When snorkelling or just walking along the beach, watch out for the bulls. They're easy to spot as they are huge. They will attack if they think you are a threat to their territory. The marine life in general though, are very relaxed and will let you come quite close for those all-important photos.
Guayquil is the most typical location where tourists leave the mainland for the islands. Recently, it has not been a particularly safe city for tourists. Travelers should exercise caution travelling throughout the country, as kidnappings have become more commonplace.
Mission: To end illegal fishing activities in the Galapagos Islands.
SEA SHEPHERD ON PATROL
Full Report From Galapagos
March 15, 2001
Sea Shepherd Marine Liaison Officer
Sea Shepherd patrol boat confronts illegal activity within Marine Reserve of Galapagos
Thursday March 8, 2001
I arrived at Baltra Airport from Lima after having gone to the Ecuadorian embassy in Peru for my diplomatic paperwork required to remain in Galapagos over an extended period of time. Back on the Sirenian, I found we had received permission from DIGMER, Ecuadorian Merchant Marine Authority, to navigate the Marine Reserve of Galapagos after a two - month waiting period that involved a major bureaucracy-go-round . We set sail within hours and were on our way to Wolf Island in the Northern regions of the Marine Reserve where there had been reports of illegal activity. I stood on the bow of the Sirenian and thought 'This is what being a Sea Shepherd volunteer is all about .'
It did not take long. We were approximately 22 miles Northwest of Wolf, Lat 01° 13' 011'' N Long 091° 18' 618'' W, chasing a potential target on the radar about 15 miles from our current position. It was approaching 10:30 pm when we arrived to find out it was a dense low cloud. The crew's anticipation quickly subsided and I walked out onto the bridge wing for a quick breather. We turned port side when I noticed a light in the distance in a 10 oclock position to our bow. I ran back into the bridge and saw the target appear on the radar screen. I advised the wheelman of the potential target and we began to pursue.
I could see the Port/Starboard lights and knew the ship was facing us. We were also gaining on her so I knew that she was either stopped or heading toward us. We approached to within a mile when I saw only a starboard light and knew she was changing course and fleeing. 'We got her now, ' I said, and instructed to increase speed.We were now in full pursuit. It was a tuna fishing boat. There are many reports that tuna boats are involved in illegal shark finning. This was no local boat, either. We turned our sirens on and began approaching her from the starboard side. We got within loud speaker distance, sirens blazing, and began shouting in spanish over the PA system to stop engines. The naval officer was on the radio instructing the vessel that it was within the Marine Reserve of Galapagos and that he must stop engines for boarding. The vessel was the San Mateo out of Manta, Ecuador. It was caught traversing the marine reserve illegally. Fishing boats from Manta are notorious for illegal fishing within the marine reserve. According to the Special Law of Galapagos, all vessels entering the Marine Reserve must request permission to do so. That gave the National Park the authority to board, inspect, escort to nearest port, and, if necessary, fine. The San Mateo stopped all engines. We donned our bulletproof jackets and proceeded to board the vessel.
We walked onto the bridge and the naval officer proceeded to check the vessel's papers. After I spoke with several crewmembers on the bridge and inspected the paperwork, I realized that it was a Spanish owned ship and it was clear that the Spanish were financing the operation.There were also Spanish representatives onboard. It was an Ecuadorian registered vessel, but all the catch was going to Spain. The park rangers then proceeded to check the fishing log for any out-of-the-ordinary positions. Of course, there were no entries of fishing activity within the Reserve. We asked the captain if he was aware that he was within the Galapagos Marine Reserve. He claimed ignorance and showed us a nautical map that had a red zone marking the Marine Reserve but conveniently had a 30-mile radius (as opposed to the actual 40-mile zone) and also did not include the northern Islands of Wolf and Darwin.
We proceeded to inspect the catch but the naval officer would not allow us to check all cargo and just wanted to spot check the cargo. We disagreed and got them to check some additional cargo holds. Since the vessel was found within the Marine Reserve, under law, we could escort the ship back to the nearest port for full inspection and possible fines and sanctions. We advised the captain and proceeded to return to the Sirenian. What I did not understand is that no one stayed onboard the San Mateo. I was told that the naval officer was always to remain onboard. As I watched the San Mateo, being escorted by the Sirenian with due course to the nearest port, I thought 'If I were them, I would get rid of any illegal catch onboard now since no one is there to control the situation'.
I went to my bunk for a rest, but was shortly awakened abruptly and advised that we had a serious problem. It seemed the captain of the San Mateo had had a change of heart and has decided that we had no authority to escort him to port and that he was going to change course for Manta, Ecuador.
Our naval officer advised him that he would be in violation of the special law of Galapagos and the naval authority, and that we would be forced to intercept. We followed closely behind as the San Mateo began to pick up speed. The Sirenian was (a lot) faster then the San Mateo and the captain soon found that out. He told us that he had called the owner's lawyer and the lawyer had advised him that they had not broken any law and that they should proceed to Manta. The vessel changed course defying our authority and we pursued. The naval officer called in to the naval port of Seymour explaining the situation and they advised him to stop the vessel at all cost and to shoot if necessary. They were even willing to send in their battleship from San Cristobal's naval base to assist us. The ship suddenly began to slow down and the captain informed us that they had engine problems and that they were shutting down their engines. We advised the captain that we were going to board the vessel and we sent a videographer, park ranger and the naval officer.
Apparently the captain had been calling his 'contacts' and it looked as though he was stalling for time. The naval officer informed me that he had been given a direct order by Admiral Vega, high admiral of the Ecuadorian Merchant Marines, to leave the vessel immediately and allow it to go. The naval officer later told me that he was speaking to the lawyer when the lawyer handed the phone over to the admiral and that he received the order then.
This is a blatant example of corruption within DIGMER and the Ecuadorian Navy. The National Park, knowing they had the international support of Sea Shepherd, stood their ground and gave the order to remain onboard and not allow the vessel to leave the marine reserve. To no avail. The naval officer left the San Mateo with their dinghy and we had no choice but to pick him up. We informed the National Park and the director denounced the blatant abuse of power and immediately got on the phone with the Minister of the Environment. I was very close to giving the order of not allowing the naval officer to get back onboard. Orders or no orders, he should never have left the Park rangers alone on that vessel. The captain of the San Mateo immediately threw the rangers off the bridge and locked them out. Some were threatened verbally and the San Mateo informed us that they were underway enroute to Manta. They showed no respect for the authority of the National Park -- not surprisingly due to the blatant support and backing they had from the Ecuadorian Naval authorities. The National Park cannot enforce the regulations as they are authorized to do so in the Special Law of the Galapagos if they also have to fight abuse within the Ecuadorian Naval Command.
I had a tough decision to make: Whether to leave the rangers on board the San Mateo or take them off. My anger told me to leave them onboard as they were willing to remain onboard. My fear was that they informed me that their radio battery was running low and a loss of communication would be too risky for their lives. I instructed the captain to tell the Captain of San Mateo to stop so we could disembark our rangers. We escorted the San Mateo to the 40 - mile outer limits of the marine reserve, hoping we would hear some change from the Minister of the Environment. We wasted so much time and fuel to then be forced to escort them out of the marine reserve untouched thanks to the abuse of power by the Ecuadorian Naval Command.
I am angry and I will take out my anger by continuing these patrols and immediately informing Sea Shepherd International hq of the situation, and I know, with the support of Sea Shepherd members, we will act and we will tell the world -- and the world will tell Ecuador -- that this type of abuse of power will not be tolerated, especially not in Galapagos.
The National Park officials stood their ground despite the fact that they were facing a formidable power, the Ecuadorian Naval Command, including Admirante Vega, high admiral of DIGMER . Sea Shepherd's presence in Galapagos is being felt, and we will not stand down either. It has been a good day for us as we have uncovered what has always been the biggest obstacle to the conservation of this precious archipelago. That obstacle comes from the blatant abuse of power that DIGMER has shown time and again since Sea Shepherd first arrived. It started when we were forced to wait over two months, through dodgy bureaucracy, for a piece of paper that would allow the National Park to use the Sirenian to patrol the marine reserve of Galapagos.
We arrived on December 21, 2000, and did not receive permission to patrol until March 2nd, 2001. Throughout that time, we were granted special permission to escort a music band from Santa Cruz Island to San Cristobal for the festivals there. 'They won't give us special permission to protect the marine reserve from poaching,' I thought, 'but they are willing to give us special permission to transport a band.' Then the only other patrol boat, Guadalupe River, breaks down and suddenly there is no patrol at all within the Marine Reserve and the reports of illegal activity start flooding the phones of the National Park. Since we had permission to sail to San Cristobal, the National Park decided to ask the Naval Commander of Galapagos for a naval officer so they could patrol the surrounding waters, since there had been reports of illegal activity in the area. The commander refused on the basis that they had wargames the next day and that they could not spare the personnel. Not one person.
Now, through national and international pressure, we finally receive the authority to patrol and in one of our first confrontations the blatant abuse of power is shown once again. This type of abuse, some call it corruption, should not be tolerated by the people of Ecuador nor the international community. If the international community has declared the Galapagos Islands a Natural World Heritage Site, then it must be willing to support them.
Sunday, March 11, 2001
We have continued patrolling the northern islands despite the events that took place last Thursday. Things have been quiet up here now and we had the pleasurable company of the Aggressor fleet at Wolf Island. We invited them over to the Sirenian and they informed us that everyone knew that we were patrolling the northern region. It was then that we decided to head South, unannounced, to regain the element of surprise. We decided on Isabela Island which is known for illegal activity.
The chief engineer was scanning the Single Side Band (SSB) frequencies when he intercepted a conversation between two vessels. The message was directed towards one vessel meeting another vessel at certain coordinates that were agreed upon earlier that day. It was concerning a delivery of cargo. The vessel receiving the cargo was going to signal the other by flashing its reflector lights in the sky. This told us that the both vessels would be working under the cover of night. We did not have the coordinates . We all gathered together and discussed the possible routes. The vessel that was to deliver the cargo was leaving out of Puerto Villamil and through the process of elimination we were able to narrow the area down. The other surroundings areas were heavy with tourist vessel traffic and the crew knew that there was a particular area that was always quiet. We proceeded to bring the Sirenian to a strategic point where we had maximum radar visibility without making our presence known. We always do patrols without navigation lights and we proceeded at a steady pace.
It was a longshot but it paid off: As soon as we arrived within radar range a target appeared on the screen. We waited for approximately one hour, thinking we would catch the other boat in the act of delivering the cargo. We did not spot the other vessel and decided to move in. We went Full Ahead, speeding through the water without lights and heading directly for the target, also running without lights. We were surprised when the vessel began to signal us in the fashion they had agreed on the SSB. We knew we had her, and we also knew that she thought we were her client. We could see the vessel now and confirmed that her lights were off. They were in for a big surprise. I mentioned to the naval officer that we should get onboard as fast as we can and cut off communications in order to catch the other boat once it arrived.
But when we were within 1/4 mile, she turned her lights on and began to flee. She was no match for the Sirenian but refused to stop. The naval officer pulled out his revolver and fired a warning shot. We did not turn our sirens on but did announce ourselves through the PA system. We rammed into her port side and upon impact the boarding team jumped onboard and seized the vessel. We quickly moved to the bridge and the naval officer cut off communications. She was the Dilsun. It was clear that this was a Japanese-built vessel as there was writing in Japanese on all the instruments. The ship was a long liner. There was a dinghy tied to the stern of the ship and shark fins were scattered on its bow. We inspected the forward cargo holds but it revealed nothing. We asked where the captain was and they said that he went into port with a hand injury. They also mentioned that they had been out for 27 days.
It wasn't until we inspected the center hold that we uncovered an incredible haul of sharks. They had everything: Whole sharks with heads cut off, shark heads, shark meat and fins. There had to be over 100 sharks in there. It was one of the saddest and most infuriating sights I had ever witnessed. I looked around as I held the body of shark and looked into the faces of these crew members. There was no reaction and an eerie calmness ran through their faces. We thought for sure this was a clean bust. The vessel had been caught in the marine reserve with over 100 sharks onboard. But the Captain was missing and the first mate knew that they had left port but had not arrived yet. We suspected that the Captain was onboard the vessel taking the delivery and that they had gotten the word out that we were about to board their vessel. It was about to turn even uglier. Apparently they were using the excuse that they had to enter the marine reserve in order to get medical attention to the captain and that they sent him ahead on the dinghy to the hospital. We spent the next four hours searching for the dinghy and the missing crewmembers. In the meantime the first mate was receiving and making phone calls. This ship, too, was registered in Manta as was the San Mateo we caught in the northern region. I thought 'this can't be happening again.'
The wait paid off though. The Sirenian, in her search for the dinghy, crossed a long line. A dinghy was spotted fleeing off. It did not fit the description of the missing captain's dinghy and we knew we had a long liner out there with her lines down. The Sirenian called us and informed us of the situation and sent her dinghy to the Dilsun to pick us up. We left a park ranger onboard the Dilsun and boarded the Sirenian. It did not take long to spot the vessel with all her lights out. As we approached, she spotted us and turned her lights on. At the same time I turned the revolving patrol lights on and we moved in, pulled in to her side, and jumped aboard. It was the Gaviota. I checked her registration and sure enough the boat was out of Manta. We did an inspection and found nothing, but the point was moot because her longlines were down and she was caught in the Marine Reserve in the act of fishing illegally. This boat will be facing severe charges and definite confiscation. We decided to wait until the morning to pick up the long lines and instructed the Dilsun to continue searching for the allegedly missing dinghy, knowing she had a maximum speed of only 10 knots. We spent most of the morning picking up long lines and thankfully found no sharks. There was a marlin that did not survive. We had the two illegals follow us back to Puerto Ayora for official charges.
At approximately 11 a .m. we received an order from the port captain in Puerto Ayora that we were to change course and hand over the boats to the port authorities at Puerto Villamil on Isabela. Apparently the Port Captain received a direct order from a high captain in DIGMER to stay in Isabela. Although it was the nearest port, we knew that Isabela was a dangerous place to bring charges against illegal fishing. Puerto Villamil is a fishing village and has a history of violence towards the National Park.
We escorted the ships to Puerto Villamil and anchored. I went aboard the Dilsun along with the park rangers and the port authorities. It was onboard that we were told that a fax had been received from Admiral Vega of DIGMER stating that the vessel is to be released. What is known for sure is that this fax was brought on board by the President of the fishing cooperative of Isabela. We never did see a copy of this fax and in later conversations between the Park director and the admiral it was said that this document does not exist and that the admiral had not sent such a fax. Tomorrow morning the lawyers and directors of the National Park arrive and will be on hand to count, weigh and measure the quantity of shark seized.
The lawyer arrived from Puerto Ayora and a meeting took place between the National Park and the Port Captain of Isabela. In this meeting the National Park stood their ground and advised the port captain of the laws pertaining to the two detained fishing vessels. I was impressed with the agressiveness portayed by the Park. Ultimately it will be such firmness and resolve, and the hope to prevail, that will determine whether the Galapagos Archipelago lives or dies.
We ask once again...and I hope UNESCO is listening:
'What good is declaring an area a World Heritage Site if the world is not willing to give the necessary support to preserve this unique place?'
All of the above has been documented on videotape.
Reporting from on board the Sirenian,
Marine Liaison Officer
Sea Shepherd Galapagos
Sea Shepherd International
Sea Shepherd Galapagos
NO ACEPTAN VISA EN NINGUN LADO.
Si tienes una visa como casi todos los mortales olvídate de hacer compras en Galápagos, son muchos los que se quedan sin poder hacer compras o tours por disponer solo de tarjetas VISA o tener poco dinero en metálico.
Lleva contigo una Mastercard, una simple master de debito (no tiene porque ser de crédito) te permitirá pagar todo en Galápagos sin problemas e incluso sacar dinero del cajero automático que existe en Puerto Ayora.
El motivo de todo esto es que solo existe un banco en Galápagos, EL BANCO DEL PACIFICO, este solo trabaja con Mastercard y los comercios trabajan casi todos con este banco y como no pueden comprobar la veracidad de las VISA no las admiten. El Banco ha prometido que muy pronto admitirá tarjetas VISA ya que son conscientes de que muchas ventas se pierden por este motivo
No obstante algunos sitios, pero muy pocos, aceptan VISA en casos extremos como pareciendo que te hacen un gran favor, eso si, por el favor te recargan un 20% mas del precio establecido.
Por regla general en Ecuador y no solo en Galápagos es mucho mas recomendable pagar todo en metálico (excepto billetes de avión por seguro de viaje), las entidades bancarias cobran a los comercios un recargo medio del 10 % por las compras con tarjeta, si pagáis en efectivo os conseguiréis una rebaja importante. Así que conviene sacra el dinero en un cajero y después pagar en metálico antes que utilizar tus tarjetas en los comercios.
CORREO POSTAL EN GALAPAGOS.
Si quieres enviar una postal o cartas casi te vale mas esperar a estar en Quito y enviarlas alli, tienes muchas probabilidades de que no te lleguen, los funcionarios ecuatorianos tienen la mano muy larga y es normal que paquetes valiosos que llegan a residentes en Galapagos nunca aparezcan.
Pero si es imprescindible asegurate de que pone lso sellos en tu carta delante de ti y LO MAS IMPORTANTE que los mataselle tambien en tu presencia (y que el matasellos vaya encima del sello). Esto es muy importante porque si no al salir tu de la oficina el empleado va a arrancar los sellos para venderselos a otro turista, por eso es importante que los mataselle. Es habitual que te vendan sellos usados pero si es asi estas de suerte porque el funcionario se esta ganando dinero con tu carta y la carta llegara sin problema ya que esos sellos no los podra volver a utilizar.
Crime is not normally a huge problem in the Galapagos, according to the locals. But, fellow tourists are not always so kind. We ended up having our camera stolen from a very secure area. Keep your eyes on your possessions even if you feel safe! Our hotel staff called around town and alerted other vendors to keep their eyes open for it, but we were not lucky enough to get it back.
Don't touch the animals. Tempting though it is to cuddle a cute baby sealion, your 'smell' will be alien to it's parents and the other animals and it will be rejected.
Don't drop litter or allow anyone else to either.
Both points get mentioned in your initial briefing, but unfortunately, ignorant idiots who don't listen do exist.
Puerto Villamil, Isabela Galapagos Islands, , Ecuador
Good for: Solo
Puerto Ayora, Galapagos Islands, Puerto Ayora, Ecuador
Good for: Business
Charles Darwin St, San Cristobal, Galapagos Islands, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, Ecuador
Satisfaction: Very Good
Good for: Solo