Off the northern part of Peru’s coast, where the warm Tropical Equatorial Current and the cold Humboldt one meet, is an area of unique biodiversity. The ocean teems with fish, mammals, and birds, including South American sea lions, Humboldt penguins, frigatebirds, and Galápagos fur seals. Some of the fish and corals here live nowhere else; researchers are still finding species that are new to science.
Foca (Seal) Island sits squarely in this confluence of currents. Its 200 acres are home to 35 species of birds, some of which (Peruvian pelicans, wedge-tailed storm petrels, and others) breed only on the island. (A spectacular documentary about the island can be found on YouTube.)
Just 800 meters away is the village of La Islilla. Many of its residents make their living fishing with traditional gear from small wooden boats and rafts. However, large vessels from outside the area scoop up fish of all kinds and sizes and throw back whatever they can’t sell. As a result, local fisherman say, the fish are disappearing.
To counter this threat, the community will protect a large marine area. Only local people, using artisanal methods, will be allowed to fish. Local groups have created a plan for monitoring by private and government patrols, especially north of the island, where illegal fishing is concentrated.
Working with the NGO Nature and Culture International, Seacology is funding a visitors center. Several hundred tourists come to La Islilla each month and take the short boat trip to the island, but receive no information about this remarkable environment. The center will offer interpretive materials as well as artwork and crafts made by local women. Local youth, who have few employment opportunities, will be trained to become knowledgeable guides, helping tourists value the environment. The building will also store equipment that is used to monitor the protected area.