Albion Monitor /News

"Day of Mourning" Declared for Galapagos Islands

by Mario Gonzalez

on this topic
(IPS) QUITO -- Local inhabitants, authorities, tourist sector business operators and environmentalists on Ecuador's Galapagos islands declared March 2 a day of mourning for the archipelago's ecosystems, which they say are jeopardized by large- scale fishing activity.

On what they dubbed a "Black Monday" for the environment, the inhabitants of the Galapagos islands dressed in black and marched through the streets of the most populous islands, San Cristobal and Santa Isabel.

Flags over public buildings "were flown at half-mast as a sign of mourning," said Alfredo Serrano, a parliamentary deputy representing the province and one of the main sponsors of a draft law designed to protect the archipelago.

Clash between large- scale fishing interests and others that threaten islands
The protesters called on Ecuador's single-chamber Congress to approve the bill without accepting an amendment proposed by acting President Fabian Alarcon, which would permit large-scale fishing in areas considered fundamental for maintaining ecological balance.

"In his zeal to stand well with all sectors, the president ended up sacrificing the ecosystems, under the pressure of industrial-level fishing interests from the coastal province of Manabi," said Serrano.

But "parliament has the last word and must act in accordance with the interests of the local population and of the entire world," he added, because the Galapagos islands "belong to humanity as a whole."

Congress approved the controversial draft law in January, after four months of debate and sent it over to the executive branch to be studied.

One of the touchiest aspects of the law is the expansion of the marine reserve from 15 to 40 miles around the archipelago. In accordance with Ecuadorian laws on the environment, large-scale fishing is prohibited in protected ocean areas.

After the association, which represents tuna fishing interests, Atunec and other organizations in the sector, let Alarcon feel the full force of their pressure, the president decided to add a clause to the bill that would allow industrial-level fishing five miles out from the coast "to the west, south and southeast of the archipelago."

Congress will begin discussing the law again late this week and will decide whether it will accept the president's partial veto.

Simon Bustamante, a deputy from the fishing province of Manabi, said "the president's resolution protects more than 200,000 families who gain their livelihood from fishing."

According to Bustamante, large-scale fishing has been carried out around the archipelago for 50 years, "and it has never been proven that the activity directly affects the ecosystem of the islands."

But environmental groups that participated in drafting the bill, such as Ecuador's Fundacion Natura and the World Wide Nature Fund (WWF), see a 40-mile protected marine area as crucial to the conservation of unique marine and land species.

Seals, sharks and turtles "are being forced to travel increasingly long distances to find food at the bottom of the ocean due to fishing," said Fundacion Natura director Teodoro Bustamante.

Ecuador in confrontation with U.N.
Galapagos is one of Ecuador's 21 provinces, located 1,000 kilometers from the mainland. Its varied, unique biodiversity has given rise to its description as "the world's largest living museum." In 1979, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared the Galapagos islands a world heritage site.

The archipelago is also Ecuador's main tourist attraction, accounting for 60 percent of the state's tourism revenues, and its fastest-growing province. Local wages, often many times higher than in the rest of Ecuador, draw hundreds of families to the islands every year.

In 1996, UNESCO warned that large-scale fishing, the high rate of immigration and the introduction of non-endemic species -- including cattle, pigs and other domestic animals as well as rats -- were threatening the archipelago's biodiversity.

The U.N. body warned that if Ecuadorian authorities failed to adopt urgent measures, it would include the islands on its list of "endangered world heritage sites," which would mean even more stringent controls.

In response, the Ecuadorian government created a special commission of government and business representatives, leaders of social organizations, environmentalists and independent experts to draft the law.

But Serrano lamented today that "it looks like the consensus we reached and all our efforts have been useless," because in the end it will be "the big political and economic interests that will decide the future of the Galapagos."

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Albion Monitor March 9, 1998 (

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