Sea Cucumber Loss in the Galapagos (SEACUKE)
CASE NUMBER: 146
CASE MNEMONIC: SEACUKE
CASE NAME: Sea Cucumber Loss
1. The Issue
Sea cucumbers are being harvested illegally in the Galapagos
islands of Ecuador, and sold on Asian markets, due to the high
demand. In Asian countries, the sea cucumber is considered to be an
aphrodisiac as well as having medicinal properties. The
controversy in the Galapagos involves the inability to sustain sea
cucumber harvesting, and the removal of millions of sea cucumbers
will have detrimental effects on the food chain in the waters of
the Galapagos. The local population is indifferent to the plight
of the lowly sea cucumber, as they have become disenchanted with
the importance of the unique environment on the Galapagos. Their
disenchantment stems from the poor living conditions they are
forced to contend with as inhabitants of an island that receives
world-wide recognition for its unique environment.
The sea cucumber is related to the starfish, and are big slug-
like blobs that move around on side-by-side pedal-like feet. They
are threatened with extinction in many places, including the
Galapagos and most of the Far East. "Fishing for these creatures
has so depleted stocks that the search for them is now going on as
far away as Oregon and Alaska." They play an important role in
the chain of marine and other life. Sea cucumbers scavenge the
floors of the reef, suck up sediment and redeposit it in a more
aerated form, much like the earthworm. The larvae from the sea
cucumber forms a vital part of the zooplankton that sustains many
other sea creatures such as crustaceans, fishes, seals, whales,
anthropods and mollusks.
The sea cucumber has long been a delicacy of the Asian diet
and it is rich in protein as well. It is also believed to treat
high blood pressure, although unfounded by the AMA. When the
waters of Micronesia were exhaustively harvested for the sea
cucumber, fishermen set their sights first to Ecuador's Pacific
coast in 1988, and then to the Galapagos in early 1992. By the
time a ban was imposed in August of 1992, divers had already
collected 12 million to 30 million sea cucumbers, according to the
World Conservation Union.
The Galapagos are a chain of volcanic islands located 600
miles east of the South American continent (see GALAPAG case). Evolving in isolation, unique
species developed on the islands. "Today, 90 percent of the
reptiles, 50 percent of the land birds and 45 percent of the higher
plants on the Galapagos Islands are found nowhere else." What
exists on the Galapagos is a very fragile ecosystem that could be
upset by a small change in the environment. Sea cucumber fishing
is also endangering mangrove swamps, as the wood is being used to
cook the product before it is exported. Fishing also endangers
some of the 336 types of algae that exist off the islands, 116 of
which are endemic to the Galapagos, as well as the 400 types of
mollusks, 140 of which are endemic, according to the Natura
The Galapagos were made famous after British naturalist
Charles Darwin visited the islands in 1835. His observations of
the variety of animal species led to many of his views on natural
selection. Indeed, the native finches on the islands are commonly
referred to as Darwin's finches. It was on the Galapagos where
Darwin first postulated his theory of natural selection and species
evolution. In 1959, 100 years after the publishing of Darwin▀s
Origins of the Species, 90 percent of the islands were declared a
national park, which restricted humans to living in the remaining
portions of the islands. In 1979, the islands were declared a
UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site, because of the unique and
varied species found there, and in 1986 the Ecuador government
declared 19,300 square miles of water surrounding the islands to be
a marine reserve. Ecuador has a history of being very protective
of its environment, and has been extremely strict with tourists.
Rules prohibit tourists from straying from marked paths, smoking,
picking up lava pebbles or sea-shells or dropping tiny bits of
The ban on sea cucumber fishing was imposed in August of 1992
by Ecuadoran President Bodrigo Borja to prohibit "the capture,
removal, transportation and sale of sea cucumbers from the
Galapagos archipelago" after studies indicated that the illegal
harvesting of the sea cucumbers was seriously detrimental to the
ecology of the Galapagos. The ban was lifted in October of 1993.
The Under-Secretary for Fishing Resources, Luis Arcentales, said
the crustaceans were in no danger of extinction since there were
more than 100 million sea cucumbers in the Galapagos sea.
Although a three-month quota of 550,000 sea cucumbers was
established, more than 7 million sea cucumbers were taken in the
first two months. Thus, the ban was implemented on December 15,
In 1993, the government imposed a six year moratorium on
fishing, and there are restrictions on lobster fishing as well. In
February of 1995, the government reportedly opened negotiations
with the sea cucumber fishing industry, easing tensions, but then
decided to keep the fishery closed. "With industry and farming
banned on the islands and tourism limited, fishermen say they have
no option but to exploit the islands▀ vast stretches of water for
The living conditions on the Galapagos, combined with the high
unemployment, are driving the fishermen to illegally harvest the
sea cucumbers. There is a lack of jobs, and there is no sufficient
drinking water, (rainwater provides the only fresh water as the
water that comes out of the ground is brackish). The residents of
the islands feel that they are second class citizens, with the fate
of the animals being more important than themselves. The natives
have taken to retaliation, striking where they would get the most
attention: slaughtering the tortoises, a highly endangered species.
To the residents, the survival of the fittest means the survival of
▀me and my family.
In a show of indifference to the unique species on the
Galapagos, residents provided little help in fighting a 1994 fire
that devastated thousands of acres on the largest island in the
chain. There is tremendous social tension between the
conservationists and the residents of the islands, and a ban on
fishing means nothing to them if it is the only way to support
themselves. For one kilogram of sea cucumbers (2.2 pounds), are
sold in Seoul or Hong Kong for $40 to $80. So the government can
impose all the laws and restrictions that it wants, but as long as
there is money to be made, the fishermen will continue to harvest
the sea cucumber.
There is little or no enforcement of the law, as the Ecuadoran
Navy is not equipped to continuously patrol the waters of the
Galapagos, looking for illegal fishermen.
3. Related Cases
(1): Trade Product = Sea Cucumber [SEACUKE]
(2): Bio-geography = OCEAN
(3): Environmental Problem = Species Loss Sea [SPLA]
4. Draft Author: Kelly McKenna
II. LEGAL Filters
5. Discourse and Status: Agreement and In-Progress
First ban on sea cucumber fishing in August of 1992. Ban was
lifted in October of 1993, and provided a three month quota of
550,000 sea cucumbers was allowed. The permitted quota was revoked
in December of 1993 because over 7 million sea cucumbers were
harvested during the first two months of the quota. Talks of
lifting the ban were rumored in February of 1995, but the ban
stood. The locals retaliated by killing the endangered tortoises.
Until there is a way to sustain the harvesting of sea cucumbers,
officials are reluctant to lift the ban.
6. Forum and Scope: ECUADor and UNILATeral
7. Decision Breadth: 1 (Ecuador)
The ban came only after the harvesting of sea cucumbers began
to affect other species of sea creatures. Environmentalists were
calling for a ban or a moratorium, but it was only after other
species were affected did the government act. However, there is
little or no enforcement of the ban, and even the government
officials are making money from the sea cucumber trade. In the
fall of 1992, the fisheries inspector was arrested and charged with
trafficking in sea cucumbers during the ban.
8. Legal Standing: LAW
III. Geography Clusters
9. Geographic Locations
a. Geographic Domain : South America [SAMER]
b. Geographic Site : Western Pacific [WPAC]
c. Geographic Impact : ECUADor
10. Sub-National Factors: YES
11. Type of Habitat: OCEAN
Sea cucumbers are essential to the marine chain, providing
both nutrients and protein for other aquatic life.
IV. TRADE Clusters
12. Type of Measure: Regulatory Ban [REGBAN]
13. Direct vs. Indirect Impacts: INDirect
The harvesting of the sea cucumbers upsets the food chain of
the marine life in the waters around the Galapagos. The cutting of
the mangroves to cook the sea cucumbers before they are sent to
Asia leads to loss of natural protection for the coastal areas,
vulnerability to severe weather fronts, and a general loss of
natural timber resources. Indirect impacts of illegal sea cucumber
harvesting would involve the upsetting of the delicate ecosystem in
the Galapagos. There would eventually be a chain reaction of
effects in the food chain, affecting every species on the
14. Relation of Trade Measure to Resource Impact
a. Directly Related : YES Sea Cucumber [SEACUKE]
b. Indirectly Related : NO
c. Not Related : NO
d. Process Related : YES Species Loss Sea [SPLS]
The demand for sea cucumbers is high, and it provides
tremendous incentive to harvest the sea cucumbers. Soon, the
Galapagos will be exhausted as a source of sea cucumbers unless the
ban is enforced.
15. Trade Product Identification: Sea Cucumber [SEACUKE]
16. Economic Data
According to the 1993 National Trade Data Bank Market Report
for Ecuador, in 1991, the number of sea cucumbers exported was 8,
430 kilos, and earned $24,110. This figure is extremely low, and
does not take into account the illegal harvesting.
17. Impact of Trade Restriction
As a result of the ban, local fishermen are angry with the
government; the sentiment is that the animals are more valuable to
the government than the lives of the residents. Seeing no other
alternative to make money than to illegally harvest the sea
cucumbers, retaliation against the government will continue.
18. Industry Sector: FOOD
19. Exporters and Importers: ECUADor and CHINA
V. ENVIRONMENT Clusters
20. Environmental Problem Type: Species Loss Sea [SPLS]
Illegal fishing of sea cucumbers that will affect the entire
marine chain in the Galapagos. It is the culture of the countries
of Southeast Asia and Asia that influence the harvesting of the sea
cucumbers. The sea cucumber is considered to be a delicacy and an
aphrodisiac in those countries, driving the demand for the animal.
21. Name, Type, and Diversity of Species
Name: Sea Cucumber
22. Impact and Effect: MEdium and PRODuct
23. Urgency and Lifetime: HIGh and several years
24. Substitutes: Like products
VI. Other Factors
25. Culture: YES
The local culture of the Galapagos is only upset because the
animals and the habitat receive more monetary aid and assistance
than they do. It is ironic that such an environmentally conscious
country cannot even provide sufficient drinking water to its
population. Only rainwater can be used for drinking, as water form
the ground is brackish. Food, gasoline, and other necessities must
be brought from the mainland, raising living expenses. The
inhabitants are bitter about the fact that their government will
spend money to protect the environment, but will not help its own
people. Inhabitants have threatened ecological terrorism if their
government continues to ignore them.
26. Human Rights: YES
The locals of the Galapagos would like to enjoy a higher
standard of living than they currently have, as they do not even
have adequate drinking water. A better standard of living could be
considered to be a ▀right▀ by the locals.
27. Trans-Boundary Issues: NO
28. Relevant Literature
Brooke, James. "Ban on Harvesting Sea Cucumber Pits Scientists
Against Fishermen," The New York Times, November 2, 1993.
D'Vora, Ben Shaul. "Ugly Treasure of the Deep," The Jerusalem
Post, February 7, 1994.
"Ecuador: Sea Cucumber Capture Banned," Xinhua General Overseas
News Service, August 4, 1992.
"Ecuador: State Lifts Ban on Sea Cucumber Fishing in Galapagos,"
Inter Press Service, September 7, 1993
Honey, Martha. "Paying the Price of Ecotourism," Americas
Johnson, Tim. "Darwin▀s Lab Becomes a Battleground: Humanity
Overruns the Galapagos Islands with Devastating Results,'
Calgary Herald, May 22, 1994.
MacKay, Barry. "Violence, Greed, Destruction Threaten Darwin▀s
Galapagos," The Toronto Star, February 5, 1995.
"Pressure Grows on Galapagos Fishing; Sea Cucumbers at Centre of
Dispute with Research Station," Latin America Weekly
Report, February 2, 1995.
Schrader, Esther. "Fishermen Clash with Ecologists," The Ottawa
Citizen, April 6, 1995.
Schrader, Esther. "Battle for Survival in Darwin▀s Eden," The
Washington Post, April 6, 1995.
"Tensions Rise in Galapagos Over Fishing Ban," Agence France
Press, January 17, 1995.
1993 National Trade Data Bank Market Reports, "Ecuador Fish
Production Statistics," March 16, 1993.
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