Toxic Products Among Waste That Reaches Galapagos

Bottles, containers of ‘toxic’ products, metal tanks, razors and even toothbrushes, among the waste that reaches Galapagos from the fleet of foreign boats that fish near Ecuador

Plastic bottles, which reach the habitats of species such as marine iguanas, are picked up by collectives in Galapagos. Photo: courtesy Washington Paredes

August 8, 2020 – 06h00

The Galapagos Islands for many years have had to deal with the waste generated by mainland Ecuador and other countries worldwide. Every year both state agencies and civil groups clean the beach and the seabed where this garbage is evident.

However, since last July, the amount of waste has increased, especially plastics. These groups link this increase to the presence of a fleet of 340 foreign vessels, mostly Chinese, which are fishing in the limits of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Ecuador and the insular EEZ.

Members of groups such as the Insular Front and Mingas por el Mar have worked to remove this waste. These “floating cities”, which work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, generate tons of garbage that are dumped into the ocean, leaving a trail of pollution that is reaching the shores of the archipelago.

“Hundreds of plastic bottles and even metal tanks are appearing on the beaches of different islands, mainly those located on the southern coasts of the Galapagos,” says Cecilia Torres, a member of Mingas por el Mar.

Metal tanks with Chinese symbols reach the shores of the archipelago. Photo: Courtesy Washington Paredes

The expert points out that the presence of this fleet represents several potential dangers for the health of marine and terrestrial ecosystems, and, therefore, for the conservation of natural resources.

Alberto Andrade, a member of the Insular Front collective, agrees with this. His organization estimates that the fleet of boats is generating between 23,000 and 25,000 plastic bottles a day that are thrown directly into the sea.

The Insular Front was born after the capture, in 2017, of the Chinese ship Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999. Several of the members of the collective were able to observe that in that boat, which was detained and is currently in the service of the Ecuadorian Navy, there was a lot of garbage in their facilities, which confirmed their suspicions that these types of ships dump their waste into the sea.

He claims that they have collected containers of “toxic products”, fuel tanks, oil tanks, fish waste, medical equipment, razors and toothbrushes with Chinese symbols.

In addition, the lack of control of these fleets incurs a higher incidence of illegal fishing of vulnerable and endangered species.

They also source fuel offshore, leading to spills that translate into marine pollution, says Torres.

Hundreds of plastic bottles hit the shores of the Galapagos. Photo: Courtesy Washington Paredes

The entry of these plastics to the Galapagos Marine Reserve presents several problems. For example, the danger of consumption of these objects by marine and terrestrial animals; the effects on the landscape, which in the case of Galapagos is vital for its survival, since its main income is tourism, says the expert.

Another danger that these residues generate is that they serve as a “vehicle” for the arrival of non-native species to the archipelago. An investigation carried out by the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) showed that floating plastics serve as dispersal facilitators of biofouling marine species, such as barnacles, bivalves, among other potentially invasive species.

In 2017, a new species of barnacle was found for the first time in San Cristóbal when it was discovered on collected plastic. It was registered again in plastics collected on Genovesa and Santa Cruz.

Since invasive species are the second largest cause of biodiversity loss at a global level, this highlights the risk posed by this type of contamination, adds Torres.

However, she recognizes that this problem will continue to affect Galapagos in the long term, so Mingas by the Sea, as part of the actions they are carrying out to alert international organizations and request their support, sent a letter to UNESCO, to the Program of the United Nations for the Environment and the United Nations Organization for Industrial Development, requesting a statement as international organizations regarding the situation of the archipelago.

In addition, they ask for the intervention of these entities as promoters, coordinators and facilitators of regional actions against the type of unregulated and illegal fishing pressure that the fleet of foreign vessels is currently applying. 

Informing and sharing news on marine life, flora, fauna and conservation in the Galápagos Islands since 2017
© SOS Galápagos, 2021

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