Earth Law Can Help Galapagos Sharks

Reader Contribution by Darlene May Lee and Earth Law Center
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Galapagos Shark, Revillagigedo Islands by Chuck Gerlovich @Creative Commons

Did you know that each year, while there are about 10 fatal shark attacks on humans? In stark contrast, humans kill an estimated 73 million sharks per year? ELC is working with partners the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature on bringing the rights of nature from vision to realization in Ecuador’s ocean space. 

The Galápagos Islands are a Haven for Sharks

The highest concentration of sharks in the world can be found in the Galapagos Islands (32 of the 400 known species globally). The Galapagos Marine Reserve, which straddles the equator approximately 600 nautical miles from the coast of Ecuador, is one of the largest marine reserves in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage center.

We’ve recently discovered that the Galapagos harbors pregnant whale sharks (the largest fish in the ocean) and the pups of endangered scalloped hammerhead sharks. The Australian Institute of Marine Science and Pew Charitable Trusts study showed that a single shark could be worth US$ 1.9 million during its life, compared to just over US$ 100 if it was caught and killed.

Hammerhead sharks in the Galapagos by JcMaco @Creative Commons

Threats Facing Sharks in Galápagos Waters

Sharks are under serious threat around the globe. It is estimated that up to 70 million sharks are killed by people every year, due to both commercial and recreational fishing. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified 17 percent of more than the 1,000 species assessed as threatened, according to its ‘Red List’ criteria. Sharks are caught intentionally or as accidental “by-catch” in virtually all types of fisheries worldwide. The crew of a ship who killed over 6,600 sharks from the Galapagos Reserve was sentenced to prison and fines totaling $5.9 million.

This set an important precedent as the first conviction of an environmental crime in 14 years of Galapagos law and set a precedent for prosecuting shark finning and other crimes against Nature in the Galapagos. While sharks in Galapagos are protected by the Galapagos Marine Reserve, they roam quite far and can be affected by illegal fishing and bycatch in fisheries targeted at other species. 

How Earth Law helps protect the sharks of the Galapagos

Earth Law represents the next evolution of marine protection for the Galapagos sharks. From the National Park established in 1959 to the Galapagos Marine Reserve created in 1998 to now a marine sanctuary established in 2016  “Ecuador creates new marine sanctuary to protect sharks”, 21 March 2016, Galapagos Conservancy,/ Accessed: 7 June 2018 – Ecuador became the first country to adopt Rights of Nature into its Constitution. The Republic of Ecuador, Constitution of 2008.

Earth Law is an ethical framework that recognizes nature’s right to exist, thrive and evolve – enabling nature to defend these rights in court, just like corporations can. When we recognize the importance of sharks not just to themselves, but to the marine ecosystems they inhabit – we can then adopt a more holistic approach to our decision-making around marine protections and ensure that the sharks of the Galapagos thrive now and in the future.

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How you can get involved today

1. Read more about the Earth Law Center approach to ocean rights here.

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3. Volunteer for the ocean program area.

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Darlene May Lee
 is Executive Director of Earth Law Center, which works to transform the law to recognize and protect nature’s inherent rights to exist, thrive and evolve. She works to build a force of advocates for nature’s rights at the local, state, national, and international levels. Connect with Earth Law Center on TwitterFacebookand LinkedIn. Read all of Darlene’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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