The Galápagos National Park and the Ministry of the Environment of Ecuador announced on Tuesday the seizure of 10,852 sea cumbers at the San Cristóbal airport. The seizure had a total weight of 262.8 kilograms (578 pounds).
Authorities became suspicious when they spotted six cartons without waybills presumably destined for Guayaquil on the Ecuadorian mainland.
Park official Carlos Ortega said that four park rangers assisted by four members of the Ecuadorian national police opened the cartons and discovered the sea cucumbers. The Ministry of the Environment and the park have initiated an investigation to find the people responsible for the illegal shipment. Investigators have identified three persons of interest who may be connected with the shipment.
There’s a huge black market in sea cucumbers driven by demand in China where they can sell for $300 per pound. At that price, the seized sea cucumbers in San Cristóbal would have a value of $173, 448.
Sea cucumbers are currently protected and there is a complete ban on fishing for them in the waters of the Galápagos Marine Reserve. Sea cucumbers are considered an essential part of the marine ecosystem. The last authorized fishing of sea cucumbers from the Galápagos Marine Reserve was in 2011.
“There’s a very big problem,” said marine biologist Alex Hearn, who noted that poachers have decimated sea cucumber populations. “They take, and take and take,” said Hearn. “It’s like strip mining.” Hearn was in San Francisco where he spoke about Galápagos fisheries at the annual meeting of the Pacific Division of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.