Protecting endangered species from pandemic impacts

What do a huge fishing fleet and a tiny fly have in common? Both are threatening Galapagos wildlife and we need your help.

Since our last appeal, Galapagos has been under siege. In June, over 300 huge, international, industrial fishing ships descended on the boundary of the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR) EEZ. The fleet was so large it could be seen from space. These industrial fishing fleets provide a perilous journey for migratory species such as endangered whale and scalloped hammerhead sharks. I know you appreciate, as a committed supporter of the Galapagos Islands, the value of the GMR in protecting these animals before they migrate. You’ll understand the severe risk these huge fishing fleets pose.

Satellite image of the international fishing fleet in June 2020 © Global Fishing Watch

Satellite image of the international fishing fleet in June 2020 © Global Fishing Watch

Losing Hope

One of these migrating whale sharks, named Hope, went missing in May. Tagged in September 2019, she provided over 7000km worth of data, the longest track recorded by the Galapagos Whale Shark Project (GWSP)
so far. When her tag stopped transmitting, the team hoped she had gone for a long, deep dive. But after a month of no signal, they looked at the data in more detail and discovered she had disappeared in an area of intensive, industrial fishing. As you can imagine, the team and I were devastated. We can’t be sure of Hope’s fate but if she was caught by a fishing vessel, she is one of over 100 million sharks caught globally every year. Many of these are destined for a bowl of soup.

We don't want other endangered sharks to meet the same fate as Hope the whale shark © Jonathan Green

We don’t want other endangered sharks to meet the same fate as Hope the whale shark © Jonathan Green

Coco

I recently heard from Jonathan, founder of the GWSP, who returned from a trip with the team in August. He was thrilled to let me know that they tagged ten more whale sharks and one, named Coco, has already made history by becoming the first tagged whale shark to travel from the  Galapagos Islands to Cocos Island National Park in Costa Rica. 

Like us, the Ecuadorian government is committed to a Galapagos ocean protection strategy. But we need more vital data to get this important migration route protected. Several other whale sharks entered the same waters as Coco, but with the area full of industrial fishing ships they run the risk of being caught. We don’t want them, and other endangered sharks, to meet this horrific fate.

We won’t stop fighting the huge threat that fishing fleets pose. Can we count on you to stand alongside us as we work even harder to provide safe corridors for migratory animals like Hope and Coco? Our shark programme provides the vital data needed to make the case for protected marine swimways. Please donate today and help us make the ocean safe for majestic whale and scalloped hammerhead sharks.

Whale sharks © Simon Pierce

Whale sharks © Simon Pierce

A tiny, but deadly, fly

There is another threat on the Galapagos Islands that is equally devastating. Following the lockdown on the Islands due to COVID-19, there was a halt in the fieldwork fighting against invasive species. Rats, non-native plants and even tiny flies are amongst the biggest threats on the Islands, causing some species to be on the brink of extinction.

To the mangrove finch, a bird species unique to Galapagos, the invasive fly, Philornis downsi, is a deadly enemy – as great a danger as a huge fishing fleet. The larvae of this tiny fly suck chicks’ blood, usually resulting
in death. Mangrove Finch Project leader Francesca and her team discovered the larvae of this tiny fly in all 14 nests they found this year. However, they had to abandon all the finch eggs and nestlings they found to the mercy of Philornis in the middle of the breeding season. This means it is unlikely that any of the chicks survived. As fellow conservationists who are equally passionate about the unique birds of Galapagos, I hope you’ll join us in the fight against this small but deadly fly. With only 100 mangrove finches left in the world, these birds urgently depend on our support for their survival. We need to get Francesca and her team out into the field to protect the chicks in the next nesting season. Your donation today could help save the mangrove finch from extinction.

Mangrove finch fledgling © Francesca Cunninghame

Mangrove finch chicks are unlikely to survive the threat of the tiny fly, Philornis downsi, without human intervention © Francesca Cunninghame

The unique wildlife of Galapagos, both on the Islands and in the waters that surround them, need you. As supporters of GCT, you are an indispensable part of our team and your unwavering encouragement gives us hope for the future. Thank you.