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Galapagos Marine Patrols Gain Speed on Seafaring Outlaws; WWF Overhauls Boat to Protect Marine Life

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A former U.S. Coast Guard cutter, overhauled and refitted by World Wildlife Fund, began patrolling the waters of the Galapagos today as the first National Park Service vessel fast enough to outrun and catch poachers at sea.

With the arrival of the 95-foot-long Yoshka, national park officials, "finally have the means to catch poachers and combat the illegal fishing that threatens the outstanding marine life of the Galapagos Islands," said Lauren Spurrier, managing director of WWF's Galapagos program. "This boat is faster than anything else out there."

Park patrols protect wildlife within the marine park from illegal activities like shark-finning or industrial fishing for highly-valued fish, and destructive fishing practices like longlines that kill non-target wildlife. Previously, outlaws eluded park patrols by outrunning them at sea. "That's about to change," Spurrier said.

"Illegal fishing is a serious threat in the archipelago, so we're really grateful for WWF's support in rebuilding the Yoshka," said Raquel Molina, director of the Galapagos National Park. "With the Yoshka patrolling the park, we'll be better able to monitor activities and enforce laws within the reserve. We know that laws are not being followed; in the past two years, we've seized more than 23,586 shark fins and 668,892 sea cucumbers illegally fished inside the Galapagos Marine Reserve."

A vessel with a colorful history -- as the USS Cape Knox it saw action during the Cuban missile crisis and played a key role in transporting refugees to Miami during the Cuban refugee exodus of 1965 -- the Yoshka was owned by the Sea Shepherd Society and on loan to the park in 2004, but it badly needed extensive repairs. WWF secured funding for the needed repairs and improvements and brokered an agreement under which the society subsequently donated the cutter to the Galapagos National Park Service.

Overhauled in dry dock at Guayaquil, Ecuador, the Yoshka can now reach a top speed of 22 knots and navigate for seven to 12 days without having to return to refuel, enabling law enforcement officials to extend their patrols to the park's outer areas.

As a protector of the archipelago where unique species inspired Darwin's theory of natural evolution, the boat was christened the Yoshka in honor of a donor's Russian family member who loved nature.

The Galapagos Marine Reserve is the third largest reserve in the world, encompassing an area roughly the size of New York State. A stunning number of animals live on and around the Galapagos, and many of these are found nowhere else on Earth. In the waters of the Galapagos, some 300 species of fish swim with seven species of sharks, rays, turtles, penguins and marine iguanas above a vast array of urchins, sea cucumbers, crabs, anemones, sponges and corals. The archipelago is home to some of the largest colonies of seabirds anywhere in the world.

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