SRI Galapagos study (and request for donations)

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Dear Shark Research Institute Friends,

As some of you know, we have been conducting a fund raising drive to be able to begin a residency study on the sharks of the Galapagos. This is essential research to help the Galapagos National Park with their protection and management of the Galapagos Marine Preserve. Our goal was to raise $5,000 to be able to purchase 10 radio tags and 2 receivers. Let me explain a little about how these work. The receivers are anchored to the sea floor where we know the sharks would swim by. The sharks are then tagged. When a shark swims by the receiver, within a certain distance, the tag will transmit to the receiver giving us a data point. The receivers will store the data, and then at a later date, we will retrieve the receivers to be able to download the data. We will then put the receivers back underwater so that they can continue to collect data for us. We will be repeating this process over a one year period. The data we collect will be able to tell us whether the sharks are staying in the area, and thus resident to that area. This is what we are hoping, because if this is the case, the National Park can argue that the sharks are resident to the Galapagos and thus should be protected. The fishermen in the Galapagos are continuing to pressure the Ecuadorian Gov. to allow them to long line within the Marine Preserve. You may have read the lead article in out last newsletter: Here is what it reported:

On February 19, 2004, 50 fishermen from Santa Cruz and Isabela islands committed an act of terrorism. The local media called it a “strike” for “freedom” when the fishermen took 33 scientists hostage, seized the headquarters of the Galápagos National Park and the Darwin Research Station, and threatened to kill the giant tortoises there (including Lonesome George, the sole surviving member of his species). The “freedom” the fishermen seek is abolishment of regulations designed to protect marine species, including removal of the park’s patrol boats, freedom to set longlines in the Marine Reserve and sell shark ‘by-catch’. After an eight-day stand-off, Cesar Navarez, Ecuador’s Environment Minister, signed a pact to negotiate the fishermens’ demands outside the participatory forum that was designed to give Galápagos’ 18,000 people a say in the matter. As result, on March 3, due to national and international pressure, Navarez was forced to resign, and Fabián Valdivieso was appointed in his stead. The fishermen are threatening more action if Valdivieso ignores the illegal agreement signed by his predecessor.

Dissatisfaction escalates because the human population of the Galápagos has swelled from less than a thousand in 1950 to 18,000 today. As the number of fishermen in the Galápagos increases, the quotas for catches are distributed ever more thinly. Nevertheless, local fishermen from the largest cooperatives, San Cristóbal Island with 700 fishers, did not support the actions of the 50 fishermen.

As in the past, this is a power play supported by some local politicians and fish-products middlemen. Four years ago, when they were demanding increased quotas for lobsters, the fishermen wrecked research facilities, harassed tourist groups and threatened the lives of Galápagos National Park staff. The government of Ecuador sent in troops, but eventually capitulated, raising the lobster limit from 50 tonnes to 80 tonnes to buy them off. Dr. John McCosker of the California Academy of Sciences, who was in the islands during that clash, said the concessions were "institutionalizing blackmail". "It’s the short-term gain of a few fishermen versus the long-term survival of the Galápagos,” he said. “They are killing the golden goose." Some of the turmoil stems from a 1998 law that gave Galápagos residents more political autonomy and set up a marine reserve extending 40 miles offshore.

The fishermen are demanding that they be allowed to reap the abundant seas of the Galápagos Marine reserve, unwatched and unregulated, where only tourism and local small-scale fishing is currently permitted. “When there is no one watching, there is no control,” said Eliecer Cruz, former director of the Galápagos National Park and currently head of WWF’s Galapagos Program.

Giving into to those who violate the law only promotes further disregard of it. Capitulation to demands of the strident few will destroy the fragile marine ecosystem of this World Heritage Site, and the livelihoods of people that depend upon it. Continued international pressure is vital. SRI urges Ecuadorian President Lucio Gutierrez to continue to protect the unique wildlife of the Galápagos through sustainable use such as tourism, rather than allowing depletion of the archipelago’s natural resources.

As of today, we have collected contributions totaling $2,800. We still need $2,200 to reach our goal. For those that have already contributed, we thank you, and for those that have not, please consider making a small contribution. No amount is too small. This is extremely important time period for us in the Galapagos. Please help.


Alex Antoniou, Ph.D
Director of Field Operations 
Shark Research Institute