The Chinese fleet that periodically threatens the Galápagos Islands in Ecuador goes beyond engaging in predatory fishing that plunders the oceans of Latin America. The vessels also throw tons of waste into the sea, killing wildlife, polluting the waters, and destroying an ecosystem that is home to more than 7,000 endemic species.
Bottles, containers of marine oil, and Chinese-labeled jute bags have been accumulating on the beaches. Experts estimate that 30 percent of the garbage collected on the islands’ shores come from the Chinese fleets that fish off Ecuador’s coasts, Juan Pablo Muñoz-Pérez, a biologist at Ecuador’s San Francisco de Quito University, said in a February 14, 2022 study on environmental website Mongabay.
Although there is no photographic evidence of Chinese crews dumping garbage into the sea, researchers and fishermen find Chinese-labeled containers in good condition, with current expiration dates. “Trash from Peru and Ecuador is carried by sea currents from the mainland, but it’s almost impossible for particles to reach Galápagos from China, floating against the current,” Muñoz-Pérez said.
Plastic is among the materials that cause the most damage to wildlife. Researchers have found plastic in fish guts, iguanas and sea lions trapped in garbage, and turtles suffocated by plastic bags.
According to information Galápagos National Park published on Twitter, during a single cleanup day on February 12, 100 volunteers collected 820 kilograms of garbage in the park. “The sorted waste was delivered to the municipal governments for final disposal,” the tweet said.
Danger of extinction
The garbage problem is compounded by overfishing, which puts species at risk of extinction. “The giant squid fishery faces a clear and present danger due to the continuous and uncontrolled growth of the Chinese fleet’s fishing effort,” said on Facebook Alfonso Miranda Eyzaguirre, president of the Committee for the Sustainable Management of the Southern Pacific Giant Squid, a group comprised of leading players in the fishing industry from Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, and Peru.
During the 10th meeting of the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization, carried out in Peru on January 28, Miranda Eyzaguirre said that 631 Chinese vessels were currently engaging in irregular fishing for giant squid in the South Pacific, causing harm to Peru, Chile, and Ecuador.
Every year, the Chinese fleet repeats a journey to reach the archipelago. In May, the ships begin to cross the Strait of Magellan, at the southern tip of Chile, into the Pacific Ocean. From there, they sail to the edge of the Peruvian territorial sea, stop to fish, and later move to the edge of the Galápagos exclusive economic zone, the Uruguayan media outlet Noticiero Universal reported.
On September 8, the Galápagos Islands will mark 44 years as a UNESCO Natural Heritage Site for Humanity. It was the first site to be placed on the World Heritage List in 1978.