towards the fishing vessel, having been alerted to this suspicious activity.

After a full day and night chasing the poachers at sea, the Galapagos park rangers and Ecuadorian Navy arrested 21 crew members and seized all seven boats, the long lines and the bounty of illegally caught species. These included 81 sharks—36 silky sharks, 24 blue sharks, 14 pelagic thresher sharks, six bigeye thresher sharks and one great white shark.

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Improved Surveillance to Protect Ecuador’s Manta Populations

The park rangers at Isla de la Plata, a part of Ecuador's Machalilla National Park, now have increased protection for their waters. Nicknamed “Little Galapagos” by the locals, the uninhabited island off the mainland coast is home to five species of sea turtles, 20 species of whales and dolphins, hammerhead and whale sharks, and countless species of fish, corals and mollusks. It's also home to the largest population of Giant Manta Rays (Manta birostris), estimated at 1,500 individuals.

Ecuador’s marine biodiversity is important not only for the health of the ocean, but also for the nation's fishing and tourism industries. In a recent study, we estimated the value of manta tourism at approximately $140 million worldwide. 

However, small-scale and commercial fishers frequently engage in illegal fishing that threatens mantas and the health of the marine environment. Trawl and long-line fishing, both popular in Ecuador, affect endangered sharks, sea birds and sea turtles. Unsustainable fishing methods also kill thousands of mantas around the world each year when caught as bycatch. 

This month, WildAid and Conservation International achieved an important milestone in real-time monitoring of Ecuador’s marine environment with the installation of a long-range surveillance camera and radio-based monitoring software (AIS) on Isla de la Plata. The long-range camera and AIS surveillance are part of a comprehensive marine protection plan that will help park authorities prevent illegal fishing in the area, helping to protect its abundant marine ecosystems.

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Hong Kong Chief Executive Reaffirms Ivory Ban Support

Today, Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying met with a delegation of elephant conservation activists and a group of schoolchildren who hand-delivered a thank you card, commending Leung for his January 2016 policy address where he called for a phase-out of the local ivory trade, one of the world's largest.

WildAid, WWF-Hong Kong and Hong Kong lawmaker Elizabeth Quat have been leading efforts in the city to combat wildlife trafficking and to oppose the legal ivory trade. Together, we've been working in close cooperation with Hong Kong Under Secretary for the Environment Christine Loh to drive this urgent policy change. Banning the ivory trade will reduce consumer demand for ivory carvings and other products, and will have a positive impact on African elephant populations as poaching rates decline. 

Yoyo Wong, a five-year-old kindergarten student from Tuen Mun who was at the informal event, said, “Chief Executive, thank you for pledging to save the elephants in Africa. I want to see elephants when I grow up, so please work faster to ban the ivory trade!”

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