Around 260 Chinese fishing fleets have reportedly been detected in the ocean surrounding the Galápagos islands off the coast of Ecuador, according to the country’s navy.

The discovery has sparked fears for the protected region’s diverse ecosystem and marine life. The eastern Pacific Ocean islands and the surrounding seas are a UNESCO World Heritage Site celebrated for their unique wildlife and biodiversity.

Galapagos chinese fleets
The orange arrows represent fishing fleets. The row of orange arrows at the bottom left of the image show the formation of the Chinese fleeting fleets as of July 27, 2020. Photo: Screenshot via Marine Traffic.

“We are on alert, [conducting] surveillance, patrolling to avoid an incident such as what happened in 2017,” Defense Minister Oswaldo Jarrin told the press, according to Reuters.

The fishing fleet was spotted via satellite imaging on the borders of the Galápagos Protection Zone. Last Thursday, the fleet was squeezed between the boundaries of the protection zone and Ecuador’s territorial waters, operating in an area which serves as a major migration route for sea creatures, including many endangered species.

Environmental organisations have voiced concern that overfishing will cause the ocean’s ecosystem to collapse and harm protected marine wildlife. “We are watching the destruction of the ocean in real time,” said the Blue Planet Society, which campaigns for ocean preservation, on Twitter.

galapagos ocean
Photo: via Wallpaperflare

There have also been reports of empty plastic water bottles of Chinese origin washing up on the shores of Galápagos National Park.

Chinese fishing fleets have been repeatedly found near the Galápagos islands in recent years. Last year, 245 fishing vessels were discovered to be operating in the same area according to the BBC.

galapagos islands empty water bottles
Empty water bottles from Chinese manufacturers found on the shores of the Galapagos islands. Photo: Screenshot via image circulating on Twitter.

The seas surrounding the islands are home to the largest density of sharks in the world, including the endangered whale shark and the hammerhead shark, which is near extinction. In 2017, thousands of illegally caught sharks were seized on Chinese vessels in the area. Shark fin is still considered a prized delicacy in some Chinese restaurants.

Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.