The Galapagos Islands, located in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Ecuador, are most famous as the place where Charles Darwin, in the nintienth-century, did research that led to the publication of “On the Origin of Species.”
Now, a new report says the Islands are the site of an influx of illegal fishing which, along with the coronavirus pandemic, are threatening one of the world’s natural wonders.
According to a new report this week in the Los Angeles Times, the Galapagos Islands are suffering these days for multiple reasons. The area, which is heavily dependent on tourism dollars from those who visit the park there, has seen that income dry up due to the pandemic.
Some in the Islands have also begun to notice an influx of hundreds of Chinese fishing boats, who have begun to do massive amounts of fishing in the area, where it is not legal for them to fish. It’s a situation that’s happened around the world in recent years, which has led to the U.S. Coast Guard calling out China for the practice.
The boats have also left behind litter, including water bottles and other materials with Chinese lettering on them, indicating that it was left there recently.
“This is an attack on our resources,” Ángel Yánez Vinueza, the mayor of Santa Cruz canton, told the newspaper. “They are killing the species we have protected and polluting our biota with the plastic waste they drop overboard. They are raping the Galapagos.”
One ship captain said that China brought a tanker ship to the area, which provides fuel to other fishing vessels. And in 2017, a Chinese vessel was captured in the area, carrying 300 tons of fish, including thousands of sharks that were caught illegally. This led to prison time for those who were caught by the Ecuadorian government.
It’s one of several spots in the world where China has gotten into distant water fishing conflicts in recent years.
“As with all Chinese distant water fishing stories, at base this is largely about the heavy subsidies that have created China’s fleet over recent years, the willingness of far too much of that fleet to engage in illegal and often violent behavior, and Beijing’s disinterest in doing much about it despite its legal obligation as a flag state,” Gregory Poling, a senior fellow for Southeast Asia and director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told The National Interest.
There are some positive aspects to what’s going on in the Islands, per the Times report. With tourist boats no longer roaming the island, a party representing the newspaper, animals have begun to explore areas they normally don’t.
“Penguins [were seen] swimming alongside tropical fish and sea turtles, krill blooms clouding the shallow waters with pink flotsam, and migrating tuna and hammerhead sharks meandering through the darker, deeper waters,” the newspaper said.
However, the lack of tourism threatens to collapse the island’s economy. And that means less personnel to watch for poachers. The president of the Government Council of Galapagos told the Times that on one day of September, the park pulled in just 4 percent of the tourism income it did compared to the same day the previous year.
Those entering the park are required to show proof of a negative PCR coronavirus test within ninety-six hours of arriving.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.