Tomorrow Begins Lobster Season in Galapagos

September 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

Tuesday begins lobster season in the Galapagos Marine Reserve.  During the next 120 days fisherman are able to catch and sell lobster with quotas of  22 tons of red tail lobster and 6 tons of green tail lobsters.  This time each year the Galapagos National Park allows the capture of lobster in within the Galapagos Marine Reserve.  It is also the time of year when many local restaurants and Galapagos Cruises will feature lobster on their menu.

Fisherman are resticted to lobsters between 6 and 26 inches in length measuring from their head to their tail. Additionally they do not allow the use of spears, guns or traps within the Galapagos Marine Reserve.

As with all fishing around the Galapagos Islands anglers wishing to fish during their visit must be registered with the Galapagos National Park Service and have a permit to fish with an artisantal fisherman licensed to fish within the Galapagos Marine Reserve on a boat with an original permit for fishing issued by the Galapagos National Park and all current paperwork with the maritime authorities.

The artisinal fishing program in Galapagos offers fisherman the opportunity to continue a tranditions passed down through generations as well as benefit from the tourist industry while regulation the catch and monitoring fishing levels to protect the marine life in the area.

 

Santa Fe Island

August 11, 2011 § 1 Comment

Santa Fe Beach

Approximately half way between the islands of Santa Cruz and San Cristobal lies the small island of Santa Fe.  Shaped like a bean with a beautiful lagoon in the middle the island has a tilted appearance as it was created by geological uplift rather than from a central volcano.

For years Santa Fe has been a favorite on cruise itineraries.  The lagoon provides an excellent place to snorkel with sea lions, colorful fish, small sharks and may be even a giant tuna that is frequently sited here all in a protected environment away from ocean surges. Currently many companies in Puerto Ayora are offering a day tour to Santa Fe while not allowing you to go ashore does allow you to come and snorkel in the bay.

Santa Fe Hawk

As one of the oldest islands in the Galapagos Santa Fe is home to a mature and diverse combination of flora and fauna. The good anchorage in the bay and relatively flat nature of the island made it a frequent stop for early visitors coming ashore in search of food and water.  As a result Santa Fe was one of the first islands to have its tortoise population become extinct approximately 200 years ago.

Today if you are on a Galapagos Cruise or permitted day tour you will also be able to visit the island of Santa Fe.  Once ashore you will find a powdery beach that is home to a colony of sea lions.  From the beach you a loop trail takes you up along the coast to the opuntia cactus cactus forest.  The opuntias in Santa Fe are the largest and healthiest in Galapagos.  The cactus have grown to be the size of full trees with trunks measuring over a foot in diameter.

Endemic Santa Fe Iguana

Continuing along the trail you’ll reach the top of the hill where you a panoramic vista of the bay begins before heading back down to the beach.  As you make your way along the trail a careful eye you can spot Galapagos Hawks, the endemic, larger and brownish colored Santa Fe Land Iguana, Galapagos Snakes, Galapagos Doves, Lava Lizards, both land and marine birds as well as possibly one of the only two remaining species of endemic Galapagos Rats.

Santa Fe Opuntia Forest

The Galapagos National Park has just finished a 10 day monitoring of Santa Fe.  With of 20 park rangers involved the island was divided into quadrants and the officials recorded all bird and reptile species present were recorded, as well as cactus and woody vegetation. The survey was used to count iguanas, hawks, and some species of finch (those with smaller populations).

Authorities in Galapagos Sieze 500 gallons of Fuel Headed for Seaman II

July 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

In a joint operation between authorities 500 gallons of fuel were seized Galapagos Islands today.  The fuel was being transported by truck  driven by José Aníbal De La Torre and the boat was bound for yacht SEAMAN II which was currently at anchor in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.

The forfeiture action was developed after staff Island Naval Intelligence Group detect and report the fact that subsidized fuel was being used for tourism activities.  During the operation were arrested the truck driver Jose De La Torre and José Calva Abad, for the crime of use of subsidized fuel. The fuel was purchased by Ramon Silva at EP Petroecuador San Cristobal for use aboard the fishing vessel “San Pedro”.  However authorities discovered the actual intended use was for the yacht Seaman II.

The government of Ecuador subsidizes the price of fuel for non-tourism purposes.   The local price for fuel is $1.02 dollar per gallon while tourists boat pay the international market price of $3.39 per gallon – a difference of $2.37 per gallon.  Many boats charge a fuel surcharge to help pay the difference in the prices.  Individuals purchasing fuel in the Galapagos most sign documents specifying the intended use of the fuel and that they are aware of use of subsidized fuel for tourism purposes is against the law.

Today marks the Anniversay of William Beebe Trip to the Galapagos

July 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

Today is the anniversary of William Beebe’s trip to the Galapagos Islands. He detailed his adventure in the book “Galapagos: World’s End” which was on the New York Times best seller list for several months. The book was said to have influenced several of the early settlers to come to Galapagos including those who originally settled on Floreana.  Beebe was also the first to recognize the incredible diversity of Marine Life in the waters surrounding the islands.

William Beebe was born July 29, 1877, in Brooklyn. His family and friends called him “Will.” His father Charles was a paper dealer and was often away on business. The family moved a few times and eventually settled at 73 Ashland Avenue in East Orange, NJ.

The whole family was interested in nature and thus Beebe grew up as a naturalist. They often visited the American Museum of Natural History and the assorted natural history lectures given there. It was to that museum that Beebe went later to get his specimens identified.

He attended East Orange High School and his higher education was achieved at Columbia University. He was appointed curator of ornithology of the New York Zoological Society in 1899. He originated the collection of living birds in the New York Zoological Park in the Bronx, making it one of the finest such collections in the world.

In 1916 Beebe became director of tropical research for the zoological society and headed scientific expeditions to Nova Scotia, Mexico, Venezuela, British Guiana (now Guyana), Borneo, China, Japan, the Himalaya Mountains and other regions.

Particularly notable were his explorations in parts of Asia in search of data later published in his Monograph of the Pheasants (1918) and Pheasants — Their Lives and Homes (1926).

In 1923 Beebe headed an expedition to the Galapagos Islands in the ship Noma to study marine and land life, making oceanographic studies in the Sargasso Sea along the way. He made a record descent of 3,028 feet into the ocean off one of the Bermuda islands in 1934 by means of a spherical diving chamber of his own design, the bathysphere.

The bathysphere is suspended from a surface ship by a steel cable, and the observers manning it are connected to the mother ship by telephone. The round “eyes” of the bathysphere are three inches thick, built to withstand water pressures of half-a-ton per square inch, usually found at half-mile depths. His experiences are recorded in his book Galapagos.

Beebe wrote about 300 articles and books. Among the books are Jungle Days (1925), The Arcturus Adventure (1925), Beneath Tropic Seas (1928), Half Mile Down (1943), Book of Naturalists (1944) and Unseen Life in New York (1953).

William Beebe died on June 4, 1962.

This article was written by Vernon Parker (1923-2004)

Shark fin soup: A recipe for extinction

July 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

Photo courtesy of TheSeaMonster.com

As blogged earlier the Galapagos National Park detained the Fishing Boat Mary Fer I illegaly fishing off the coast of Genovesa on Monday.  The illegal fishing of sharks is not a new problem in Galapagos and we thank park officials for stopping these poachers. When the boat was inspected officials found 357 dead sharks on board.  This excellent article by Susannah Waters of the Scavanger on the importance of banning the practice of shark finning and the sale of shark fin soup.

The demand for shark fin soup has driven many shark species to the brink of extinction, and threatens to destabilise the entire marine ecosystem. While some progressive conservation steps have recently been made, tough international measures are urgently needed to protect sharks, writes Susannah Waters.

17 July 2011

“And does anyone know what species this shark is?!” the museum tour guide asks the crowd of children in a high-pitched, excited tone. A chorus of voices shrieks back an array of guesses, with the guide praising the correct answer.

“Indeed – a tiger shark!”

He then leads the boisterous group to another display further along, repeating his question.

Rounding the next corner, the guide becomes slightly agitated and glances nervously to the left. He turns and bypasses that display, moving on briskly to continue his guessing game at the next exhibit.

What the guide is so eager to avoid is a video, on continual loop, about the gruesome practice of shark finning. The graphic images of sharks being butchered alive was likely deemed too disturbing for the visiting children.

But the video, highlighting shark finning’s devastating effect on global shark populations, was undoubtedly the most important aspect of the Planet Shark – Predator or Prey exhibition at the Australian National Maritime Museum earlier this year.

The price of fins

Shark finning – the process of cutting off a shark’s fins for commercial use – is driven by a multi-billion dollar a year industry servicing the shark fin soup market.

The principal market for shark fins is Hong Kong, which imported 10 million kilograms (10,000 tonnes) of shark fin in 2008, and encompasses up to 80% of the entire trade. The majority of fins transited through Hong Kong wind up on the Chinese mainland, where shark fin soup is afforded a high status.

Demand for the soup has escalated in recent years, and has accordingly spearheaded a steep drop in shark populations.

Tooni Mahto of the Australian Marine Conservation Society has a special interest in shark conservation. The Marine Campaigns Officer affirms that shark finning’s repercussions on shark species are enormous.

“Shark finning and the targeted fishing of sharks around the world pose the greatest threat to the continued existence of sharks in our global oceans”, Mahto tells The Scavenger.

Research indicates that worldwide shark numbers have plummeted by as much as 90% in recent decades, largely attributable to shark finning. It is estimated that an astonishing 100 million sharks are killed specifically for their fins each year.

Mahto pinpoints the “immense” financial incentives to obtain shark fins as central to the problem.

A single bowl of shark fin soup can fetch as much as US$400. Animals Asia claims that a large whale shark pectoral fin can sell for US$15,000 in China.

This relentless quest for profit has placed sharks in unprecedented danger. In fact, their dwindling numbers are providing further enticement for the industry to continue its trade.

Animals Asia explains: “As sharks become scarce, the value of their fins increases, as does the incentive for fishermen to search out remaining populations”. Sharks are therefore entrapped in a vicious cycle of over-exploitation.

Presently, around 30% of all shark species are threatened with extinction.

According to Claudette Rechtorik, Research & Education Manager at the Sydney Aquarium Conservation Fund, many species are being fished at a rate faster than their reproductive capacities can replenish numbers.

“Given the finite number of sharks in the system and the number of mortalities occurring annually, based on simple maths, shark populations will continue to decline”, Rechtorik tells The Scavenger.

The scalloped hammerhead is just one species classified as endangered in recent years, due to the demand for shark fin soup. A decrease in numbers of 98% in some regions has placed this species at great risk of extinction.

Butchered alive and abandoned at sea

A two-metre shark is hauled on board a wooden boat. She lashes about in fear as two sets of human hands attempt to steady her. A third pair of hands, wielding a knife, moves in toward the panicking shark.

As the long blade severs the dorsal fin from her writhing body, pure terror inhabits her dark eyes. Within seconds, the same menacing hands dismember her tail and pectoral fins. The group then rolls the terrified and bleeding shark back into the ocean, where she sinks to an unknown fate.

This grisly technique of removing a shark’s fins places prime value on retention of the fins, while the remainder of the shark is generally dismissed as surplus. Shark meat doesn’t generate returns in the same realm as fins, so after enduring the violent removal of their fins, the disabled sharks are typically tossed back into the sea to suffer an excruciating death.

Conservation group Sea Shepherd reveals that many sharks ultimately bleed to death, or are attacked by other sharks or fish. Others drown, as their inability to swim results in a lack of oxygen circulating through their gills.

Every day, hundreds of fishing vessels roll into dock, strewn with the souvenirs of shark slaughter on deck – evidence of a vicious war being waged against sharks, away from public view and in the name of profit.

Legally lame

Shark protection is undermined by an absence of laws preventing fishing in the open seas. Furthermore, it is the responsibility of individual nations to enact legislation governing their own territorial waters, and many countries do not have such regulations in place.

Nevertheless, national regulations and laws are often not decisive enough to protect sharks adequately. The existence of legal loopholes can often enable fishing vessels to simply bypass shark finning restrictions.

Great-White-SharkEarlier this year the US government ratified the Shark Conservation Act, effectively closing a loophole which had facilitated the purchase of shark fins on the open sea by US vessels for years. The fins were on-sold at an inflated price on US markets.

Shark finning has been illegal in US waters since 2000. However, as it is stipulated that fins can be transported back to port provided they are accompanied by their associated carcass, fins are still entering the market.

Australia also has a somewhat ambiguous position on the issue of shark finning. While the finning and disposal of sharks at sea is illegal – owing in part to a campaign by the Australian Marine Conservation Society – it is still permitted to utilise a shark’s fins, provided the entire shark is retained by the fishing vessel.

Hundreds of thousands of sharks are fished legally in Australian waters every year. The lucrative fins are frequently the primary target, and the carcass is generally appropriated for less profitable flake products.

Disappointingly, this means that Australia is still feeding the supply chain of the trade, and is doing very little to discourage the slaughter of sharks for their fins. Mahto reveals that in 2007, the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service recorded the export of 165 tonnes (165,000 kg) of shark fin from Australia.

Furthermore, Australia imports approximately 10,000 kilograms of dried shark fin per year, which is tantamount to 26,000 sharks. Mahto says that Australia is sadly lagging behind precedents being set by other nations, and that the best hope for sharks in the region is for the trade of all shark products to be outlawed.

Globally, illegal fishing is rampant, and the preservation of marine protected areas can be flouted with full knowledge of the authorities.

This was highlighted in the 2006 documentary Sharkwater. It uncovered clandestine shark finning operations functioning with government collusion in Costa Rican marine reserves, where sharks are ostensibly protected.

An International Plan of Action for sharks was established by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation in 1999. However, as adhering to the Plan is voluntary, the UN has no authority over non-compliance. Moreover, the Plan’s recommendations do not explicitly state that shark fins should not be acquired – only that sharks not be fished purely for their fins.

Global initiatives

Positively, Mahto believes that a “groundswell of international support” for sharks is beginning to gain traction. She applauds what she deems “incredibly positive international shark conservation steps” taken by some countries in recent months.

She cites the recent announcement of a permanent shark sanctuary in Honduras, which will uphold a moratorium on the commercial fishing of sharks established there last year.

Other international steps indicate that shark protection is creeping onto the global agenda.

Last year, the Maldives extended a national embargo on shark hunting, banning shark fishing in all its waters plus all shark product exports. In a joint report, TRAFFIC and the Pew Environment Group claim the decision was based on “evidence that sharks are more valuable as a tourist attraction than as exported meat and fins”.

The Malaysian state of Sabah, which has seen drastic reductions in shark species, is currently preparing legislation for a ban on shark finning.

A bill adopted by Hawaii which bans all trade and the possession of shark fins will come into effect this July.  Similar bills have recently passed, or are pending, in several US states.

But are these efforts enough? Are they too little, too late?

Rechtorik says that while many organisations and some governments are working hard on shark protection, “when working with cultural norms it can take time. Unfortunately we don’t have that time”. She believes that the need for action by the international community is “urgent”.

Mahto agrees that “global protection” for sharks from fishing and finning is desperately needed.

Thus, while individual legislation within countries is commendable, it is clear that piecemeal measures are grossly insufficient to rectify a problem of this scale. In the absence of any legally binding and enforceable international agreements protecting sharks, they remain vulnerable and largely left at the mercy of a ruthless industry with a lot to gain.

International cooperation, in the form of a mandatory agreement, is possibly the last hope for the continued survival of sharks.

The future

In what have been described as “shocking” findings, a high-level workshop of marine scientists, convened by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO), recently analysed the current state of the world’s oceans. Their assessment was grim.

IPSO claims the multi-country panel produced “a grave assessment of current threats – and a stark conclusion about future risks to marine and human life if the current trajectory of damage continues: that the world’s ocean is at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history”.

Scientists have long warned that if sharks disappeared from our oceans, there would be a snowball effect on other marine species and the entire ocean environment. And while there appears to be consensus that the impact on marine ecosystems would be catastrophic, we are yet to fully grasp the magnitude of the crisis.

According to Rechtorik, the over-exploitation of sharks is causing “untold ecological damage”. She says that there is already evidence of what occurs when “top predators” such as sharks disappear from the environment.

One significant outcome is that “prey species proliferate and ecosystem function becomes unbalanced”. Rechtorik also asserts that damage to habitat is a natural consequence of this.

The Australian Marine Conservation Society contends that marine ecosystems risk total collapse without sharks. Mahto remarks that this is because sharks bring an “element of stability” due to their “incredibly important role” in the marine environment. Consequently, she believes that a worldwide recognition of the value of sharks is crucial to the health of the ocean.

“If sharks species are to go extinct in our lifetime, this will not only have a catastrophic effect on marine health, but will also be a tragic testament to the way in which we interact with our wild blue planet”, Mahto says.

Sharks are an ancient species which has survived for at least 400 million years through several global mass extinctions – a demonstration of their resilience.

With 100 million sharks being brutally killed for soup each year, Mahto’s words are particularly pertinent. Will we allow them to disappear on our watch?

Susannah Waters is associate editor at The Scavenger.

Report on impact of Tsunami on Galapagos Wildlife

July 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

From UNESCO

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Eighteen hours after the March 11 tsunami wreaked devastation in Japan, it hit the Galápagos Islands.  Luckily, by then the energy of the waves had dissipated somewhat, and the people there had received advanced warning and took to higher ground. The waves hit later in the afternoon, local time, and caused significant damage only to some buildings located near the water’s edge. The Charles Darwin Research Station’s (CDRS) marine biology lab and its equipment were largely destroyed. The lab is critical in carrying out the marine monitoring work that feeds into the Galápagos National Park’s management work.

Soon after the disaster, the CDRS applied to the Rapid Response Facility to help it re-establish its marine monitoring capability, and also to carry out a rapid assessment of the impacts of the tsunami on Galápagos wildlife, which contribute a great deal to this site’s Outstanding Universal Value as recognized under the World Heritage Convention.

Their preliminary report has just been received.  It indicates that impacts varied significantly between areas.  It notes that the height and penetration of the wave at the coast was very specific to different localities within and between islands, with varying impacts upon the flora and fauna.  Several beach areas were extensively reconfigured, while others showed large scale sediment shifts offshore, probably limited by upper littoral vegetation roots (including those of mangroves) stabilizing the sediment.

Important flightless cormorant nesting sites on Fernandina island, the most undisturbed large island in Galápagos, showed evidence of the destruction of existing nests, but the scientists also noted that adults had largely survived and had recommenced nesting and egg laying. Occasional mortalities were evident (sea turtles and marine iguanas) at the upper limits of the wave. Other sites, such a small but critically important mangrove area (home to the very rare nesting mangrove finches) were apparently not negatively affected.  Marine turtle and iguana nesting was affected depending upon wave height, beach profile and nesting behavior.

The CDRS reports that it was currently following up lines of investigation to examine the dynamic of the wave as it propagated throughout the archipelago with their associates in the Ecuadorian Navy compiling information for Park and Disaster mitigation planning agencies.

Galapagos Conservancy States $40,000 in Damage at Darwin Station

March 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Galapagos Conservancy has sent out a request for donations after the Tsunami on March 11th.  According to the request the 6 foot swells caused by the tsunami coincided with high-tide when it reached the island of Santa Cruz, it was the combination of these factors that caused the damage.

As noted on earlier blogs, the warning was issued early in the day and the town along with the wildlife that normally lives at the station was evacuated to the highlands.  In town the Red Mangrove Inn,  Finch Bay Hotel, Banco del Pacifico and Police Station all suffered major damage. Park Rangers are still evaluating sites within the Galapagos National Park to determine the damage caused by the tsunami.

At the Darwin Station staff  and volunteers have been hard at work cleaning up and assessing the damage and planning repairs.  They estimate the staff will need $40,000 to rebuild the labs and replace equipment at the Darwin Station to get things up and running as soon as possible.

Interested parties can help donate money either through the Galapagos.org or through their facebook page.

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