Navy Ship MollendoThe Mollendo has left the anchoring position in Academy Bay, Puerto Ayora, Galapagos with an unknown destination. Media on board the Mollendo at the time of it's grounding report that the Peruvian crew was furious at the local Port Captain. The ship has been inspected by divers and is said to have not sustained any damages. According to the officials that inspected the vessel prior to it's coming to Puerto Ayora, there was nothing wrong with the vessel. It is surprising why the bunker fuel was not discovered during the inspection, as 24,000 gallons is quite a substantial amount to be overlooked. The Peruvian navy is being accused of not reporting the unauthorized fuel.

There is obviously a lot more at stake here, as Ecuador and Peru have a history of fighting and this incident has severely strained an attempt to improve the relationship between the two countries.

The Galapagos Islands are also paced on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in danger and with the upcoming UNESCO meeting in June, Ecuador is trying it's best to be removed from that list.

The question is: should the Galapagos Islands be removed from the endangered list? Sea Shepherd Galapagos analyzes: The Galapagos Islands have been placed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in danger for the following reasons:

1. Illegal immigration:
The official government numbers of inhabitants of Galapagos are seriously understated. According to the last report, there are only 18,000 people that live on Santa Cruz Island. However, a large number of illegal immigrants are employed in construction and tourism. Most inhabitants of Santa Cruz Island see that the sheer number of people in the capital Puerto Ayora greatly exceeds the official data. Estimates of the total population range between 23,000 and 29,000. Despite several large-scale operations that removed some of the illegal immigrants, more come every day or remain on the islands still.

2. Tourism:
Galapagos has seen a constant increase in tourist numbers and reached a staggering number between 160,000 and 180,000 tourists in 2008. The first quarter of 2009 actually saw a drop for the first time ever, but this was caused by the economic crisis, not due to more sustainable policies. Several studies indicate that a sustainable number of tourists for the Galapagos would be between 40,000 and 60,000 a year.

Regardless, more tourist activities are being developed to attract yet more people. There are six flights coming from the continent every day full of passengers, and talks are to open a third airport on the less visited island Isabela. No matter how ecological the tours are made, the sheer number is more than Galapagos can handle.

3. Introduced plants and animals:
Despite the best intentions, we are still seeing an increase in introduced plants and animals. The Blackberry plague is not under control, nor are many of the others. There is no fumigation on board the cargo ships that come in. We now have more introduced plants and animals than endemic ones. The Mediterranean fruit fly and mosquitoes carrying dengue fever are some of the latest additions to our exotics. Every year we see new breeds of dogs enter the islands despite strict regulations that do not allow any cats or dogs to be brought to Galapagos. It won't be long before there are more huskies in Galapagos than in Alaska.

4. Illegal fishing:
This continues every day. It is a well-known fact among the people of Galapagos that fishermen from Isabela go out every night and catch sharks. The sharks are finned and the fins are smuggled to the continent. It is also common knowledge that the authorities on Isabela are not able to or not willing to act against this.

Sea Shepherd is also collecting fish tracking devices from commercial tuna boats that local fishermen find inside the marine reserve. The sheer number of these balls indicates there is large-scale illegal fishing for tuna inside the marine reserve.

Seahorses and sea lion penises continue to be the target of other poaching operations.
Fishermen from the continent even when caught illegally fishing inside the marine reserve declare they will return at the first possibility because the penalties are so low it is worth taking the risk.

5. Lack of emergency procedures:
Nobody knows what to do if we have a serious environmental catastrophe; there are no guidelines, let alone a disaster plan. Materials are insufficient or even unavailable.

6. Lack of cooperation between some of the governmental institutions:
Often this has grounds in disputes over jurisdiction.

Sea Shepherd Galapagos will continue investigating this case, all responsible parties need to be held accountable for their mistakes.

Sea Shepherd
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