Sea Shepherd and the Galapagos

Some 960 kilometers off the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos Archipelago is famed throughout the world for its unique plant and animal species.

Sea Shepherd has always considered the Galapagos one of the world’s last untouched wildernesses. But even in this remote part of the world, human encroachment is taking a heavy toll on this fragile eco-system. Sea Shepherd considers Galapagos an ongoing campaign and possibly one of the most important in our history as well as for the survival of the human race. After all, if we can’t protect something as unique as the Galapagos Islands, we are doomed as a species.

A history:

1936 - The Galapagos National Park (GNP) established by Executive Decree 31

1959 - Boundary ratified by Decree 17, to include all islands except those colonized

1968 - Boundaries established, beginning of effective management

1971 - Marine Reserve (7,990,000 ha) baseline joining the outmost points of the Islands ratified by Official Registry 265

1984 - The islands designated a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Biosphere Reserve

1986 - The Galapagos Biological Marine Resources Reserve (GMRR) established by Executive Decree 1810-A to include all waters within 15 nautical miles of the baseline and establishing a quarantine system and immigration controls

1987 - Zoning plan drafted

1992 - Approval of management plan for the GMRR

1998 - The Special Law for the Galapagos 278 published, extending the GMMR to 40 nm from the baseline

2001 - The Marine Resources Reserve included within the United Nations World Heritage area

2002 - The Wetlands in the South of Isabela Island declared a Ramsar Wetland Site

2007 - Galapagos on the UNESCO endangered list due to uncontrolled immigration, tourism and lack of protection from introduced species

2010 - Galapagos is removed from the UNESCO endangered list thanks to some significant improvements, however the situation remains delicate and unified efforts need to be continued as well as reinforced to prevent a re-listing.

Unique and fragile, the history of the Galapagos is such that it is a miracle that any of the irreplaceable wildlife of the islands still survives today.

For a hundred years, starting in the late 18th century, whalers used the islands as a base camp and hunting ground, supplementing their cetacean slaughter by helping themselves to the local fur seals for extra income and to the Galapagos tortoise population for food.

Marine Iguanas heating themselves
up in the sun after foraging

By 1900, the Galapagos fur seal was nearly extinct, and the shells of the slaughtered giant tortoises littered the beaches. The first legislation to protect Galapagos fauna was passed in 1934, but the iguanas of the island of Baltra did not survive the construction of a U.S. air base there during World War II. In the early 1970s, Japanese fishing fleets encroached into the waters to unilaterally and illegally slaughter sea turtles, with many depredations routinely committed since by driftnetters and longlingers.

The Galapagos National Park (GNP) Service, with the help and advice of the Charles Darwin Research Station, works to protect the archipelago from abuse and illegal exploitation. In 1995, we published the first Sea Shepherd field report on marine poaching in the Galapagos Islands (Sea Shepherd Log, 3rd-4th Quarter 1995), along with an offer to Ecuador to assist in patrolling the Galapagos with our fast coastal conservation patrol boat, Edward Abbey (later re-christened "Sirenian," and more recently "Yoshka").

In March 1997, Fabricio Valverde with the Technical Department of the GNPS contacted us to express definite interest in the possibility of joint conservation patrols.

The Park Service was patrolling the waters of the National Park and the Marine Reserve with the boats Guadalupe River and the Belle Vie, and they felt "the addition of the Edward Abbey (Sirenian) can be extremely helpful for the conservation of the Islands."

Galapagos tortoises at the breeding
center in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz

There followed years of on-again off-again negotiations, with the Ecuadorian government at one point saying a foreign vessel simply could not patrol within the Park. Time marched on and we had to press other campaigns elsewhere, but we could not give up on the Galapagos, as the island are unique in the world: A haven for species found nowhere else on earth, under increasing pressure from human encroachment and illegal fishing.

Sea Shepherd’s Yoshka out on patrol

Finally, Captain Watson and the crew of the Ocean Warrior (later renamed R/V Farley Mowat) dropped in on the Galapagos in March 2000, en route from the celebration of the demise of the salt works plan for San Ignacio Lagoon in Baja California, and just prior to crossing over to the Atlantic for the Faeroe Islands Whale Defense Campaign.

The Ocean Warrior's executive staff sat down with National Park personnel and in short order hammered out a provisional joint patrol agreement. By August, a final agreement had been worked out, and preparations to make theEdward Abbey (Sirenian) ready for her first year of Galapagos duty were under way.

Our patience and persistence was well worth it. The Sirenian went into service under a five-year agreement to help the National Park Service clamp down on illegal commercial fishing operations within 40 miles of the islands. The Sirenian became an indispensable part of the GNP, and therefore, in October of 2005, Captain Watson signed a new agreement with the director of the GNP to keep the ship patrolling in the Galapagos on a permanent basis.

Sea Shepherd office
The Sea Shepherd Galapagos office
on the main road in Puerto Ayora

In July 2006, Sea Shepherd officially opened an office in the Galapagos, located in Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz. By having a permanent presence in the islands we can instantly detect where our assistance is needed most.

At the beginning of 2010 we started our tenth year of cooperation with the Galapagos National Park Service. To celebrate this, an agreement was signed between Sea Shepherd and the GNP, further deepening our bonds and laying a solid foundation for the next decade.

Despite all the regulations and the fact that the commercial fishing ban has been in effect since 1997, we see regular violations by the Ecuadorian fishing fleet, foreign vessels, and independent operators.

Longliners going after billfish and sharks are doing heavy damage.

We need your continued support, and Sea Shepherd Galapagos will make the difference in the preservation of the world's most precious natural environment.

Iguana and Farley Mowat
Farley Mowat visiting Galapagos in 2002