The Southwest Atlantic has one of the world’s richest marine environments. Myriad species depend on its health to survive, from marine mammals, such as dolphins, elephant seals and sperm whales, to sea birds such as penguins and albatrosses, along with sharks and many other species of fish. Nevertheless, the Southwest Atlantic is also one of the main global hotspots for illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing—which is closely linked to overfishing and human rights abuses.

Uruguay, the second smallest country in South America, plays a significant (and largely unwitting) role in overfishing and IUU fishing in the South Atlantic. Multiple reefer and IUU fishing vessels dock regularly in the port of Montevideo, many of them previously denounced or prosecuted by other countries because of IUU fishing, human rights abuses, and other illegalities. According to Global Fishing Watch, Montevideo is the second most visited port by reefers after transshipment—a practice used to hide IUU catch and human trafficking.

Thanks to a grant from Oceans5, Gaia is working with the Organización para la Conservación de Cetáceos (OCC – Organisation for Whale Conservation) to raise awareness about ocean health and the threats to Uruguay’s marine and coastal ecosystems. An 18-month project, led by Milko Schvartzman, marine conservation specialist and former Greenpeace campaigner, and OCC’s Director Rodrigo García, will also facilitate dialogue on IUU fishing solutions, with a view to fostering better port controls and promoting sustainable fishing.

Gaia’s partnership with OCC has been developing since 2012, when Gaia’s Fiona Wilton moved from Colombia to Uruguay. Passionate about healthy oceans, she witnessed first-hand OCC’s work on training marine and tourism operators, and engaging local schoolchildren to call for the country’s territorial waters to be a ‘Sanctuary for Whales and Dolphins’ (Law 19.128/ 2013) – a new approach to marine and coastal conservation in Uruguay.

“Ocean-grabbing’ – in the shape of shady access agreements that harm small-scale fishers, unreported catch, incursions into protected waters, and the diversion of resources away from local populations – can be as serious a threat as ‘land-grabbing” – Olivier De Schutter, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.

Overfishing and ocean-grabbing, however, are not the only threats to ocean health and marine biodiversity. Pollution and acidification of the oceans caused by chemicals, industrial effluents and waste pose great health risks on remaining marine life; while the extractive industries are pushing to mine in deep-sea ecosystems – as shown in this video by Seas at Risk, and other posts on the Yes to Life No to Mining website.


(Photo credit: ‘Jiggers 3’, Foreign fishing vessels at Montevideo Port. Photo by Milko Schvartzman.)