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.
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.
Known for its stunning seascapes and desert vistas, Baja California’s abundant reefs and thriving marine habitat attract both tourists seeking an escape and illegal fishers profiting off its biodiversity.
Together with partner Pronatura Noreste, WildAid is currently working in the Midriff Islands in the Sea of Cortez, an uninhabited archipelago recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its incredible marine biodiversity, to improve enforcement strategies. The initiative includes developing a comprehensive control and vigilance plan, featuring new surveillance equipment and multi-agency patrols that can be replicated throughout Mexico’s coastal protected areas.
An Ecuador court sentenced a Galapagos resident to three years in prison, earlier this month, for the illegal trafficking of sea cucumbers.
This particular conviction is a victory for the local community and authorities as it serves as an important deterrent for those considering carrying out illegal fishing and trafficking of protected species. Historically, the legal system tended to be more lenient towards local perpetrators; however, this verdict goes a long way in showing that wildlife laws are applied equally to all, regardless of origin.
After two days of deliberation, the Seventh Tribunal in Guayas unanimously sentenced a Galapagos resident to three years in prison for trafficking 3,712 sea cucumbers (181 lbs). The sea cucumbers were discovered January 2016 during a routine search by Galapagos National Park and National Police officers at the Baltra island airport. The trafficker had attempted to smuggle the sea cucumbers inside three cartons, where fish were used to hide the dried and salted sea cucumbers.
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.
Last month, hundreds of female sea turtles left the safety of the sea to lay thousands of eggs along Ecuador's coast. Park rangers in the Pacoche marine protected area (MPA) have begun patrolling miles of beaches to identify, protect and tag nests with educational materials to prevent predation.