Ecuador monitoring fleet of fishing vessels near Galapagos

FILE PHOTO: A great blue heron perches on a rock in Isabela Island at Galapagos National Park, Ecuador, October 11, 2016. Picture taken October 11, 2016. REUTERS/Nacho Doce/File Photo

QUITO (Reuters) - Ecuador is monitoring a large fleet of fishing vessels, many of them Chinese, off the Galapagos Islands and has increased patrolling to ensure the ships do not enter the area of the ecologically sensitive islands, the defense minister said on Thursday.

Chinese fishing vessels appear each year near the Galapagos, attracted by marine species such as the hammerhead shark, which is in danger of extinction.

A Chinese vessel in 2017 was captured in the Galapagos Marine Reserve carrying 300 tons of marine wildlife.

“We are on alert, (conducting) surveillance, patrolling to avoid an incident such as what happened in 2017,” Defense Minister Oswaldo Jarrin told reporters.

The Ecuadorian Navy has identified some 260 vessels in the vicinity of the Galapagos Islands’ exclusive economic zone.

“There is a corridor that is international waters, that’s where the fleet is located,” said Jarrin, adding none had attempted to enter the exclusive economic zone.

The Galapagos Islands, which served as inspiration for 19th century British scientist Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, are home to a wide variety marine wildlife as well as turtles, flamingos and albatrosses.

Reporting by Alexandra Valencia in Quito; Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Matthew Lewis