Photo by Jose Aragones on Unsplash A lizard is perched atop a stop sign for boats posted on a Galapagos Islands shore.

Ecuador’s navy is keeping a close watch on a 260-vessel Chinese fishing fleet that is currently operating in international waters off the coast of the Galapagos Islands.

The Galapagos Islands, which served as inspiration for 19th century British scientist Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, are home to a wide variety marine wildlife as well as turtles, flamingos and albatrosses.

Defense Minister Oswaldo Jarrín noted that Ecuador is on alert due to the Chinese fishing fleet that is located near the Exclusive Insular Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Galapagos Islands .

“If they know how the borders are established at sea, according to Convemar, they will not enter. And if they enter, what happened in 2017 will happen–they will be seized, for that we have part of the Ecuadorian Naval Fleet , which is made up of corvettes, coast guards, and planes” said Jarrín, according to the Ecuador Times.

Chinese fishing practices caught the attention of the Ecuadorian public three years ago when a Chinese reefer was caught within the Galapagos Marine Reserve with about 6,000 frozen sharks on board- including examples of the endangered hammerhead shark.

Although it appeared that the sharks had been caught far out at sea, the transportation of dead sharks is illegal in the Galapagos Marine Reserve.

Ultimately, the Ecuadorian courts fined the vessel $6 million and sentenced the captain to four years in prison.

“Unchecked Chinese fishing just on the edge of the protected zone is ruining Ecuador’s efforts to protect marine life in the Galápagos,” said former Quito mayor Roque Sevilla, speaking to MercoPress.

Today the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo issued a statement in support of Ecuador deploring over-fishing by Chinese fleets in sensitive waters.

“The Ecuadorian government has (raised the alarm) about the hundreds of PRC-flagged vessels fishing near Ecuador’s important Galápagos marine reserve and harvesting endangered sharks for their fins”.

“The USA firmly supports Ecuador’s efforts to ensure PRC-flagged vessels do not engage in illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and we stand with States whose economies and natural resources are threatened by People’s Republic of China-flagged vessels and their disregard for the rule of law and responsible fishing practices.”