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Longline Fisheries Threaten Mantas in Ecuador

Did you know that Ecuador has the largest giant manta population?

Illegal fishing continues to pressure Ecuador’s numerous protected areas and fisheries. Funding for conservation efforts on mainland Ecuador is minimal, and due to recent earthquakes, protected area managers have even fewer resources to carry out patrols that protect their marine spaces. WildAid’s work in Ecuador is more important than ever to prevent exploitation of its unique marine life as we celebrate World Oceans Day.

Machalilla National Park along coastal Ecuador is one of the world’s most important sites for manta aggregation as it is home to the largest population of Giant Manta Rays (Manta birostris), estimated at 1,500 individuals. It’s also home to five species of sea turtles, 20 species of whales and dolphins, hammerhead and whale sharks, and countless species of fish and coral reefs.

Listed by the IUCN as “Vulnerable,” the primary threat to manta species is unsustainable fishing. As manta rays have few natural predators, their recent decline is due in large part to direct human predation, driven by the growing demand for their gills or death as bycatch. Compounding matters, mantas are among the slowest to reproduce of all sharks and rays, usually birthing one or two offspring every few years. Their low reproduction rates mean that mantas cannot sustain or survive commercial fishing for long.

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Galapagos Park Rangers Train with Peruvian Coastguard

Galapagos park rangers at CLS Peru

This week, WildAid and CLS coordinated a peer exchange between Galapagos park rangers and members of the Peruvian Coast Guard to share their experiences in using electronic technology for surveillance of marine areas.

In this peer exchange the Peruvian Coastguard will demonstrate how their control center combines data using those same two systems (AIS and VMS) to monitor suspicious activity within their waters. This collaboration may also aid environmental officials from both countries in better protecting shared migratory species, such as giant mantas, sharks, humpback whales, and sea turtles.

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Galapagos Islands Have the Largest Shark Biomass in the World

A group of hammerhead sharks swims over the sandy seafloor populated with garden eels at Darwin Island. These sharks are known for their ability to make sudden and sharp turns as the unique wide-set placement of their eyes allows them a vertical 360-degree view, which is ideal for stalking their prey. (Enric Sala/ National Geographic for National Geographic Pristine Seas)

In a study published this week, scientists from the National Geographic Society and Charles Darwin Research Station found that Darwin and Wolf in the Galapagos Islands is home to the world's largest shark biomass (the total mass of sharks in a given area) in the world.

This is especially welcome news as sharks continue to be hunted for the shark fin trade — with an estimated 73 million sharks killed annually. According to lead author Pelayo Salinas de Leon, "[T]he islands of Darwin and Wolf are jewels in the crown of the Galapagos,” due to the abundance of these top predators indicating a healthy marine ecosystem. 

However, the two-year study funded by Helmsley Charitable Trust also found that reef fish in the area have been severely reduced due to overfishing. To protect its marine life, the Ecuadorian government created a marine sanctuary at Darwin and Wolf in March.

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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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