September 17th, 2012
The equatorial morning sun shone through the clouds as waves slapped against the rocky island as it rose from the turquoise sea. After some witnessing two mockingbird (Mimus parvelus) couples squabble for precious nesting territory and some hillside hiking, I turned my sights to the beach. Stepping past some playful lions, including an expectant mother (Zalophus wollebaeki), I turned my sight to the surf. We had another riveting morning of snorkeling. Even the crew and our professor marveled at the biodiversity we saw below the waves. I wasstill waiting on one opportunity in particular: to swim with sharks.
We knew that they were around; others had seen a few earlier in the expedition, and we read a lot about them. I wanted to swim with one. After swimming along the side of the island and marveling at the schools of colorful fish living in the stone reef. I decided to swim back to shore to visit the soon-to-be mother. I peered into the rocks and looked to my right into the turquoise depths. I glanced towards the beach, and saw a dark torpedo coming my way! My adrenaline spiked as I stared it down. I could hardly believe my eyes. Seeing as this shark was about as big as I, I kind of freaked out. It was swimming right at me, just a little below me. I stared into its face before it quickly steered into the deep.
I thought I’d write about my experience with this shark because I can relate it to themes of our course. Sharks in the Galápágos Islands face a huge threat from the growing population in the inhabited part of the Archipelago. As the population grows, so does the number of fishermen. Illegal shark fin trade is extremely lucrative., as the number of affluent shark fin consumers in China is rising. Small fishing vessels can be difficult to catch, and many of the government officials are corrupt (i.e. easy to bribe) even when they do catch poachers. The islands do not get much rain, and there is not much agricultural land available (as 95%, formerly 97%, of the islands). It’s a real problem. The authenticity of the marine ecosystem that the legal fishermen rely on is compromised when sharks are harvested unsustainably. Although the Galápágueño fishermen, farmers and their families face a slightly different set of circumstances then the farmers. Ecotourism is more sustainable, and a more steady cash flow, However, a full transition from the illegal fishing of sharks, sea cucumbers, and spiny lobsters to sustainable fishing and ecotourism will take time, and will be difficult with the islands’ growing population.