Study: Most Trash Polluting Galapagos Islands Comes from Illegal Chinese Fishing Boats

A volunteer holds a plastic bottle collected on Isabela Island in the Galapagos archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, 1000 km off the coast of Ecuador, on February 17, 2019. - Galapagos National Park rangers and a group of volunteers collect garbage in remote places and unpopulated areas on the Isabela …
RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP via Getty Images

Illegal Chinese fishing boats are responsible for the majority of man-made ocean waste found near or in the Galapagos Islands Marine Preserve, which is located off Ecuador’s Pacific coast, the Latin American news site Infobae reported on Monday.

Ecuador’s federal government released the results of a new study on July 25 that found the majority of garbage detected in or near the Galapagos Islands “comes from Asian vessels that fish in international waters,” Infobae reported.

Ecuador Environment Minister Gustavo Manrique said the study “provided enough evidence to suspect that this waste comes from Chinese boats that fish for giant squid every year in [waters near] Ecuador.”

“This happens despite the fact that ships operating in international waters, in front of the Galapagos Exclusive Economic Zone, are prohibited from throwing any type of plastic into the sea,” Infobae relayed. “However, bottles, oil cans for boats and jute bags with Asian characters, mostly Chinese, have been found piling up on the shores of the Archipelago’s beaches, indicating that the waste from these boats is thrown into the sea.”

Residents of the Galapagos Islands hold a demonstration outside the court where the crew of the Chinese-flagged ship confiscated by the Ecuadorean Navy is attending a hearing, on August 25, 2017. (Photo by JUAN CEVALLOS/AFP via Getty Images)

Ecuador’s government established the Galapagos Islands Marine Preserve in 1998 to protect 50,000-plus square miles of Pacific Ocean located roughly 600 miles off of the country’s coastline. The archipelago is known for its unique biodiversity, which inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Chinese vessels have illegally fished in or near the Galapagos Islands Marine Preserve for years despite the ecosystem’s internationally recognized status as a no-fishing zone. The illegal Chinese fishing activity near the islands not only threatens their biodiversity but also violates the sovereignty of Ecuador, which retains the sole rights to natural resource exploration in the waters directly off of its coastline.

Conservative Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso expanded the Galapagos Islands Marine Preserve to include an additional 23,166 square miles in January. The decision was announced in November 2021 and was likely influenced by China’s illegal fishing near Ecuador, which had ramped up in the months preceding the expansion. An Ecuador-based conservationist group called Mas Galapagos denounced Beijing in June 2021 for deploying an illegal fleet of Chinese fishing boats to waters near the Galapagos Islands Marine Reserve.

The Ecuadorian Navy seized a Chinese vessel for illegally fishing within the Galapagos Marine Reserve’s territory in August 2017. Ecuadorian authorities discovered nearly 7,000 endangered sharks onboard the boat and subsequently arrested 20 of the vessel’s crew members.

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