Just mention the name “Galapagos Islands” and, even though 99% of the world has never visited, there is a shared understanding of what the place represents. It’s an environment unlike any other.
The Galapagos Islands, and the protected marine national park that surrounds the archipelago, provide cultural value, health, and economic security for all of Ecuador. But this ocean region is under increasing pressure from climate change, a race to capture resources, and competing economic agendas.
“Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing is the main problem that the fishery faces in Ecuador,” said Tarsicio Granizo, country director for WWF-Ecuador. Additionally, the presence of international fishing fleets in and around Ecuador are putting biodiversity at risk.
Working at the intersection of maritime security and fisheries management is increasingly important for conservation. Unsustainable fishing and illegal fishing perpetuate each other: as fish stocks decline, fishing vessels are more likely to use illegal methods while illegal fishing accelerates declines in fish stocks. The incredible biodiversity found in the waters around Ecuador makes it a high priority for WWF.
To protect this critical environment, WWF and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s Global Maritime Crime Program have launched a new partnership to advance innovative knowledge-sharing. The goals are to leverage fisheries science and targeted sector information to enable more capacity to counteract illegal fishing activities and to demonstrate how the conservation and maritime security communities can build on each other's core competencies for greater impact.
“Information is power and having access to the best available information can make a world of difference for our oceans and the communities that live alongside them,” said Johan Bergenas, WWF’s senior vice president for Oceans. “We want to get the best fisheries science and the best information on seafood supply chains in the hands of the people who are training enforcement agencies.”
The government of Ecuador and the Galapagos National Park have in place state-of-the-art technology for maritime domain awareness which provide information about ocean security, safety, the economy, and the environment. Consequently, Ecuador provides an opportunity to learn quickly how innovative partnerships and information sharing can further marine conservation efforts.
Solutions need a foundation of good information
In many places, monitoring and control information exists to combat crimes at sea, but the scale of the problems has swamped the scale of existing solutions. Building new partnerships to reach more people with critical information is one way to improve the trajectory of oceans solutions.
Without knowledge generation, applied science, and monitoring programs that generate new analysis, it is impossible to sustainably manage fishery resources and conserve marine biodiversity species of high interest. As the old saying goes, "if you can't measure it, you can't manage it."
“The UNODC-WWF partnership is essential in ensuring an informed law enforcement response to crimes in the fisheries sector, where innovative information sharing is combined with the use of technology as part of a maritime domain awareness approach,” said Siri Bjune, head of the UNODC Global Maritime Crime Program.
Added Pablo Guerrero, WWF-Ecuador's director of seascape conservation, “The idea is to generate a model that we can replicate in other countries and a model that can be scalable, that can be increased, at the sub-regional or regional level, because the crimes that take place in the marine landscape are crimes that transcend borders.”
Eliminating fisheries conflict has climate change implications, too
As declines in fisheries contribute to escalating geopolitical tension and conflict on the ocean, successful ocean conservation must include natural resource conflict resolution, and peacebuilding, as well as law enforcement capacity building.
Climate change makes this work even more critical. An analysis published by UNODC and WWF makes the link between crimes against the environment and the climate and biodiversity crises. The paper notes that in order to “support nature’s ability to mitigate climate change, it is critical to scale up initiatives to combat environmental crime and integrate the justice system’s response to these crimes into biodiversity, climate, and circular economy agendas.”
Our new information-sharing partnership is one part of doing just that.
“We’re making a bet that WWF’s collaboration with UNODC’s Global Maritime Crime Program has the potential to be a replicable model for sharing the right information with the people in a position to save our oceans from unsustainable fishing. It’s not the only solution needed, but filling the knowledge gap is key to the success of all solutions,” Bergenas said.
Read more about WWF’s work developing innovative programs at the intersection of climate change, ocean health, and peace and security.