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September 2007    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 22, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Galapagos Liveaboards Shut Down

from the September, 2007 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

In June, the Galapagos National Park (GNP) made it onto UNESCO’s endangered list of World Heritage sites, because of destructive mass tourism and commercial fishing. The number of days spent by passengers on ships in the area has increased by 150 percent in the last 15 years.

A month later, the GNP suddenly suspended dive operations in the area, affecting 15 liveaboards. Some have stopped running, others are only doing southern itineraries and skipping Wolf and Darwin Islands. At press time, the only yachts not affected were Peter Hughes’ Sky Dancer and the Galapagos Aggressors I and II. They have GNP permits to combine diving and land activities while the others do not.

“Sport diving in the Galapagos’ marine reserve is not allowed for boats that don’t have assigned dive sites in their itineraries,” says Edwin Nuala, the GNP’s director of tourism management. “In some cases, tourism boats did diving without authorization, and that is the reason why the GNP has restored the corresponding legal actions.”

Angry liveaboard owners say they were not given time to get permits before the shutdown, and the GNP hadn’t required these permits in the 18 years liveaboards have been diving. Marc Bernardi, owner of dive tour agency Aquatic Encounters, questions why dive boats were singled out instead of land-based tours. “It was an easy way for the GNP to cut a piece out of the pie, but divers are less detrimental to the environment than land-based visitors.”

According to British magazine DIVE, the GNP faced criticism from the fishing lobby, which says tourist agencies often managed to bend the rules. Ironically, a month after the dive boat shutdown, Ecuador lifted a ban on the sale of shark fins caught accidentally. But with no way to determine whether a shark was caught accidentally or intentionally, fishermen regard the move as a green light to kill as many as they want. Hundreds of sharks are being slaughtered daily off the coast of Ecuador, including several species near extinction. The Galapagos is one of the last areas to see schools of sharks, so concerned divers should protest to the Ecuadorean ambassador in their country. In the U.S., e-mail Ambassador Luis Gallegos at embassy@ecuador.org.

Nuala says GNP and UNESCO officials are analyzing a new tourism model for the islands, including a system that would give Ecuadorean dive operators the authorization to run dive operations. The liveaboards are negotiating with Ecuador’s government to reopen dive operations. Ken Weemhoff of Galapagos Adventures says an agreement may soon be worked out to let dive boats finish their 2007 trips and apply for dive permits in 2008. “Divers with trips in 2008 shouldn’t be worried, but those with trips next week or next month should be watching closely,” he says. If you have booked a GNP dive trip, contact your liveaboard company regularly to get the latest news because the situation is constantly changing.

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