Hammerhead Shark

The Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) supports the initiatives of communities in the Galapagos and mainland Ecuador to peacefully rally against illegal fisheries of endangered species. It is very alarming that these activities continue to occur in our territorial waters and in the Galapagos Marine Reserve. The natural resources being taken are important and necessary for the ecological stability of our oceans and relevant to the services that are produced by them.

We stand against the illegal, industrial and non-industrial fishing of sharks and other endangered species, no matter the scale. It is against the principles that we stand for as an institution and as citizens.

Technical points below:

    • Chondrichthyes (sharks, rays and chimeras) are among the most threatened group of species on the planet1. Since the end of World War II, we humans got too good at fishing and have managed to remove 90% sharks and other large predatory fishes from the oceans2. It is estimated that an average of 100 million sharks are fished globally and only a few protected and isolated places still harbor healthy shark populations3,4.
    • Sharks are predators across the world oceans, playing an essential role to keep marine ecosystems healthy. The depletion of sharks due to overfishing has altered the ecological balance in other parts of the world, resulting in environmental degradation and the loss of profitable fisheries. The protection of keystone species like sharks, has positive consequences throughout food chains5.
    • Sharks grow slowly, reproduce late, have a few offspring, live for many years and have complex reproductive cycles. All these life-history characteristics makes them very vulnerable to overexploitation through fishing practices, especially during reproductive seasons1.
    • Sharks are world citizens as they do not know about marine reserve boundaries or Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ). For years the Charles Darwin Foundation and international partners have documented the regional migrations of several species of sharks and pelagic fish6–9. These studies have revealed large-scale movements and home ranges, highlighting the need for international protection and the implementation of biological corridors such as the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor (CMAR).
    • The total protection of sharks in the Galapagos for over 15 years, has resulted in the largest global shark biomass recorded to date around the northern islands of Darwin and Wolf10. Based on this and other technical information11, the Ecuadorian government created the first Marine Sanctuary of Ecuador around the globally unique islands of Darwin and Wolf in March 2016. This key event has set a milestone in Ecuador’s conservation efforts.
    • The value of a live shark for the tourism industry in the Galapagos is the largest recorded globally and it is far bigger than its value if fished for fins and meat. It is estimated that a live shark in Galapagos is worth USD$360,000 annually. Based on a conservative life-span, a live shark could generate over USD$5 million throughout its life if not fished12.
    • The best example of the highly migratory nature of many species of sharks, is the scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini). This is one of the most demanded species by fishing fleets given their large fins, so hammerheads have been listed as globally Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They are also included in Appendix II of the Convention of Migratory Species (CMS) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Female hammerheads leave the safe waters of the Galapagos Marine Reserve to undertake feeding excursions and reproductive migrations to mangrove areas in the Pacific coast of mainland South America. During these journeys, they are extremely vulnerable to industrial and artisanal fishing fleets in Ecuador’s and international waters.
    • The case of the illegal fishing vessel Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 it is not an isolated event and clearly highlights the global problematic of Illegal, Unreported and Undocumented (IUU) fishing. IUU is especially problematic around marine protected areas which are the only few places in the global oceans where marine ecosystems are protected from damaging fishing practices allowing the oceans to thrive again. Every day, hundreds of fishing vessels from many nations enter protected areas illegally to benefit from poaching inside their protected waters. The studies by CDF have also shown that the Galapagos Marine Reserve can effectively protect resident shark species within its boundaries, such as the case of the tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier)8 which stays all year-round within the Reserve.
    • The case of the Fu Yuan Yu Leng also highlights the logistical and economic challenge of enforcing and patrolling large protected areas, like the Galapagos Marine Reserve with 138.000 km2 of protected waters. There is an urgent need to establish ambitious and sustainable funding mechanisms that ensure a cost-effective procedure to fight the daily problem of IUU fishing.
    • The CDF strongly believes that the support of the Galapagos community is crucial for the conservation of sharks in the Galapagos Marine Reserve. For the past two years, the CDF has run the campaign “Protect the fins and the ocean wins” to promote the Galapagos as a model of sustainable coexistence between humans and sharks. The ecological and socio-economic benefits of sharks for the community of Galapagos clearly outweighs the illegal fishing of sharks for their fins and meat and the incidental capture of sharks in experimental long-line projects within the  Galapagos Marine Reserve.
    • The CDF is against any form of fishing that captures endangered and/or protected species inside and outside the Galapagos Marine Reserve by both industrial and artisanal fishing fleets from any nationality. For this reason, CDF's scientists have provided over 15 specialist reports free of charge to the Galapagos National Park Directorate and the Ecuadorian District Attorney's Office as part of the legal processes against illegal activities within the Galapagos Marine Reserve. We are delighted to contribute to this processes and will continue to do so over the next 25 years.
    • CDF, a non for profit institution entirely funded by private donations, will continue to work with the Ecuadorian government to secure the necessary funding that ensures the sustainable development and conservation of the islands.


    The mission of the Charles Darwin Foundation and its Research Station is to provide knowledge and assistance through scientific research and complementary action to ensure the conservation of the environment and biodiversity in the Galapagos Archipelago.


    1. Dulvy, N. K. et al. Extinction risk and conservation of the world’s sharks and rays. Elife 3, e00590 (2014).

    2. Myers, R. A. & Worm, B. Rapid worldwide depletion of predatory fish communities. Nature  423, 280–283 (2003).

    3. Myers, R. A. & Worm, B. Extinction, survival or recovery of large predatory fishes. Philos. Trans. R. Soc. B Biol. Sci. 360, 13–20 (2005).

    4. Worm, B. et al. Global catches, exploitation rates, and rebuilding options for sharks. Mar. Policy 40, 194–204 (2013).

    5. Myers, R. A., Baum, J. K., Shepard, T. D., Powers, S. P. & Peterson, C. H. Cascading effects and the loss of apex predatory sharks from a coastal ocean. Science 325, 1846–1850 (2007).

    6. Ketchum, J. T. et al. Inter-island movements of scalloped hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna lewini) and seasonal connectivity in a marine protected area of the eastern tropical Pacific. Mar. Biol.  161, 939–951 (2014).

    7. Hearn, A. R. et al. Adult female whale sharks make long-distance movements past Darwin Island (Galapagos, Ecuador) in the Eastern Tropical Pacific. Mar. Biol.  163, 214 (2016).

    8. Acuña-Marrero, D. et al. Residency and movement patterns of an apex predatory shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) at the Galapagos Marine Reserve. PLOS ONE  12, e0183669 (2017).

    9. Salinas-De-León, P., Hoyos-Padilla, E. M. & Pochet, F. First observation on the mating behaviour of the endangered scalloped hammerhead shark Sphyrna lewini in the Tropical Eastern Pacific. Environ. Biol. Fishes  Accepted, (2017).

    10. Salinas de León, P. et al. Largest global shark biomass found in the northern Galápagos Islands of Darwin and Wolf. PeerJ  4, e1911 (2016).

    11. Salinas-De-León, P., Acuña-Marrero, D., Carrión-Tacuri, J. & Sala, E. Valor ecológico de los ecosistemas marinos de Darwin y Wolf, Reserva Marina de Galápagos.15 (Fundación Charles Darwin/Dirección del Parque Nacional Galápagos, 2015).

    12. Lynham, J., Costello, C., Gaines, S. D. & Sala, E. Economic valuation of marine and shark-based tourisms in the Galápagos Islands. 46 (National Geographic Pristine Seas, 2015).

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Chocolate chip sea star (Nidorellia armata).

My experience with the 2017 ecological monitoring project

It was 5:30am when the motor of the Queen Mabel ship was turned off after navigating all night towards Punta Moreno, our first stop in the west of the archipelago. The sun still wasn’t out and we were getting ready for our first dive of the day. A cold breeze swept against us as we propelled ourselves by Zodiac toward the first dive site, but I was more overcome by the excitement of knowing that soon I would be below the water, immersed by this enchanted place. “Ready, one, two, three…” was our signal to enter the water at the same time. While I descended, I could see a garden of corals, algae, fish, turtles and stars of thousands of colors. Having only started my volunteer program at the Charles Darwin Foundation less than three months ago, I could not believe that this was going to be my work-site for a week…

Spiny Lobster (Panulirus penicillatus).
Spiny Lobster (Panulirus penicillatus). Photo by: Salomé Buglass.

Our objective was to register the presence and abundance of animals found in the subtidal zone of the Galapagos Islands. These activities are part of the Ecological Monitoring project that started in 1997 and is carried out every year (Banks et al., 2016). The monitoring in 2017 was conducted in conjunction with the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF), Conservation International (CI) and the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD). This year, three fieldtrips were organized around the entire Galapagos Marine Reserve (North, East and West) led by Patricia Martí-Puig (CDF), Inti Keith (CDF), Stuart Banks (CI), Harry Reyes (GNPD) and Jennifer Suarez (GNPD). Each person that participates in this project is in charge of taking data about a specific group of animals: fish, algae and macroinvertebrates (both mobile and sessile). I was in charge of assisting the macroinvertebrates group during the excursion through the west of Fernandina, Isabela and part of Santiago and Bartolomé.

At the Charles Darwin Research Station I work as a volunteer for the Seamount Project led by Dr. Patricia Martí Puig, who along with Dr. Inti Keith, also led the ecological monitoring this year. I felt very surprised and excited when a month before these campaigns, Patricia told me about this project and the possibility of being part of it. “The continuity of ecological monitoring is very important to study the long-term changes in subtidal communities and to evaluate the impacts of climate change,” said Patricia when referring to the activities we were going to do.

Fernandina Island.
Fernandina Island. Photo by: Camila Arnés

My work consisted in helping measure and count organisms like sea stars, sea cucumbers, urchins, mollusks, lobsters, octopi, etc. Among the most common macroinvertebrates that I could observe were chocolate chip sea stars (Nidorellia armata), panamic cushion stars (Pentaceraster cumingi), slate pencil urchins (Eucidaris galapagensis), black sea cucumbers (Holothuria atra), and many others. I also had the opportunity to assist in the placement of a transect, which was very fun because sometimes the sea lions or flightless cormorants would come to bite and play with it. Apart from monitoring these fascinating organisms, I also was fortunate to see mantas, sunfish, penguins and whales from the ship while we were navigating.

Part of the team: Salomé Buglass, Camila Arnés and Patricia Marti Puig in front of the Queen Mabel.
Part of the team: Salomé Buglass, Camila Arnés and Patricia Marti Puig in front of the Queen Mabel. Photo by: Eduardo Rosero.

I consider myself very lucky to have lived this unique and unforgettable experience. I learned more about the work that different institutions are carrying out to protect these enchanted islands and also learned about scientific diving and the ecology of subtidal ecosystems. But most of all I am thankful to have been part of this program and having shared my experiences with an incredible work group and crew.

The whole team working on Bartolomé; Jennifer Suarez, Inti Keith, Alberto Proaño, Patricia Martí Puig, Salomé Buglass, Camila Arnés, Stuart Banks and Milton Carguas.
The whole team working on Bartolomé; Jennifer Suarez, Inti Keith, Alberto Proaño, Patricia Martí Puig, Salomé Buglass, Camila Arnés, Stuart Banks and Milton Carguas. Photo by: Francisco Santillán.

The Importance of Ecological Monitoring

The information compiled since the start of the project (1997) by various collaborators and scientists, has served as a base line for the biodiversity found in the subtidal zone of the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR). “This project is one of the longest studies carried out in the Eastern Tropical Pacific. It is an honor to be part of it and to be able to monitor the anthropogenic impacts that affect these ecosystems,” said Salomé Buglass, part of the macroinvertebrates team. This information is also used by the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD) as a guide for decision-making, such as designing the new zoning scheme of the Galapagos National Park and the Marine Reserve. Additionally, the data will improve our understanding of the ecological processes that occur in these ecosystems and about how they are affected by natural events like El Niño and La Niña (Banks et al., 2016).


Banks, S., Acuña, D., Brandt, M., Calderón, R., Delgado, J., Edgar, G., Garske-García, L., Keith, I., Kuhn, A., Pépolas, R., Ruiz, D., Suárez, J., Tirado-Sánchez, N., Vera, M., Vinueza, L. y Wake eld, E. 2016. Manual de Monitoreo Submareal. Conservación Internacional Ecuador y Fundación Charles Darwin. Quito, Ecuador.

Camila Arnés Urgellés
Camila Arnés Urgellés

Camila Arnés Urgellés: I am a volunteer at the Seamount Project led by the Charles Darwin Foundation. For six years, I studied ecology and marine biology in Ecuador and Australia. Previously, I have conducted biodiversity and taxonomic studies of coastal and deep water ecosystems. Currently I am collaborating on the creation of a deep-sea species guide for the Galapagos Islands. My professional goal and passion is to grow in the field of scientific research and work for the conservation of marine ecosystems.

For more information about volunteer opportunities, please visit: www.darwinfoundation.org or write to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Roberto Cubero, Geiner Golfin,  Inti Keith, observing the coral reef.

Written in collaboration with Geiner Golfin, Management of Natural Resources for Cocos Island.

An investigation was recently initiated in the Cocos Island National Park with the aims of minimizing the negative impacts on marine biodiversity in the Cocos Island National Park caused by non-native species, and of establishing protocols for prevention, early detection and rapid response. This investigation is conducted in collaboration with the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) on the Galapagos Islands and the Program of Invasive Marine Species, which started the investigation in 2012 in the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR).  The project depends on the participation of the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD), the Agency for Biosecurity for Galapagos (ABG), the Oceanographic Institute of the Navy (INOCAR), Port Authorities and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC).   

Dr. Inti Keith, the main researcher of non-native species in the Galapagos Islands, stated that “it is vital to expand the investigation to other marine protected areas in the Eastern Tropical Pacific, due to the extremely high connectivity that exists in this region and the climactic changes that are occurring. Non-native species can be introduced from different regions of the world in the hulls of ships and in ballast water (anthropogenic introduction) or can be dispersed naturally by oceanographic currents (natural arrival). The most serious issue is that non-native species can become invasive species by establishing, reproducing and expanding.”

Coral Reef, Wafer Bay, Sunken Ship.
Coral Reef, Wafer Bay, Sunken Ship. Photo by: Katharine Evans.

The introduction of non-native species has been identified as the second-most important reason for the loss of biodiversity worldwide, after habitat loss. Marine bioinvasions are recognized as a problem in all the world’s oceans. The amount of biological invasions have increased over the last decade, principally due to the accelerated propagation of species through the growth of global commerce, transport and tourism, which has allowed species to overcome natural barriers such as currents and temperature gradients that once prohibited their movement. Human beings have transported species for years (deliberately or accidentally) and some of these species have succeeded in establishing themselves, proliferating and causing large ecological, economical and health impacts.

“Oceanic islands are more prone to invasions by non-native species, due to the paucity of natural competitors and predators that control populations in their native ecosystem. Oceanic islands often have many ecological niches that have not been occupied due to the distance of colonizing populations, increasing the probability of a successful invasion. The geographical isolation of Cocos Island has limited natural migration of new species, allowing for the present species to evolve in absence of competitors and predators” explained Dr. Keith.

Geiner Golfin, Park Ranger and Marine Biologist in charge of the Management of Natural Resources Program, mentioned that “this is a new and exciting investigation that’s never been conducted in the Cocos National Park”.  He stated that the research will allow the Park to increase their knowledge on how this marine ecosystem functions and how it is connected with other Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the region.  It will also illustrate the connectivity in the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP) and how the biodiversity of this region must be protected.  This research will facilitate the development of preventative and management guidelines in order to protect biodiversity locally as well as taking into account regional ecosystem services.  The Cocos Island National Park is carrying out the necessary efforts to begin monitoring non-native species and work on prevention, early detection and rapid response protocols in collaboration with the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Marine Invasive Species Program.”

Observation of hammerhead sharks near the coral at Islote Pájara during the investigation.
Observation of hammerhead sharks near the coral at Islote Pájara during the investigation. Photo by: Katharine Evans.

The investigation led by Dr. Keith completed its first expedition to Cocos Island National Park on the 12th of August, with the collaboration of co-researchers Macarena Parra (Charles Darwin Foundation), park rangers Roberto Cubero, Geiner Golfín and Keylor Morales, and Katharine Evans (Oceans Unlimited). Geiner Golfin said “it is very important to involve park rangers in this investigation, in order to build capacity and run a successful monitoring program that will provide the basis for strong management". The new protocols will be enforced and supported by the park rangers on the island.

During this initial stage of the investigation, subtidal monitoring protocols were followed using SCUBA in different dive sites around Cocos Island. Directed searches were carried out with a focus on non-native species and gathering baseline information in order to further study the connectivity that exists between the Galapagos Islands and Cocos Island.  The depth range of dives was between 10 and 30 meters, and covered a variety of habitats including coral reefs, sandy, and rocky substrates. During the dives a number of species thought to be non-native to Cocos Island were identified. The next step is for scientists to research the list of species and determine the origin of these species in order to identify and classify each one correctly.

Left to right) Macarena Parra, Inti Keith, Katharine Evans, Geiner Golfín, Roberto Cubero.
(Left to right) Macarena Parra, Inti Keith, Katharine Evans, Geiner Golfín, Roberto Cubero. Photo by: Keylor Morales.

This research is in the initial stages and we are hoping to raise interest and find support to follow-up this new collaboration between the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Cocos Island National Park. This investigation started as an initiative within the The Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor (CMAR) framework, and there is a desire to extend the investigation to other protected areas in the region (Coiba Island in Panama, Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary and the Gorgona National Park in Colombia) in the near future. The four countries that are part of CMAR are Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and Ecuador.

 “It is a priority to establish which are high risk species for the region of the East Tropical Pacific to improve management plans for marine invasive species and biosecurity and hence protect the biodiversity of the region. Protocols for prevention, early detection, and rapid response together with risk evaluations and management strategies must be put in practice” explained Dr. Keith.


Geiner Golfin: in charge of the Management of Natural Resources for Cocos Island. Telephone: 89109806 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Inti Keith: Senior Researcher – Marine Invasive Species Program, Charles Darwin Foundation, Galapagos Islands.  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Telephone +593 98 6261488 Skype: Inti.Keith79

Katharine Evans: Photography by Oceans Unlimited

Beach cleanup organized by the Coca-Cola Foundation on Baraona Beach, Isabela Island.

I have been very lucky to visit Galapagos numerous times, first as a volunteer at the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD) and then at the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF). At the start of 2016, I returned to support the Foundation’s work as a “Local Liaison Coordinator” on Isabela, the largest island in the Galapagos. I liked the idea of coming back and helping the Foundation, which has a long history of scientific advice for the management of the conservation of the Galapagos Islands.

Even though CDF has its main office on Santa Cruz Island, its projects are executed throughout the archipelago. It has always been important to have bases on other islands to expand its mission, and this has been part of CDF’s strategic vision. Near the end of 2016, it was decided that we needed to renew CDF’s presence on Isabela, because the very last time we had a base in Puerto Villamil was from 1980s until it closed down at the end of the 2000s. I was sent to Isabela in order to restore contact with the local community, establish bases and carry out activities in the future.

“I remember when the Foundation worked [on Isabela], groups of children of all ages would come together and they would be taught about conservation issues. It’s a pity they left. We hope that now they are back they can bring back these kinds of activities that we badly need on Isabela.” — Jackeline Murillo (Resident of Isabela)

Jacinto Gordillo, former manager of the Isabela Office in Puerto Villamil.
Jacinto Gordillo, former manager of the Isabela Office in Puerto Villamil. Photo by: CDF.

Isabela is the largest island in Galapagos, but has a population of only approximately 3,000 inhabitants. Of the inhabited islands, it’s the only one that has a beach that almost extends the entire length of its town, which is named Puerto Villamil.  The town's point of entry is surrounded by islets with mangroves full of marine species and other wildlife. There is direct contact with the beach and nature in Puerto Villamil, making it one of the favorite destinations for tourists. It has grown over the years, but is still small. After living there for two weeks, you realize that you know almost everybody whom you pass. Life is simple, but population growth has led to increasing development, expressed by a large amount of concrete infrastructure and reduced green spaces.

“Isabela is beautiful! The beach and its proximity to the town is incredible! We have seen marine iguanas resting on the rocks all day long, flamingos flying in front of us and sea lions bathing to one side.” — Patricia Bazo (Peruvian Tourist)

View of the beach in front of Puerto Villamil.
View of the beach in front of Puerto Villamil. Photo by: Ernesto Bustamante Velarde.

The activities I have carried out on Isabela have been varied. I have had institutional meetings to discuss new opportunities for scientific research, in addition to giving advice to the Municipality about environmental management and implementing a donations point on the island. Other activities related to the field were beach cleanups, and coordinating group visits of researchers and accompanying them on their excursions. For instance, I have gone searching for frogs in the banana groves and freshwater sources to check their existence in the highlands of the island. I have gone “hunting” for geckos as food for the animals that were being investigated.

I have also been involved in environmental education, supporting during the summer children’s activities organized by the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD). These included different events such as the global day for the environment, where the GNPD organized a parade with children dressed as tortoises and iguanas with signs asking to be protected and respected by the community and tourists.

The Charles Darwin Foundation’s activities on Isabela.
The Charles Darwin Foundation’s activities on Isabela. Photos by: Ernesto Bustamante Velarde.

In this context one can realize the important role that the Charles Darwin Foundation and similar organizations could have on Isabela. It is undisputable that science by itself is important, because it provides objective and verifiable knowledge. But the Foundation’s investigations are also fundamental because they are applied towards the conservation of the islands.

The greatest threats to conservation have a human origin, and this is the theme that needs to be dealt with to generate real and sustainable change. Hence, science should not only be done in a serious and formal way, but should also involve the local community. Outreach campaigns should be carried out to reach the entire community. In this way we will spread consciousness about the importance of biodiversity conservation and how our actions have impacts on the environment. This can be done through scientific projects that, as much as possible, involve the community, and also through activities with the community that have the objective of disseminating the work and results of the project.

A child dressed up as an iguana asking for the protection of the Galapagos Islands.
A child dressed up as an iguana asking for the protection of the Galapagos Islands. Photo by: Ernesto Bustamante Velarde.
Visit to the Galapagos National Park greenhouse as part of the summer children’s activities organized by the Galapagos National Park.
Visit to the Galapagos National Park greenhouse as part of the summer children’s activities organized by the Galapagos National Park. Photo by: Ernesto Bustamante Velarde.

This work isn’t short-term, but it is one of the main ways to ensure that the Enchanted Islands are sustainable. Real protection and conservation of the islands must be everyone’s responsibility. I hope that I am able to keep supporting and collaborating for the sustainability of Galapagos.

Sunset on Isabela.
Sunset on Isabela. Photo by: Ernesto Bustamante Velarde.

Ernesto Bustamante Velarde is a Peruvian.  In Peru, he studied Environmental Engineering and worked for several years on themes related to extraction industries. Later, he studied for his Masters in Environmental Management in Australia.  When he returned to Peru in 2016, he decided to change his career towards topics about which he was passionate, such as conservation and climate change. After looking for work, he had the opportunity to return to Galapagos and represent the Charles Darwin Foundation on Isabela.


The “Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands”, in French “Fondation Charles Darwin pour les îles Galapagos”, Association International sans but lucratif, has its registered office located at Drève du Pieuré 19, 1160 Brussels, and is registered under the trade registry of Brussels under the number 0409.359.103, (the “AISBL”).

© 2018 Charles Darwin Foundation. All rights reserved.