Galapagos Islands: 'Protection strategy' set up after 'hundreds of Chinese fishing vessels' spotted nearby

28 July 2020, 09:49 | Updated: 28 July 2020, 13:46

A "protection strategy" for the Galapagos Islands has been set up by Ecuador's president after hundreds of fishing vessels - many of them Chinese - were spotted near the archipelago's exclusive economic zone.

The Ecuadorian Navy has identified around 260 boats and increased patrols to ensure they do not enter the area of the ecologically sensitive islands - the inspiration for Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

In several tweets over the weekend, Lenin Moreno described the Islands as "one of the richest fishing areas and a hotbed of life for the entire planet", and used the hashtag #SOSGalapagos.

He added that former Mayor of Quito, Roque Sevilla, and ex-environment minister Yolanda Kakabadse, along with "more specialists", would be "responsible for designing the Galapagos protection strategy and respect for its maritime resources".

Chinese fishing vessels appear each year near the Galapagos, attracted by marine species such as the hammerhead shark, which is in danger of extinction.

In 2017, a Chinese vessel was captured in the Galapagos Marine Reserve carrying 300 tons of marine wildlife.

"We are on alert, conducting surveillance, patrolling to avoid an incident such as what happened in 2017," defence minister Oswaldo Jarrin told reporters.

"There is a corridor that is international waters, that's where the fleet is located," he said, adding that none had attempted to enter the exclusive economic zone.

Volunteer pressure group, the Blue Planet Society, has said "we are watching the destruction of the ocean in real time".

Spokesperson John Hourston told Sky News: "The threat that the industrial Chinese fishing fleet poses to the unique and spectacular marine life of the Galapagos archipelago cannot be overstated."

He also said the vessels were "sucking the life from this biodiversity jewel".

"Marine life doesn't recognise lines on a map. Unless the high seas are given protection, the ocean is in danger of becoming become a lifeless desert."

The Galapagos Islands are home to a wide variety of marine wildlife, including turtles, giant tortoises, flamingos and albatrosses.