Some 300 Galapagos Islands rangers peacefully occupied park research stations Monday to protest the reported firing of the park director and his probable replacement.
Environment Minister Fabian Valdiviezo late Monday defended the decision to replace Park Director Edwin Naula, a biologist, with Fausto Cepeda, who held the post before in the early 1990s.
"Mr. Cepeda was director of the park before and also has plenty of international experience," Valdiviezo told channel 4 television. He said one of the first tasks Cepeda would tackle would be an administrative evaluation of park operations with "more experienced people."
Park employees argue Cepeda is a political appointee and won't protect the archipelago's delicate ecosystem.
"All the park rangers are on strike," park spokesman Diego Anazco told The Associated Press by telephone from the islands, 620 miles west of Ecuador's Pacific coast. "The park rangers are opposed to institutional instability and the exchange of an expert for a politician," Anazco said, adding that Naula remained in his office awaiting official notification of his firing.
Captain Paul Watson is concerned that the Galapagos is falling victim to political interference. The Director of the Galapagos National Park should be immune from the political whims and favoritism of politicians. The Director cannot protect the National Park and the Marine Reserve if he must be constantly on guard that he may say or do something that will offend a political official. The Director must be chosen based on experience and ability and this must not be a political appointment.
The protest, which started over the weekend, has not affected tourism, he said.
Several international scientific and environmental organizations have frozen funding to the park in anticipation of Naula's ouster, Anazco said, and as a result park employees have not received their salaries for two months.
The World Wildlife Fund last week made an official appeal to Gutierrez to leave Naula in place.
The Galapagos Islands are home to exotic species, including giant tortoises and marine iguanas, which inspired Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.
One of the big fights between conservationists and local fishermen has been over the harvest of sea cucumbers, found in the waters around the islands. A close relative of sea urchins, they are sold as delicacies and aphrodisiacs in Asia.
The situation in the Galapagos at the present time is one of chaos. The rangers on strike in support of Director Naula and they have not been paid for over two months. Our ship, the patrol boat Sirenian is unable to operate. Illegal fishing is on the increase. This is a World Heritage site and people around the world must be concerned and involved. If we cannot protect the Galapagos, we will not be able to protect any threatened eco-systems on this planet with any degree of effectiveness.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is supportive of Director Edwin Naula. Sea Shepherd members should write or e-mail to the Ecuadorian Ministry of the Environment with the request that Park Director Edwin Naula be kept as the Director of the National Park.
Presidente de la Republica del Ecuador
E-mail: [email protected]
Republic of Ecuador, Ministry of the Environment
Address: Avenue Eloy Alfaro and Amazon. Quito.
Telephone(s): 593 -2- 2563429 or 2563430
email: [email protected]