Galapagos Island guides struggle to rescue sharks from illegal fishing lines
Tour guides in the Galapagos have made a heart breaking discovery in the waters off the remote islands. They have found marker buoys and floating plastic jugs that are attached to miles of fishing lines and netting. And what is worse is that there are sharks and billfish (swordfish) that have been hooked or entangled. These animals have died an agonizing death as they were kept from swimming, which would allow them to pass oxygenated water over their gills. They have died from stress, hunger or suffocation due to lack of oxygen.
But among the heart break, there was also a little triumph as they found two of the sharks still alive and they were able to cut them loose and set them free.
These are guides who work aboard an ecotour ship that takes scuba divers to the remote waters to experience the magnificence and beauty of the underwater world. The guides have a deep love for the ocean and a great respect for the animals who live there. Understanding the fragile balance of nature and sharing their knowledge with their clients is more than a livelihood for these men. It is also their passion. To see these animals die in such an inhumane and needless manner was hard for them.
These fish are all top predators and they represent an important part of the food web and the delicate ecosystem. Hammerheads, Galapagos sharks, and billfish this large are necessary to maintain a healthy environment. They prey on the weak and the sick and they ensure strength in the genetic pool for the other prey species by continually putting pressure on the populations so that only the strong survive and breed. They also ensure that other predators do not overpopulate and wreak havoc on the species below them on this web.
For many years, illegal fishing has threatened the apex predators and larger food fish in many areas, especially in the Galapagos Islands. There are countries that are allowing their fishing boats to cross international boundaries and fish where they are not permitted. These boats often turn off their navigational gear so they cannot be tracked and their countries cannot be held accountable. They will abandon fishing lines to flee the area if they fear being detected. This leaves debris and dangerous hooks and nets to drift and kill countless animals. Even turtles and whale sharks can become entangled.
As consumers, we can help prevent this situation by carefully sourcing ethical fishing operations for our food and for boycotting those engaged in shark finning and other horrendous practices. This will require some research and possibly some added expense, but the benefit to our planet is well worth this effort.