Protecting Marine Wildlife in an Ecuadorian Sanctuary

By Silvia Sanchez Bor, August 23, 2016

WildAid is visiting Ecuador’s coastal marine protected areas (MPAs) this week, where we’ve been working for the past year and a half with Conservation International. One of these sites is Santa Elena MPA, the western-most point of Ecuador and home to hundreds of species including humpback whales, sea turtles, sharks, mantas, albatrosses, pelicans and 86 fish species. (Photo: Humpback whale breaching in Santa Elena MPA (Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment)).

Injured blue footed booby nursed back to health
by Santa Elena MPA park rangers
(Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment).

Fishing pressure has increased in Santa Elena since 2009 with the growth of artisanal and commercial fishing efforts that create conflicts between the two sectors and fishing modernization incentives that often endorse non-selective fishing gear. These types of gear are responsible for much of the bycatch in the area and threaten sea turtles, humpback whales and sharks that get caught on longlines or nets. Increasing tourism, currently an estimated 50,000 tourists per year, also threatens the ecosystems through pollution, destruction of habitats and the introduction of invasive species.

We developed an enforcement plan for Santa Elena that focuses on conservation priorities of the area. As per the plan, Santa Elena park wardens carry out both preventive and control measures to protect the reserve’s marine wildlife.

Preventive activities include identifying and protecting endangered sea turtle nests and releasing an estimated 3,000 hatchlings annually, organizing and conducting marine and coastal clean-ups to remove plastics and other debris, as well as conducting outreach activities geared towards local fishers and surrounding communities on park rules and regulations.

An important component of these activities is collecting data from stranded wildlife to track patterns in frequency and cause to identify new threats. Park rangers also nurse injured animals back to health and re-release them back to sea. Those that can’t be saved undergo necropsies to understand the cause of death and to develop preventative strategies.

Control activities include preventing commercial vessels from entering the reserve, monitoring tourism vessels, confiscating illegal gill nets to decrease bycatch of endangered species, such as humpback whales, as well as ensuring artisanal fishers comply with local sea cucumber, lobster and zoning regulations.

Over the past year, Santa Elena Rangers carried out over 225 maritime patrols with a total of 78 infractions broken down in the following manner. Approximately 73% of all cited infractions were sanctioned by the Provincial office. This is crucial as often times there is little to no follow-up or penalties associated with violations.

This year, WildAid will help them increase their patrols to further prevent the use of gill nets and increase the number of sea turtle hatchlings protected from predators and human interference. Building off our work in Pacoche MPA, we will aid park rangers in improving their signage and developing community education programs to encourage sea turtle conservation, as well as promote sustainable fishing methods. Because of your support, WildAid helps protect endangered species in Ecuador.