From Paradise to Garbage Dump: The Galapagos Island, Threatened by Tons of Plastic

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Only a few volunteers work tirelessly to clean up the unequaled lands that inspired the theory of evolution.

Armed with just gloves, park rangers and volunteers fight the monster created by the human: tons of degraded plastic that the marine currents push to the stomach of the fauna of the Galapagos Islands, the paradise that inspired the theory of evolution.

A thousand kilometers from the continent , an unequal but decisive war is waged for the conservation of a unique ecosystem in the world. A few hands to collect quantities and quantities of solid material.

The waste that is thrown in the big cities arrives to Galápagos transformed into microplastic, perhaps one of the biggest threats to the iguanas, turtles, birds and fish that only exist in the archipelago.

The microplastic “becomes part of species (of the food chain) of which we may be feeding in the future,” explains biologist Jennifer Suárez, an expert on marine ecosystems in the Galapagos National Park (PNG).

From Paradise to Garbage Dump: The Galapagos Island, Threatened by Tons of Plastic

Solar radiation and sea salinity degrade bottles, bags, lids, containers, fishing nets. To the naked eye, this material becomes hard as stone, but on contact with rocks or the force of water splinters into microparticles that animals ingest.

Each year, enduring the intense sun, expeditionary groups arrive in boats to beaches and rocky areas to verify the damage caused by human activity. The plastic garbage rocks, accumulated, off the coast and even filters between the cracks of the petrified lava of the Galapagos.

Sex toys, shoes, lighters, pens, toothbrushes, buoys and tin cans also appear among the waste that adjoins the animal resting areas, some of which are in danger of extinction.

From Paradise to Garbage Dump: The Galapagos Island, Threatened by Tons of Plastic

In uninhabited areas such as Punta Albemarle, at the northern tip of Isabela Island and where the AFP arrived with a cleaning group, waste is collected and thrown into the sea in other parts of the world.

“More than 90% of the waste we collect does not come from the productive activities of the Galapagos, but comes from South America, Central America, and even (arrives) a large amount of waste with Asian brands,” says Jorge Carrión, director of the PNG.

Inhabited by some 25,000 people, the Ecuadorian archipelago has restricted the use and entry of plastic in recent years.

The garbage that arrives from afar gets stuck in the coastal edge by action of the marine currents, that drag, mainly, plastic bottles of Peruvian, Colombian and Panamanian products, according to park rangers.

Most collected containers that are in good condition carry Chinese markings.

This waste “probably comes from the fishing fleets from Asia that are around the exclusive economic zone of the Galapagos,” says Carrión at the PNG dock in Puerto Ayora, capital of Santa Cruz Island.

Since 1996, artisanal fishermen have been cleaning the most remote islands, but a waste register has been kept for three years.

“This helps us to try to identify the origin of the rubbish that arrives at coasts where there is no population, it has been identified in the other two years of monitoring that the largest number of brands are Peruvian and Chinese,” explains Suárez.

From Paradise to Garbage Dump: The Galapagos Island, Threatened by Tons of Plastic

Although at the moment there is no legislation, the idea is that from this census eventual environmental compensation will be released.

In the first quarter of 2019, eight tons of garbage were collected against 24.23 tons in all of 2018 and 6.47 tons in 2017.

The rangers also make a more dramatic inventory, that of animals that, like the cormorant, build nests with bags and disposable diapers or the body of a piquero buried among waste.

With impotence and indignation, the expedition members also collect plastics that show sea turtle bites, which confuse the bags with jellyfish that are part of their diet.

“Indiscriminately we have thrown so much garbage into the sea and this has reached coasts where there are not even people but there is already garbage,” points out AFP Sharlyn Zúñiga, who participated in the recent coastal cleanup.

In her volunteering, the 24-year-old student, who lives in the Amazonian province of Pastaza, found pristine beaches, with very fine white sand, but affected by garbage.

“What I saw was very hard, we are always used to seeing the most beautiful part of the Galapagos in photos, on postcards,” he lamented.

Despite the fact that the waste continues to arrive with the waves, park rangers and volunteers defend a job that never seems to end on the islands, declared Natural Heritage of Humanity.

From Paradise to Garbage Dump: The Galapagos Island, Threatened by Tons of Plastic

Overcoming the difficult conditions, large bags full of degraded plastic are loaded onto a ship to be transported to Puerto Ayora, where they are stocked and then sent to mainland Ecuador for incineration.

“We are eliminating the garbage that accumulates in these sites, thus preventing this garbage from degrading and becoming a microplastic,” Suárez notes.

The ideal, considers Carrión, is to collect less garbage every year, but according to estimates 2019 it will close with an amount similar to that collected in 2018.

“That does not mean that we are doing bad work (…) We have to go beyond just collecting waste, we have to go to make a call to the conscience worldwide to stop throwing waste to the marine media” , said the director.


Source: Los Andes