China bans fishing off Galapagos Islands, after 260 Chinese boats strayed near UNESCO heritage site

China has banned its vessels from fishing off the Galapagos Marine Reserve from September to November, after Ecuador expressed concern over a massive fleet in the area.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin in a press conference on Thursday said that China and Ecuador have been “maintaining friendly communication through bilateral channels” on the matter.

Ecuador had expressed concern in late July over the presence of around 260 fishing vessels and urged them to keep away from the protected marine area.

But China has decided on a three-month fishing ban in the high seas west of the marine reserve that covers an area of around 133,000 square kilometres.

The Galapagos archipelago, located 1,000 kilometres west of Ecuador, is a fragile ecosystem that harbours the largest number of different animal species on the planet.

Chinese vessels travel to the region each year in search of marine species.

Chinese fishing vessels in 2017 were caught in the marine reserve with 300 tonnes of wildlife, most of it sharks.

The ex-mayor of Quito, Roque Sevilla, told The Guardian that a “protection strategy” was being designed for the islands.

“Unchecked Chinese fishing just on the edge of the protected zone is ruining Ecuador’s efforts to protect marine life in the Galápagos,” he said.

President Lenin Moreno has said that Ecuador will hold consultations with other Latin American countries with a coastline on the Pacific – Colombia, Peru, Chile, Panama and Costa Rica – in order to form a joint regional position concerning the “threat”.

“Because of that [natural] wealth in that area, we suffer immense pressure from international fishing fleets,” he said.

The Galapagos Marine Reserve boasts large numbers of shark species, including endangered whale and hammerheads.

The Galapagos Islands are a Unesco World Heritage site renowned worldwide for their unique array of plants and wildlife.

Charles Darwin made observations critical to his theory of evolution on the islands.