Sea Shepherd Founder Paul Watson Wins Amazon Peace Prize

QUITO, Ecuador, July 12, 2007 (ENS) - Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Founder Captain Paul Watson has been awarded the Amazon Peace Prize for his work on behalf of the environment and marine species of Latin America. While in Quito to receive the award, he signed an agreement with the National Police of Ecuador for joint operations to patrol the Galapagos Marine Reserve for illegal fishing operations.

Watson was selected for this award by the Vice President of Ecuador Lenín Moreno and the Latin American Association for Human Rights to recognize his dedication to the protection of marine wildlife around the world and for his efforts over the last seven years in the Galapagos Islands.

From left, Chief Commander of the National Police General Bolivar Cisneros, Captain Paul Watson,
and Commander of the Environmental Police Colonel Teresa Carranza at Amazon Peace Prize Award ceremony. July 5, 2007 (Photo courtesy SSCS)
The Amazon Peace Prize medal and plaque were presented to Watson by Chief Commander of the Ecuadorian National Police Bolivar Cisneros in a July 5 ceremony in Quito.

Watson accepted the award saying, "We now have a government in Ecuador with the will to uphold laws to protect the environment, and we must do everything in our power to uphold the laws we have protecting both the Galapagos and the Amazon. We can make this Ecuadorian effort a model of conservation for the world to notice and to emulate."

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa took office in January and in April undertook a cleanup of corruption in the Galapagos Islands, which he has declared to be in a state of emergency.

While in Quito, Watson signed two agreements, solidifying the role of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in protecting Latin America's marine species.

First, he signed an agreement with AMAZNOR, an Ecuadorian grassroots organization dedicated to the protection of the Amazon, to help the endangered pink dolphin and the manatee that inhabit the Amazon region. He also received an award for environmental protection from AMAZNOR.

In a ceremony on July 4, Watson signed an agreement with the National Police of Ecuador that will allow the Sea Shepherd to work with the police to patrol the Galapagos Marine Reserve to detect and destroy illegal fishing operations.

The Sea Shepherd vessel Farley Mowat in the Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands, in the equatorial Pacific about 1,000 kilometers (650 miles) from the Ecuadorian coast, are a globally outstanding repository of biodiversity with up to 95 percent of the original pre-human plants and animals remaining.

After several working sessions with General Cisneros and Colonel Teresa Carranza, commander of the National Environmental Police, a division of the National Police, Sea Shepherd agreed to work on ways to strengthen the Environmental Police of Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.

"We have made a huge dent in the poaching mafias that operate in the Galapagos Islands and this agreement will strengthen our ability to continue to work together towards this common goal," said Sea Shepherd Galapagos Director Sean O'Hearn Gimenez.

This is how the Sea Shepherd operates to protect marine life in the Galapagos Marine Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, place on the list of World Heritage in Danger just last month.

Aboard the organization's ship Farley Mowat in reserve waters on the morning of July 1, crew members spotted three longlines set to target yellowfin tuna that carried none of the required bird-scaring devices. The devices are supposed to keep seabirds from being hooked on the longlines and drowning.

Sea Shepherd crew members pull in miles of illegal longlines in the Galapagos Islands Marine Reserve.
The crew pulled in the line, freeing the hooked animals and seizing a total of 30 nautical miles of illegal longline, including 270 baited hooks.

A Sea Shepherd zodiac was deployed to gather evidence on the poaching vessel which continued to illegally set longlines.

The poachers began throwing equipment overboard, eager to destroy evidence, which was later confiscated. The video evidence of the boat fleeing the scene was handed over to the National Park Service of Ecuador.

On June 29th, in the town of Libertad, near the coastal city of Guayaquil, O'Hearn-Gimenez participated in a raid on a house that was being used to process illegally obtained sea cucumbers for shipment out of the country.

The raid resulted in the seizure of 26 sacks of sea cucumbers, a total of 40,000 of the animals. Two men were arrested.

On June 20, Sea Shepherd staff and operatives of the Ecuadorian Environmental Police seized a total of 18,673 shark fins and arrested four suspects who are now being detained by police.

"This successful sting is the result of several months working covertly with the cooperation of General Bolivar Cisneros, Chief Commander of the Ecuadorian National Police," said O'Hearn-Gimenez.

"Sea Shepherd traced potential exit points in the illegal shark fin trade that occurs in the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador."

Sean O'Hearn-Gimenez at the police station with confiscated shark fins.
The initial seizure, at the immigration checkpoint, included four sacks with over 500 pounds of shark fins that were hidden in the compartment area of a passenger bus travelling along a route from Guayaquil to Huaquillas.

Three passengers were arrested at this point, including an Ecuadorian and two Peruvian men.

A second passenger bus travelling from Guayaquil towards the Peruvian border was also inspected and two boxes were found full of shark fins, weighing 97.9 pounds. A Peruvian male approached the driver and stated that he was expecting the two boxes and he was immediately arrested.

This is roughly equivalent to over 4,500 sharks slaughtered; the fins have an estimated street value of over US$140,000.

"This is a cruel and senseless act. Some shark populations have declined by more than 90 percent in the last 30 years. Many of the sharks are finned in and around the Galapagos Marine Reserve and this has a direct impact on Ecuador's tourism industry," said O'Hearn-Gimenez.

"Using longlines, the shark finner will use a long hook to haul the shark into the boat and then club it in the head knocking the shark unconscious. At this point the shark is finned alive and is thrown back into the water and left to bleed an agonizing death."

Captain Paul Watson meets with Galapagos National Park Director Raquel Molina.
In Ecuador, exportation and commercialization of shark fins is against the law. Sea Shepherd will be filing a lawsuit as well as conducting a forensic analysis of the shark fins in order to determine the biological makeup of the sharks and to determine whether any of the species are listed as endangered by the IUCN-World Conservation Union.

O'Hearn-Gimenez will oversee the incineration of the shark fins to ensure that they do not re-enter the black market.

Born in Canada and one of the original co-founders of Greenpeace in Vancouver, Watson founded the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in 1979. He has battled the Canadian seal hunt and whaling in all the world's oceans. He has been arrested, but never convicted of a crime, and no one has been seriously injured on a Sea Shepherd campaign. He has been called a radical, and even an eco-terrorist by his enemies, such as Japanese whalers, but in Ecuador, Watson is seen as a hero.

"We have invested seven years in the Galapagos so far," said Watson. "We have established a solid working relationship with the Galapagos National Park and enforcement authorities in Ecuador."

In the Galapagos Islands since the year 2000, Sea Shepherd has supported patrolling operations in the Galapagos Marine Reserve through its donation of a retired U.S. Coast Guard cutter.

Currently, from its office in the Galapagos, Sea Shepherd is working on developing environmental education projects to raise environmental awareness among the tourists who visit the archipelago as well as the many children who reside in the islands.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.