Sea Shepherd is confident that all of our projects greatly contribute to a more protected Galapagos Marine Reserve. Unfortunately, that alone is not enough - the oceans are dying and we are even starting to notice these signs here in our safeguarded waters. As much as our work serves to protect the Galapagos Islands, the main battle is being fought out in the vast oceans around the world. International fishing fleets are rapidly increasing their catches and unless we turn the tide, the consequences will only become grimmer.
The following is the second part of Sea Shepherd's overview of ongoing projects in the Galapagos:
"Sniffer" K-9 unit project
Our longest running project in the Galapagos is now in its fourth year, and next month, we will sign a new agreement to continue this success story with the Ecuadorian National Police. Unique to South America, our sniffer dog unit focuses solely on the detection of illegal wildlife transportation. In past years, we have seen a range of cases in which smugglers were stopped trying to transport endemic Galapagos wildlife out of the islands. Sometimes by air but also by sea, our K-9 unit is firmly in place to control all outgoing goods.
Smugglers devise the strangest ways to transport animals or animal parts through the security checkpoints. We have found marine iguanas wrapped in newspapers, lava lizards in water bottles, and shark fins layered between clothes. Marine turtles, lobster tails, sea horses, and many other species have also been found and seized.
Luckily, the poor animals were often still alive and could be returned to their native surroundings instead of having to spend the rest of their lives as prisoners in the terrarium of some deranged wildlife collector. Unfortunately in many cases, the confiscated animal was simply abandoned by the criminal at the airport, making prosecution impossible.
The police unit in charge of the dogs has proven to not bend under pressure, even when questioning a diplomat for carrying illegal wildlife in his luggage. The excellent work of this unit is not only illustrated at the airports and harbors, they also perform checks on homes and businesses suspected of housing illegal wildlife.
Several individuals have been held in custody but they can often pay a small bail fee to be released. After being released on bail, they simply do not show for their court cases, which makes it difficult to convict such people for their criminal behaviors.
Our legal project is pushing to increase the penalties for environmental crimes and compliments the K-9 project in many ways.
Shark Awareness Pack a.k.a "Ron el Tiburon/Ron the Shark"
Ron the Shark is out in the ocean and coming your way! During the recent visit of the Gojira to Galapagos, our emblematic Ron the Shark character was moved onboard Sea Shepherd's fast intercept vessel. Starting as a project to educate school children in the Galapagos, the Shark Awareness Pack has turned out to be a huge success story. The core of this project is a guidebook called the Sharks of Galapagos. This book highlights the many unique aspects of sharks in the Galapagos National Park. However, interest for this book peaked when we named our project, Ron the Shark. Ron is well loved by children, who have participated in great numbers with the many games and assignments that were part of the project.
At present time, Sharks of Galapagos is only available in Spanish, but we are working on getting an English translation available to the public. In a world where sharks are disappearing at an alarming rate due to the ludicrous demand for shark fin soup, we have to create as many allies as we can for our cause. People have to stop looking at sharks as murderous monsters only out there to eat us and see them for what they really are - essential, irreplaceable apex predators in our delicate oceans.
Plans for 2011 and beyond
Sea Shepherd Galapagos is always looking for new ways to improve law implementation and enforcement inside the GMR, and we must constantly find new ways to outsmart wildlife poachers and smugglers. With the ever-growing human population, animal habitats are under increasing pressure. Even in a place as unique and well protected as the Galapagos Islands, people find ways to further decimate what little there is left of our natural world.
Sea Shepherd Galapagos is working to get in closer communication with other Latin American countries. We want to establish cooperation and share experiences that will help our country and others, to protect our natural world. Latin America has many natural wonders along its coast, a lot to enjoy but also a lot at stake.