Despite increased control measures, poaching remains the biggest threat to the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR) to this day. The National Park’s fleet cannot possibly control the vastness of the area; this would require dozens of ships. Only “full vessel movement control” will lower the amount of illegal fishing inside the GMR.
Since 2009, the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) has been operational in the GMR. The VMS works this way:
- All Ecuadorian vessels engaged in fishing above Gross Tonnage 20 tons have a satellite transmitter installed onboard in order to track their movement.
- The vessels’ positions are relayed back to the government agencies’ control centers where they are being monitored on computer screens.
- Any suspicious movement is detected (this can be wrongful entry into the Marine Reserve or erratic motion suggesting prohibited fishing activity) and law enforcement vessels are deployed to examine the vessels.
This has resulted in the apprehension of several purse seiners and dozens of longliners who were caught inside the GMR without authorization. The Navy and the Galapagos National Park Service (GNPS)are monitoring all movements within the GMR in their respective control centers. The GNPS is doing this from their office in the heart of the archipelago and from the Navy control center in Guayaquil.
Whereas the control and surveillance has been greatly improved because of this, foreign vessels remain undetected and smaller vessels are not being monitored. One of the problems with VMS is that it uses an expensive satellite connection to transfer data. Small vessel owners often don’t have the money to cover these expenses. Additionally, the time interval of the transmitter has been set at one position every hour, which is quite low to get a clear idea of vessel movement, especially when dealing with small, fast boats.
In order to get a better control over their movement as well as making shipping in the Galapagos in general more safe (think of oil spills as well as vessel distress) the next step is to install an Automatic Identification System (AIS) network. Sea Shepherd has received additional funding specifically for this project from the Dutch Postcode Lottery.
In 2010 and 2011, we built a network of AIS repeaters throughout the archipelago. The installation of solar-powered repeaters on 9 fixed locations as well as installation on the GNP vessels will ensure full coverage in any part of the GMR. For this network, we installed repeater sites on remote locations. The equipment is fully self-supporting and includes battery banks and solar panels. All this information is gathered in the GNPS control center as well as the navy control center, displayed on computer screens in a similar yet more elaborate manner as the VMS system.
The major benefit of this system is that ALL vessels can be monitored from the AIS control centers. Small fishing vessels are equipped with autonomous AIS-B transceivers, as these boats usually do not have a power supply of their own.
New regulations make installation of AIS devices on all vessels operating inside the GMR mandatory. The GNPS is even thinking about providing AIS transceivers at rental cost to foreign vessels entering the Park boundaries. The ultimate goal is that no vessel will be allowed to enter the GMR without a transceiver. Most ocean-going ships already have AIS installed and it really is a matter of time before this network is set up all over the world.
AIS is only one of the tools we have in place to stop poaching. Further plans are to include radar sites (vessels on radar will show they have AIS or not) and UAVs.