Shark Day: 10 years celebrating the importance of protecting sharks and their habitat

Celebrating 10 years of Shark Day in San Cristóbal.
Authors: Victoria Castro and Karina Vivanco
Editing: Kelly Weaver
On Saturday, July 15th, over 520 people dressed in blue to celebrate Shark Day on San Cristóbal Island, an annual event dedicated to educating the local community about the importance of protecting and caring for these fascinating marine animals. Shark Day is organized by the Galapagos Science Center (GSC) and the Galapagos Conservation Trust (GCT), thanks to the collaboration of the Rufford Foundation, Migramar, Galapagos Shark Sky, and Golden Galapagos. For a decade, this celebration has brought together the local community and marine life enthusiasts in an effort to promote shark conservation and protect their habitat. “The Shark Day event is more than just a celebration; it’s an occasion that brings us closer to the community, sharing knowledge and experiences. An open window to the unknown that marvels us with the beauty of the ocean and invites us to become agents of change. As a science center, we understand the importance of creating spaces that foster interest and commitment to social and environmental issues. Providing these opportunities is our responsibility; together, we seek solutions to preserve this invaluable treasure,” said Leidy Apolo, Community Outreach Coordinator at GSC.
Students from “Unidad Educativa San Cristóbal” at Shark Day stations.

10 years celebrating the existence and importance of sharks.
Sharks face constant threats such as illegal and incidental fishing, which endanger their existence. Their disappearance would have devastating consequences. The oceans would lose their balance, fisheries would collapse, and millions of people – whose livelihoods and way of life depend on them – would be severely affected. For this reason, scientists from the GSC and GCT joined forces to create an event that raises awareness about the importance of sharks in marine ecosystems. That’s how this initiative started 10 years ago, and it has become one of the most emblematic outreach projects on the Islands. “We are dispelling some myths. We encounter people who perceive sharks and rays as the villains of the story. Events like this allow us to inform and demonstrate that this is not the case. Sharks have much to offer in terms of tourism and other beneficial services for our community. Promoting this awareness is crucial to us, and we believe we are making a positive impact on the community,” said Diana Pazmiño, researcher at GSC and professor at USFQ. 

Over the years, this initiative has grown in scope and participation, becoming an eagerly awaited tradition both for the local community and for visitors to the island.

Several participants visit the “Test Your Memory” station.

The “Hermandad” Marine Reserve allows the protection of species along the migratory route of the Cocos Ridge, which connects the Galapagos Islands with the coasts of Costa Rica, passing through Cocos Island. 
In 2022, a significant breakthrough in ocean protection occurred when Ecuador officially expanded the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR) by 60,000 km². This expansion includes 30,000 km² where all fishing extraction is prohibited and another 30,000 km² where longline fishing is not allowed. Prior to the expansion, the GMR already protected 138,000 km² of ocean. This measure ensures the preservation of oceanic ecosystems, migratory routes, and feeding areas for endangered marine species, thus guaranteeing a sustainable future and contributing to the maintenance of the planet’s natural balance. “Through collaborative work with the Galapagos National Park, we have studied shark movements, genetic connectivity, and key habitats like mangroves, which are crucial for the development of offspring. By applying this scientific data, we have renewed the Galapagos Marine Reserve and made international contributions to the conservation of these species. Learning fearlessly and understanding the importance of sharks helps us in protecting this fascinating animal,” added Maximiliam Hirschfeld, a researcher at GSC.

Map of the expansion of the Galapagos Marine Reserve and the new "Hermandad" reserve.

The main objective of Shark Day is to debunk myths about the dangerous nature of sharks and promote their conservation. 
The primary goal of Shark Day is to spread awareness about the protection and care of these magnificent marine predators, involving the community. Through various resources and informative and recreational activities, the aim is to dispel myths and negative stereotypes about sharks and highlight their importance in maintaining the balance of marine ecosystems. Additionally, the adoption of sustainable fishing practices and the conservation of marine habitats are promoted to ensure the survival of these species. “As researchers working with sharks, we greatly value the increasing understanding and support we have experienced from the community towards their conservation. Over the years, we have witnessed a significant increase in the participation of children, youth, and entire families in our events and educational programs,” added Diana Pazmiño, researcher at GSC and professor at USFQ.

Children of San Cristóbal get involved in shark conservation.

The tenth edition of Shark Day was a significant celebration that brought together many people to promote shark and marine life conservation. 
In commemoration of its 10th anniversary, the event offered a wide range of exciting and educational activities to immerse participants in the fascinating world of sharks. From exhibitions on the anatomy and behavior of these marine predators to presentations of scientific research projects, a unique opportunity was provided to learn and appreciate the importance of these creatures. Additionally, the presentation of the story “Marti, the Hammerhead Shark” and the captivating performance by the Kasari Dance Group inspired the community to highlight the beauty of sharks and emphasize their fundamental role in marine ecosystems. “The protection of sharks is a collective effort, where various organizations come together to plan and carry out this event. From creating educational content to providing resources for the well-being of attendees, every form of participation is equally important. Researchers, teachers, students, and community members all contribute from their different spaces to achieve our common goal: promoting the protection of sharks and marine ecosystems, both in the Galapagos and around the world,” added Leidy Apolo, Community Outreach Coordinator at GSC.

The community comes together to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Shark Day.
Through educational talks, interactive activities, and cultural events, valuable information about these marine predators has been disseminated, inspiring the community to take concrete actions for their conservation. While there is a growing commitment to protecting sharks and their habitat, it is acknowledged that there is still much to be done. It is essential to continue promoting conservation and education about these animals while implementing stricter measures to combat illegal fishing and ensure the survival of these species in the future. As a community and as visitors, our commitment to the protection of sharks and their habitat must extend beyond a single day and become a daily task to ensure their long-term preservation.
Kasari Dance Group.

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In 2022, the Galapagos Science Center (GSC) and the broader UNC & USFQ Galapagos Initiative will celebrate its 10th Anniversary. We are proud to announce the World Summit on Island Sustainability scheduled to be held on June 26–30, 2022 at the Galapagos Science Center and the Community Convention Center on San Cristobal Island.

The content of the World Summit will be distributed globally through social media and results documented through papers published in a book written as part of the Galapagos Book Series by Springer Nature and edited by Steve Walsh (UNC) & Carlos Mena (USFQ) as well as Jill Stewart (UNC) and Juan Pablo Muñoz (GSC/USC). The book will be inclusive and accessible by the broader island community including scientists, managers, residents, tourists, and government and non-government organizations.

While the most obvious goal of organizing the World Summit on Island Sustainability is to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the GSC and the UNC-USFQ Galapagos Initiative, other goals will be addressed through special opportunities created as part of our operational planning of the World Summit.

For instance, we seek to elevate and highlight the Galapagos in the island conservation discourse, seeking to interact with other island networks in more obvious and conspicuous ways to benefit the Galapagos Islands, the UNC-USFQ Galapagos Initiative, and the world. We will seize the opportunity to further develop the I2N2 – International Islands Network-of-Networks. Further, we wish to highlight and emphasize multiple visions of a sustainable future for the Galapagos Islands and we cannot do this alone. Therefore, engaging the Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Tourism, the Government Council of Galapagos, the Galapagos National Park, and local Galapagos authorities, including government and non-government organizations and local citizen groups, is imperative.

The Galapagos Science Center on San Cristobal Island, Galapagos

Borrowing from Hawaii’s and Guam’s Green Growth Program and the Global Island Partnership, we wish to examine existing global programs that emphasize island sustainability and their incorporation into life, policies, and circumstances in the Galapagos Islands. We will also seek to enhance our connections with the institutional members of our International Galapagos Science Consortium and expand the Consortium through the recruitment of other member institutions. We will also work to benefit islands and their local communities by working with citizen groups as well as important NGOs who seek to improve the natural conditions in the Galapagos and diminish the impact of the human dimension on the future of Galapagos’ ecosystems.

Lastly, we will use the World Summit to benefit UNC & USFQ and our constituencies through a strong and vibrant communication plan about the World Summit, creating corporate relationships as sponsors, identifying funding goals through donors, and benefiting our study abroad program for student engagement in the Galapagos Islands. We plan to develop and issue a Galapagos Sustainability Communique after the World Summit that includes the vision and insights of all its participants for a sustainable Galapagos with applicability to global island settings.

We are eager to hear your perspective and have you join us at the World Summit on Island Sustainability!