Ecuador is on high alert due to the appearance of a huge fleet of mainly Chinese-flagged fishing vessels off its Galapagos Islands.
The patrols are trying to ensure that the fleet – which is made up of around 260 vessels – does not enter the delicate ecosystem from international waters.
Chinese ships visit the area every year in search of marine life.
In 2017, a Chinese ship was captured in the marine reserve with 300 tons of wildlife, mainly sharks.
“We are on alert, [conducting] surveillance, patrolling to avoid an incident like what happened in 2017, ”Ecuadorian Defense Minister Oswaldo Jarrin told reporters.
There was no immediate comment from Chinese authorities when contacted by BBC News.
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Ex-Quito mayor Roque Sevilla told the Guardian that a “protection strategy” was being developed for the islands.
“Uncontrolled Chinese fishing just on the edge of the protected area is ruining Ecuador’s efforts to protect the marine life of the Galapagos,” he said.
President Lenin Moreno said Ecuador would hold consultations with other Latin American countries with a Pacific Rim – Colombia, Peru, Chile, Panama and Costa Rica – to form a common regional position regarding the “threat “.
” Because of that [natural] wealth in this area, we are under immense pressure from the international fishing fleets ”, he declared in the newspaper El Universo.
The Galapagos Marine Reserve is home to a large number of shark species, including endangered whales and hammerhead sharks.
The Galapagos Islands are a Unesco World Heritage Site renowned around the world for their unique variety of plants and wildlife.
Charles Darwin made observations essential to his theory of island evolution.