Beto is a fisherman on the Galapagos Islands. Besides that, he works together with the community of Santa Cruz Island on a healthier planet for future generations.
When he was young, Alberto (Beto) Andrade was searching his place in the world. He found this place on the Galapagos Islands when he moved there from the Ecuadorian mainland. On the islands, because of his work as an artisanal fisherman, he realized that the world has a very big problem that is killing marine life: plastics. Therefore, besides his work as a fisherman, Beto works together with the community of Santa Cruz Island on a healthier planet for future generations.
What is your first memory of the oceans?
As a kid I never wanted to be home: I was always outside looking for adventures, preferably in the port of the small Ecuadorian city where I was born. Already from a young age I felt better when I was on a fishing boat. I have a lot of memories of the ocean, but there is one that I remember in particular: when I was fifteen I travelled from Ecuador to Panama working on a boat. One day, we were hit by a storm and I remember that, although being very scared, I enjoyed experiencing the power of the sea, it gave me kind of a ‘happy fear’. This first trip on the high seas was incredible, we were in the middle of the ocean with dolphins and other marine life, there was so much nature.
“As a fisherman, I spend part of my life out on the ocean, at the end of the day I divorce the ocean and I marry the mountain.”
And nowadays, what does the sea mean to you?
The sea means two basic things to me: life and responsibility. Basic, but very important. If we don’t feel responsible for the oceans we’re going to die; we have to take care of them and not be ungrateful. As a fisherman, I spend part of my life out on the ocean, at the end of the day I divorce the ocean and I marry the mountain – I live in the highlands of Santa Cruz. I don’t like to go out at night, I like spending time at the ocean and in the mountains during the day. Luckily, I have a great wife who is also an environmentalist and supports me in everything. We are a team.
You have been living on the Galapagos Islands most part of your life. Which changes have you experienced on the islands?
Plastics affect marine life on and around the Galapagos Islands, I have seen animals that were wounded and even killed by plastic garbage. It also damages the ecosystems. Although it’s worse now, garbage on the beaches is not as new as many people think; 30 years ago it was already a problem. When I was younger, we went to the beach to have a good time, to camp and to pick up garbage. We didn’t know anything about the global plastics problem yet, but we saw garbage around our campsite and we just picked it up. Back then, there was no organised community on the islands, nor were there a lot of rules. Over the years, people started to do more for the environment and to organise projects, many of those were initiatives of local fishermen who loved the islands and wanted to take care of them.
In general, the people of the Galapagos Islands are more environmentally responsible, for different reasons. To start with, the inhabitants of the islands live of natural resources and services depending on nature, like tourism. Another impact that led to a greater awareness were the large educational campaigns, for example in schools, that have influenced the local culture and have empowered communities over time. It’s important to educate people, in particular children and teenagers. The last reason, yet not less important, is that Galapagos is such a beautiful and special place that its inhabitants fell in love with their natural environment, and obviously you protect what you love.
“Galapagos is such a beautiful and special place that its inhabitants fell in love with their natural environment, and obviously you protect what you love.”
Galapagos is the best kept crown jewel, contaminated by the rest of the world. Here, governmental institutions, NGOs and communities are doing an amazing job. My part is to motivate the community and change the myth that the institutions have to do everything.
How have these changes influenced you?
We fishermen see more garbage in the oceans than any other person. I started cleaning beaches with my daughter when she was recovering from a diving accident. We had to go for walks on the beach in the mornings, during which we found a lot of plastics and other garbage and cleaning beaches became part of our daily routine. Not much later, friends and other people joined and together we cleaned a natural well that was filled with plastics, we had to go there many times before it was completely clean. Interestingly, a large part of the garbage we find nowadays is from China, dragged by the currents to the other side of the Pacific Ocean.
“A large part of the garbage we find is from China, dragged by the currents to the other side of the Pacific Ocean.”
In what other ways do you contribute to healthier oceans?
When I was Secretary of the Sectorial Citizen Council of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, we developed a radio programme that was the voice of fishermen and other producers on the Galapagos Islands, with the idea to establish fair markets in a sustainable manner. When I left this position, I decided to dedicate more time to working together with the community of Santa Cruz Island on social and environmental issues.
We started a community initiative and in September of the year 2017, we organised our first beach cleanup as Frente Insular de la Reserva Marina de Galápagos on beaches and other places. Today, we have done approximately 150 cleanups, all of them are documented. Besides cleaning beaches, we want to increase people’s awareness by a radio programme called #GalápagosMiResponsabilidad and educational projects, among others.
Do you think that Marine Protected Areas contribute to healthier oceans?
The Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR) was established in the year 1998 and measures 133.000 km2. Before the GMR, there was another reserve that didn’t protect the islands’ marine waters in an effective manner – there is clear difference between before and after the GMR. For example, since 20 years industrial fishing boats cannot get close to the islands and only local, artisanal fishermen can fish in the reserve, and only under strict regulations. Because of the reserve we still have lobster, fish and other marine species, which forms a crucial resource for the islands’ inhabitants and an important support to tourism. Thanks to the GMR, we can enjoy the sea of the Galapagos for many more years, the reserve is like a long-term savings account.
On the other side, a lot of fish species migrate and pass the borders of the reserve, which is called the spillover effect. Industrial fisheries abuse this phenomenon by using devices that attract fish and lure them outside of the reserve, using the currents. At the border, the industrial ship the traceable device belongs to is waiting to take all the fish and other animals the device took with it. It is a way to manipulate the natural spillover effect, and would be a good reason to enlarge the GMR. I think Marine Protected Areas help to protected our resources, but they have to be managed in a good way.
“The Galapagos Marine Reserve is like a long-term savings account.”
Imagine that it is the year 2030. What would the ocean around the islands look like?
The Galapagos Islands will be the area that is least affected by plastic contamination in the world, because we are already more responsible and the awareness of the people will only increase. For example, since 2015, the islands’ inhabitants respect a restriction on disposable plastics. Moreover, in the year 2030 we will have even more laws protecting nature, more activities that help the environment and more commitment; the only garbage in our waters will come from abroad by ocean currents.
Beto, you’re an Ocean Witness now. What would you like to say to other Ocean Witnesses?
Let’s continue! We have to continue being the multiplier effect. We have been the subject of bullying, we have lived difficult moments, but we have to continue. I want to tell this to all people who one way or the other work in benefit of the planet. Because whether you live on the Galapagos Islands or in Australia, we’re all working towards the same thing: solving the oceans’ plastics problem. We have to work together now to solve this problem that we have caused ourselves. And nowadays, even selfies can help people sharing their message with the rest of the world.
And what would you like to say other people?
We all have to start acting now, also the people who are not aware about the problems plastics cause, who are not contributing to the solution yet. Not for themselves, but let’s do this for the future of our children. We’re just passing this gigantic amount of plastic garbage to them, as well as this culture of unawareness. It has to change, not just for the oceans or the planet, but for the future generations.
“We have to work together now to solve this problem that we have caused ourselves.”
Alberto Andrade is 45 years old and lives in Santa Cruz, one of the main islands of the Galapagos Islands. Born in a small city on the Ecuadorian coast, he moved to the islands approximately 30 years ago. After he discovered that tourism, an important livelihood for the inhabitants of the Galapagos, is not his field of work, he started to work as a fisherman. Because of his experiences on the ocean, he realized that plastics form a major problem for the planet. Today, besides his work as an artisanal fisherman, Beto guides environmental projects with the community of Santa Cruz Island and has a radio programme. Moreover, he contributes to an international blog about socio-environmental problems, sinalambrados.org.
If you would like to know more about Beto’s good work, please contact him by email.