Tag Archives: ecuador

Chinese fishing fleet threatens Galapagos wildlife

Hundreds of Chinese vessels have been fishing for weeks in the exclusive economic zone of the Galapagos Islands, an archipelago off the Pacific coast of Ecuador. This has authorities, scientists, and conservationists alarmed over the effects they would have on some of the local wildlife.

Credit Flickr Pedro Szekely (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Galapagos Islands, a World Heritage site whose wildlife helped Charles Darwin come up with the theory of evolution, are known for their abundance of indigenous species such as Darwin’s finches, a group of passerine birds, and the massive Galapagos tortoise.

The Chinese ships, which are also accompanied by ships from other countries such as Liberia or Panama, are in a corridor of international waters that separates the two areas of Ecuadorian jurisdiction: 200 miles that surround the Galapagos Islands and another 200 miles stretching from the mainland.

The surface area monitored and controlled by Ecuador totals a million kilometers but it is split in half and it is right in that corridor of the high seas where the fishing fleet that threatens marine species has settled. This situation is repeated every year. Last year, Ecuador detected the presence of 245 Chinese fishing vessels.

One of the most emblematic cases of illegal fishing in the world still remains in the memory of many Ecuadorians. That’s the case of the Chinese ship Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 that was intercepted by the Ecuadorian navy in 2017 within the Galapagos Marine Reserve and that hid 300 tons of sharks inside.

The presence of the Chinese fleet was detected in mid-July but in the last few weeks, the matter has escalated to the diplomatic plane. Ecuador sent warnings to China through local embassies and also started talks with neighboring countries such as Chile and Colombia, also recently affected by the fishing fleet.

“This is not something that will change overnight,” said Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Luis Gallegos in a television interview on Sunday. “It is necessary to … generate bilateral agreements with other countries with regards to illegal fishing, to monitor every ship that’s in the South Pacific.”

The United States also recently weighed into the dispute, siding with Ecuador. “It is time for China to stop its unsustainable fishing practices, rule-breaking, and willful environmental degradation of the oceans,” U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said on Twitter.

The main objective of the Chinese fleet is to catch giant squid (Dosidicus gigas). While this is not illegal as it takes place in international waters, environmental activists in Ecuador say it allows fleets to take advantage of the abundant marine species that spillover from the islands and cross into the unprotected waters.

There are more than 30 species of sharks living in Galapagos, some of which are threatened with extinction, such as the Endangered whale shark (Rhincodon typus) or the Critically Endangered hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini). Many of them constantly move between the islands and the mainland.

The high seas, also called international waters, cover 41% of the planet and 60% of all the oceans on Earth. However, there is almost no law that sets rules about how much, how, what and when to fish here. That’s why environmentalists are asking for a global treaty that sets a framework for conserving biodiversity in the high seas.

Ecuador declares state of national emergency as Cotopaxi volcano wakes

A state of emergency has been declared this Saturday by Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa. The measure was taken as a precaution given the recent increase in volcanic activity of the Cotopaxi stratovolcano, allowing the government greater freedom to allocate financial resources and critical personnel in the event of an eruption.

Grazing bad.
Image via wikimedia

Cotopaxi rises just 43.5 miles south from the capital, Quito, and the ruling body of the country has already taken steps to protect its people. Two minor explosions on Friday have prompted authorities to perform a precautionary evacuation of the small towns in the middle of the country, where the effects would be most devastating.

Cotopaxi’s central position in Ecuador would make an eruption extremely devastating for the South American country.
Image via colgate.edu

The state of emergency gives the government the authority to mobilize security forces all throughout the country and to block publication of information regarding the volcano. It can only do so for 60 days, the maximum length of the state of emergency.

“We declare a state of emergency due to the unusual activity of Mount Cotopaxi,” Correa said during his weekly Saturday address. “God willing, everything will go well and the volcano will not erupt,” he added.

He went on to say that about 400 people have been voluntarily relocated to shelters after the explosions and expulsion of ash surprised nearby residents on Friday. As a further precaution, The Environment Ministry closed down the Cotopaxi National Park until the volcano simmers down, as Cotopaxi is one of the world’s highest active volcanoes and is popular with tourists.

The last eruption of the mount took place in 1940, according to the Smithsonian Institution’s Global Volcanism Program.


Ecuador indigenous leader killed just days before environmental Peru Protest

An indigenous leader of the Shuar people who was openly opposing a major mining project in Ecuador has been found bound and buried, just days before an environmental protest he was organizing in Peru’s capital, Lima.

Tendetza was probably killed because he was opposing a mining project. Image via Climate Connections.

We here don’t really like to tackle politics – unless it directly involves science or the environment… and this is exactly the case. José Isidro Tendetza Antún, a former vice-president of the Shuar Federation of Zamora, had been missing since 28 November. He was killed, found bound and buried, “no name grave”. There were also signs that he had been tortured. So what makes this murder connected to science, and more specifically, to the environment?

Tendentza was involved in environmental activism, and was very vocal in opposing a major mining project of the Mirador copper and gold mine, an open-cast pit that has been approved in an area of important biodiversity that is also home to the Shuar, Ecuador’s second-biggest indigenous group. The project will devastate around 450,000 acres of forest, which will be devastating not only for the local ecosystems, but also for the local communities.

“This is a camouflaged crime,” said Ankuash. “In Ecuador, multinational companies are invited by the government and get full state security from the police and the army. The army and police don’t provide protection for the people, they don’t defend the Shuar people. They’ve been bought by the company.

Other members of the community said that Tendetza had been offered bribes to keep quiet and when that failed, his crops were burned and he was constantly threatened. It’s not very difficult to read between the lines. Tendentza had a loud voice, and people wanted him to go away. To make things even worse, the government is not especially motivated to bring justice to this case, with accusations of bribe flowing left and right.

“[Tendetza] was not just anyone. He was a powerful leader against the company. That’s why they knocked down his house and burnt his farm. The government will never give us a response, justice belongs to them. They will call us terrorists but that doesn’t mean we are not going to shut up.” Ankuash added.

Ecuador is one of the countries with the most spectacular biodiversity. Image via Amusing Planet.

It’s not the first time something like this has happened. Several other Shuar opponenets of Mirador have been killed in recent years. including Bosco Wisum in 2009 and Freddy Taish in 2013, according to Amazon Watch.

Tendetza was also planning to condemn the project at a Rights of Nature Tribunal organised by NGOs at the climate talks which are taking place this week in the Peruvian capital, and this could have raised significant problems not only for the mining project, but also for the Ecuadorian government.

Luis Corral, an advisor to Ecuador’s Assembly of the People of the South, an umbrella group for indigenous federations in southern Ecuador, said that if Tendetza had been able to travel to the COP20 it would have put in “grave doubt the honorability and the image of the Ecuadorean government as a guarantor of the rights of nature”.

“We believe that this murder is part of a pattern of escalating violence against indigenous leaders which responds to the Ecuadorean government and the companies’ need to clear the opposition to a mega-mining project in the Cordillera del Condor,” he said.

There is a long lasting “tradition” of violence and even murders against environmental activists in South America. Almost 500 activists were killed in Brazil alone in the past decade, and the situation isn’t really better in Ecuador. Despite receiving huge sums of money as part of a deal to not drill in areas with extremely high biodiversity, Ecuador shows no interest in actually preserving the rainforest. Controversial drilling projects continue to be launched with major negative consequences for the environment and the local populations, and the government shows no interest in actually protecting these parties. Earlier this week, a group of campaigners travelling in a “climate caravan” were stopped six times by police on their way to Lima and eventually had their bus confiscated.

“The activists said they were held back because president Correa wants to avoid potentially embarrassing protests at the climate conference over his plan to drill for oil in Yasuni, an Amazon reserve and one of the most biodiverse places on earth”, the BBC writes.

A while ago, Ecuador was considered to be one of the greenest countries in the world – but in recent times, especially after Correa became president, Ecuador’s environmental reputation has dwindled, as more emphasis was put on oil, gas and mineral extraction, especially in partnership with China. Ecuador is one of the countries with the most spectacular biodiversity.

An aerial view of the Yasuni National Park, in Ecuador's northeastern jungle. Photograph: Dolores Ochoa/AP

Ecuador plans to move ahead controversial drilling efforts in the Amazon

An aerial view of the Yasuni National Park, in Ecuador's northeastern jungle. Photograph: Dolores Ochoa/AP

An aerial view of the Yasuni National Park, in Ecuador’s northeastern jungle. Photograph: Dolores Ochoa/AP

Yasuni National Park to be one of the world’s richest biological hotspots, home to one of the densest biodiversity in the world. The region has been under threat, however, from oil drilling efforts for many years now, and a recent announcement from behalf of the Ecuador government further tightens the knot on the Amazon basin.  President Rafael Correa said that as the nearly three-years long international appeal of raising $3.6 billion in exchange for foregoing drilling has been unsuccessful, the government ‘needs’ to move on with the project.

Some 10,000 square kilometers of land amount to Ecuador’s side of Yasuni National Park, a protected area where a great number of unique species live exclusively, some of which are endangered. The Ecudoarian side is also home to some of the few groups of indigenous tribal groups left in the world who are in voluntary isolation : the Waorani indigenous people and two nomadic Waorani clans. It’s also home to oil, a lot of oil –  three contiguous blocks known collectively as the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) oil field.

The Yasuni drilling in Ecuador has been a matter of great debate and controversy for many years. A while back, Correa launched what is called the Yasuni-ITT Initiative, a 13-year plan under which the government would forgo drilling in the park in exchange for donations equaling one-half of the value of the oil, a sum that analysts put at $3.6 billion. The initiative failed miserably, as a mere $13 million in donations have been collected. Correa blamed “the great hypocrisy” of nations who emit most of the world’s greenhouse gases.

“The world has failed us,” Correa said. “It was not charity that we sought from the international community, but co-responsibility in the face of climate change.”

Drilling oil in the middle of the Amazon


Of course, environmental groups were quick to oppose oil efforts in the region. According to recent polls, some 90% of Ecuadorians oppose drilling, however this number might dwindle has pro-drilling campaigns are prepped, meant to inform the general public on the benefits the project will have for the country’s economy and social well-being. This kind of advertisement will be joined by claims that the environmental impact of IIT Yasuni drilling will be minor.

Correa claims  that oil development would have an impact on less than 1% of the park and that the government would take steps to protect the environment. Local environmental specialists however are highly skeptical of this figure and question the means through which it was obtained.

“We know from experience that a road leads to loss or degradation of a swath of 5 to 8 kilometers wide,” says ecologist Kelly Swing, founder of the Tiputini Biodiversity Station, a field research center in the park. So “the 1% figure across the entire Yasuni Biosphere Reserve would amount to 20,000 hectares,” Swing says. “With over 100,000 species living in each hectare, we’re talking about a huge number of species and individuals.”

How ‘eco’ is Ecuador?

Just 50 kilometers north of Yasuni, a half-century of oil development has left little nature intact,  says  Kevin Koenig, Ecuador program coordinator at Amazon Watch in Quito. And other oil fields are being developed to the east and south, in effect surrounding Yasuni’s uncontacted tribes in the so-called intangible zone. One of the more troubling portions of Ecuador’s drilling plan is the inclusion of a 60-kilometer pipeline network to move the oil. Furthermore, there’s always the case of oil spills. With so much crude oil going about, were a spill to occur it could spell nothing short of disaster for Yasuni. “With this kind of heavy crude, it’s not a question of if there is going to be a spill,” he says. “Rather, when there is going to be a spill.”

Oil is Ecuador’s chief source of foreign earnings. The country produces 538,000 barrels of crude a day, delivering nearly half its production to the United States.

via Science Mag

Ecuador will receive 3.6 billion $ not to drill for oil in a historic pact

The race for oil drilling is tougher than ever, and the effects are quite often extremely damaging for the environment (I’m sure pretty much everybody knows about the BP oil spill already). However, the UN has come up with an initiative, the first of its kind, that promises to protect at least a handful of special environments. Such is the case with the Yasuni National Park, in Ecuador.

The Park is one of the most biologically diverse parts of the Amazon rainforest, and the Ecuadorian government signed not to destroy this pristine landscape at least for a decade, in the exchange of 3.6 billion dollars. The deal finalized, and U.N. Development Program associate administrator Rebeca Grynspan issued this statement:

We are witnessing the inauguration of new instruments of cooperation, which will act as a basis for supporting other national and international efforts directed toward the search for economies that are in harmony with society, nature and the planet.

With the sum being quite significant for Ecuador, they would probably made twice as much (or even more) from exploiting the oil located beneath the Yasuni Park – but at a huge cost. Currently, the U.N. are trying to work out similar arrangements with countries who plan on drilling in such areas.