The Tiburon Martillo floating Ranger base, seen from the deck of the Sierra Negra Ranger vessel
From September to December 2008, the vegan conservation group Sea Shepherd waged a fight to protect the ecosystem and all the animals of the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. This blog recounts what happened in that time, serving for the group.
The post below describes one of the biggest projects I was lucky enough to be involved with in the Galapagos.
Alex had been busy these three months. He hired a brilliant Ecuadorian woman from Quito, named Malena. She’s invaluable every single day in keeping Sea Shepherd’s doors open.
Together, Alex and Malena didn’t just keep the office open despite the President’s orders. They somehow managed to form solid relationships with the non-corrupt and very effective Ecuadorian law enforcement offices that O’Hearn formerly worked with as well.
The two also managed to form great relationships with the Rangers. And together with WildAid, the Charles Darwin Foundation, other immensely helpful partners, all parties participated in a monumental Ranger project that would change the anti-poaching effort of the Galapagos in a massive way for the better.
This project was one of the biggest things to happen in the Galapagos not just during this campaign, but during this decade. Together, all these parties planned to create the first conservation law enforcement base at isolated Wolf Island, the most pristine and unique island of all the Galapagos, the island around which so much of the poaching has happened.
Wolf is one of the only untouched islands of the Galapagos left. It’s forbidden for anyone to walk on Wolf. If you’re a tourist already in the Galapagos, it would cost you $4,000 to visit Wolf by boat, and you still wouldn’t have the right to step onto Wolf. It’s off-limits to humans. It’s one of the last havens for all the animals people associate with the Galapagos.
The historic mission to create a base at Wolf was eight years in the making, involving nearly every ship in the ranger fleet. Godfrey Merlin of WildAid led the ranger mission, and I was fortunate enough to be the communications specialist serving on the Ranger vessel Sierra Negra.
The Ranger vessel Sierra Negra
Wolf Island, and one of its more pensive inhabitants.
The Sierra Negra towed the Tiburon Martillo barge from Santa Cruz to Wolf Island, a two day trip. At Wolf, the Tiburon Martillo would become the permanent floating ranger base at a secluded bay, and the ranger vessel Sea Mar 2 would become its permanent launch. The vessel Guadalupe River would help create the base’s permanent mooring.
We tow the Tiburon Martillo floating Ranger base from Santa Cruz Island.
From left to right, the Sea Mar 2, the Guadalupe River, and the Sierra Negra.
If there’s any island on earth worth protecting, it’s Wolf. And every reason why we were working to protect the Galapagos became clear the closer we got to Wolf.
As we approached the island the morning of the second day of the trip, dolphins surrounded our ship, dolphins who until now had absolutely no protection from the tuna purse-netting poaching ships. Giant unique sea birds like blue-footed boobies, that define the Galapagos, flew next to our ship. When the ranger fleet got to Wolf, we were in the middle of a bay full of giant sea turtles, sea lions, giant tropical fish, and screaming birds.
The Sierra Negra approaches Wolf Island.
One of the large Galapaganean seabirds that appear as we approach Wolf.
Dolphins come to swim alongside us and play around our ship as we approach. Click here for video of dolphins frolicking around our ship.
Intelligent dolphins look up at us and keep up with our ship, enjoying interacting with us.
These dolphins will, for the first time, have permanent protection from poaching vessels like the illegal tuna vessel the Rocio.
We set up base in a secluded, enclosed bay at Wolf Island.
Rangers, CDF divers, and the campaign leader search the nearby area to for suitable places to permanently anchor the Tiburon Martillo Ranger base.
Godfrey Merlin, the mission leader.
Over the next week, we set up the base in the middle of this all. We put in anchor buoys, so that no ship that comes to Wolf would ever have to use its anchor again, destroying the undersea environments of Wolf. We fueled up the Tiburon Martillo and Sea Mar, and I configured their sat comm system.
Divers from the CDF monitor the underwater ecosystem as we put the floating Ranger base in place.
The Rangers set up anchor buoys to moor the Tiburon Martillo, and to ensure no other vessel will have to harm the underwater ecosystem with anchors.
The Tiburon Martillo Ranger base, in its permanent position in the secluded bay of Wolf Island.
But then, before we left, I got the extremely rare opportunity to walk onto Wolf to see the island we were protecting.
Next week’s post will explore the area of Galapagos we were protecting.