Overfishing is an incredibly important issue in conservation across the world. It is a form of overexploitation where fish stocks are reduced to below sustainable levels. Overfishing can occur in water bodies of any sizes, such as ponds, rivers, lakes or oceans, and can result in resource depletion, reduced biological growth rates and low biomass levels. Continual overfishing can lead to the fish population being unable to sustain itself, such as the Atlantic salmon; wild fish now make up only 0.5% of the Atlantic salmon available in world fish markets. In such cases, the rest of the world demand is produced through aquaculture farming.

In the Galapagos Islands

Galapagos is home to some of the most environmentally sensitive waters on the planet. Creatures are routinely discovered in the waters surrounding the Islands; new species of fish, shark and mollusc have recently been found. This indicates that there may still be lots of other new marine species in the waters surrounding Galapagos that we have yet to discover.

Overfishing in the waters surrounding Galapagos combined with changes to the marine climate has led to the destruction of coral reefs in the Archipelago, many of which had existed for hundred years. Some forms of overfishing, for example the overfishing of sharks, has led to the upset of entire marine ecosystems. In the past, Galapagos has seen ships the surrounding waters illegally in search of rich catches. Sharks have usually been the main target, harvested solely for their fins to fulfil a growing demand for shark-fin soup in Asia.

Sea cucumber © Vanessa Green

© Vanessa Green

Sea cucumbers have become favourable targets for local fishermen, as these are now popular within the Asian market, famed for their supposed aphrodisiac or medicinal qualities. Due to the alarming decrease in sea cucumbers in the early 1990’s an Executive Decree enforced by the Galapagos National Park banned all fishing of sea cucumbers. The ban was then lifted and replaced with a quota, for both sea cucumbers and lobsters. However, today, the waters surrounding Galapagos are still at dangerously low levels of sea cucumbers and lobsters. In addition, the removal of so many large predatory fish and lobsters from the Islands’ seas, has led to huge numbers of sea urchins colonising the area. Subsequently, the sea urchins have overgrazed the coral, damaging it further and preventing it from re-establishing.

In order to counteract some of the damage done by the fishing industry, the Galapagos Marine Reserve was established in 1986 by Leon Febrès Cordero. In 2001, UNESCO expanded the World Heritage Site status of the Galapagos Islands to include the Galapagos Marine Reserve. It has recently been known that the waters surrounding the Islands are home to the highest concentration of sharks in the world. Galapagos Marine Reserve Map © Ministry of EnvironmentIn March 2016, Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, announced the creation of the marine sanctuary, together with 21 smaller conservation areas scattered through the volcanic archipelago. The Ecuadorian government are now protecting over 47,000 km2, about one third, of the waters around Galapagos. The new sanctuary alone encompasses 40,000 km2 and extends around the northern Islands of Darwin and Wolf, where the greatest concentration of sharks can be found.

Protecting the marine reserve

GCT is currently involved in several marine conservation projects working to preserve the pristine waters of the Galapagos including the Galapagos Bullhead Shark Project and the Galapagos Whale Shark Project. These studies will collect and analyse data which will help to inform management decisions. All three of these projects are incredibly important for the survival and protection of the marine life surrounding Galapagos, as well as the rest of the world.