Sunday, August 22, 2010

Satellites and Sniffer Dogs: conservation groups support Galapagos efforts to curb poaching

While generating positive public opinion for shark conservation is an important goal, it is also a slow process. And while it builds over time, sharks continue to be slaughtered in horrifying numbers. Therefore, the proactive steps - the moves that are less of a reaction to the situation but rather are strategic steps forward - are needed probably to a greater degree.

WildAid, Conservation International, and other groups, working in cooperation with the Ecuadorean government and the Galapagos National Park Service, have been supporting the efforts of ranger managing the Galapagos Marine Reserve with the use of both technology and outright gumshoe detective work. One of the greatest issues facing the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR) is poaching of tuna, sharks, and even sea cucumbers - all to meet the ever-demanding Asian markets.

The GMR utilizes a high-tech satellite-based tracking system to keep tabs on fishing boats that are periodically allowed to pass through the reserve. The Vessel Monitoring System, or VMS, can detect whether a boat is proceeding at speed or whether it is changing speed, dillydallying and a clear sign that illegal fishing may be taking place. A boat is then dispatched to investigate.

Just like in the drug world, smugglers often try to hide their illegal catches. Wrapped in foil, shark fins, sea cucumbers, and other caught species are less likely to give off a telltale scent. Unless you are a trained sniffer dog from the K-9 Environmental Police Unit of Galapagos' Santa Cruz island. The K-9 unit - supported by WildAid, Sea Shepherd, and Conservation International - has been responsible for some significant "busts" of shark fins and other illegally fisher species.

According to WildAid's director, Peter Knights,
"Marine reserves are the last great hope to save fish stocks. Marine enforcement is always difficult due to the distances involved and cost of marine operations, so illegal fishing has been an almost risk free crime. But tools like VMS can provide much better surveillance and the sniffer dogs can prove to be a great deterrent as well as assist in detection of smugglers. The sooner we can deploy these tools to more marine reserves the sooner we can secure the world's dwindling fish stocks."

Click here to read more about the Galapagos VMS and K-9 Unit.

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