Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Hand of Man

I suppose I should point out that in this idyllic place, there are still signs of human intervention. Today, motoring back from a dive to the main boat, we noticed a buoy in the water with an antenna on it. Moving closer, we found it was tethered to a fish attracting device (FAD) under the water. This itself is not a danger to sea life, but it indicates that fishermen from the mainland are trying to attract and exploit the abundant sea life, fishing in this marine preserve.

Needless to say, we cut loose the buoy and disabled its antenna. It will be turned over to the park authorities. Interestingly, we were chasing and admiring a big pod of dolphins when we spotted the antenna. It seems possible that they were intentionally leading us to this device, but I try not to read too much into that. It could certainly be a coincidence. Or maybe the dolphins were attracted to the fish at the FAD.

But there are certainly signs that people are exploiting and damaging the resources here. The dive guides tell of sites where they used to see hundreds or thousands of sea horses, and now they have to poke carefully to locate any at all. In the book Plundering Paradise: The Hand of Man in the Galapagos Islands, we read about commercial fishing of sea cucumbers. Formerly abundant, now there are areas completely void of them. It's like strip mining, but for living creatures. The ironic part about the sea horses, in particular, is that they are easily bred in tanks; one doesn't need to harvest them from the sea at all, much less decimate the population.

I'm not suggesting that people should be here (That would be the height of hypocrisy, wouldn't it?). But it is unconscionable to come to a unique and pristine area like this and devastate even a part of it. One can at least make the case that early visitors who killed and ate tortoises, for example, had no idea what they were doing in the larger sense. But in modern times, to come to a place and systematically strip an entire population is criminally short-sighted.

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