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Galapagos Conservation Trust: Where Do Our Donations Go?

June 7, 2024

Craghoppers has been working with the Galapagos Conservation Trust (GCT) for five years. During this time, we have supported several conservation projects on land and in the sea, particularly those related to plastic pollution and the monitoring and protection of whale sharks. Here are just some of the highlights of what was achieved last year.

Sharks and Rays

Fishing is decimating sharks in the oceans outside the protected areas of the Galapagos Marine Reserve. These often misunderstood creatures are vital for the health of our oceans, and it is vital to protect them and ensure their young can survive as we try to address wider issues.

Last year, several shark and ray nursery sites in the Galapagos were designated as Important Shark and Ray Areas—the first ones in the world to be given this status. A few years ago, before the research and drone surveys supported by GCT, we didn’t even know that these vital pupping areas existed here. This designation is a fabulous first step to helping the baby sharks and rays, which are often found in areas of shallow mangroves.

Photo of Sofía Green who has learnt to free dive in order to quickly jump off the boat, dive, and tag a whale shark when it is spotted. © Cameron Perry

Tracking Whale Sharks

Sofía Green, Craghoppers’ ambassador, was part of a team led by Alex Hearn, which located five new whale sharks using a plane and boat in the southern area of Galapagos. Successfully tagged, four swam up to 300 nautical miles from the Galapagos platform, with another moving north across the Marine Reserve.

Alex and Sofía later tagged a further six whale sharks just off Peru from a small dinghy, with two swimming straight to Ecuadorian waters. The whale sharks provide GCT with new and vital evidence, identifying areas of the ocean that may need protection, as they help Ecuador reach its target of protecting 30% of its ocean by 2030 – ensuring that protection is given to the areas with the greatest conservation value. Healthy oceans full of marine life are vital in the fight against climate change, sequestering huge amounts of carbon.

Illegal Fishing Gear

In 2023, GCT started a new 3-year project to ascertain the scale of the dangers being caused by Fish Aggregation Devices (FADs) in the Galapagos Marine Reserve. A FAD is a floating platform with hanging and baited plastic netting. This attracts large numbers of fish and is used by tuna fisheries, which then scoop everything up using huge nets. Sharks are often caught, which is really worrying, especially as we know FADs are being used illegally in the Marine Reserve. The plastic also washes up on beaches and causes entanglement to other marine creatures.

Plastic Pollution

With 8 tonnes of plastic being removed from Galapagos beaches each year, tackling plastic pollution is an urgent priority. The GCT team attended several globally important conferences, presenting results yet to be formally published from their last five years of research:

  • On the most polluted beaches in the Galapagos, over 2,500 microplastics per m2 were found, which are often almost impossible to clean up.
  • 69% of plastic items found on Galapagos coastlines are single-use items, and one-third of those items are linked to drinks.
  • 20% of plastic pollution globally is from maritime sources, whereas in the Galapagos, 40% comes from maritime sources such as fisheries.
  • More than 95% of plastic found on the Galapagos coastlines is likely to originate from outside the Galapagos Marine Reserve.

Work is on-going in Galapagos and other ‘source countries’ to convert this research into action, including looking at ways to:

  • Upcycle the plastic pollution in the Galapagos
  • Change behaviours
  • Reduce the use of single-use plastics
  • Establish where to prioritize beach clean-up work to get to the plastic before it breaks down into microplastics
  • Address the issue of waste from fisheries and
  • Stem the flow of plastic from rivers in mainland South America

GCT team in Paris where they attended Global Plastics Treaty discussions, giving advice to the Ecuadorian delegation. ©GCT

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