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.
“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.
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.
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.