Solid waste disposal
Lack of personnel and infrastructure
Lack of institutional capacity
Lack of personnel, infrastructure, and signs
Lack of institutional capacity
In Los Roques Archipelago National Park, management has focused on urban planning and tourist activities, without giving much attention to areas that are not related to tourism. Because of the different aspects that require state control or supervision, a great number of government agencies exist in Los Roques. Even though the duty of the Autoridad Única de Área (AUA) is to coordinate the functions of other organizations, hierarchies and responsibilities are not clear. Many of these organizations are dependencies of the Ministry of the Environment. However, assigned budgets are noticeably different, which interferes with their capability to adequately accomplish their obligations.
The AUA serves as a local government in charge of providing public services to the people of Gran Roque. Although this is only a small part of park management, it is considered the most important, obvious by the size and budget of this institution. Most of AUA's income (400 million bolívares per year) comes from tourist entrance fees and taxes paid by lodges and other concessions. On the other hand, INPARQUES receives insufficient funds (30 million Bolívares per year) from the central administration and very little income, if any at all, from other sources. In Los Roques, the AUA has 50 employees that work in Gran Roque. INPARQUES, however, has only 10 employees that are in charge of educational activities and guarding the entire park. This difference in administrative capabilities affects how well they perform their duties; for example, when garbage accumulation in recreation zones is compared to that in higher protection zones (see solid waste contamination).
Lack of personnel and infrastructure
The park has seven active park guards. Most of them are from other non-marine parts of the country and there are some who do not have the skills needed (swimming and boat navigation) to do their job well. A noteworthy exception to this is park guard Toribio Mata. For over 26 years, he has worked for INPARQUES, and he is the park's most experienced guard. One out of seven park guards stays at the Dos Mosquises guard post station. The rest remain at the main guard post in Gran Roque, while the Crasquí post is unmanned.
In addition, INPARQUES does not have enough boats for control and guard duties. Only one of three boats is in working order; the one recently donated be the AECI. The other two present have mechanical problems. The lack of boats, and the fact that not all park guards are capable of driving them, reduces the ability to guard the park and to detect environmental infractions.
Solid waste disposal
During our visit to the Integral Protection Zones of lower Canquí, upper Canquí, and Isla Larga, we noticed a large amount of garbage on the shore of these islands. However, on Sarquí Island, a Managed Natural Environment, we noticed that most of the garbage was inland. During the high tourist season, Sarquí Island is visited by a number of boats, even though it is not a recreational zone most air-travelers visit.
The garbage was mostly plastic waste, and bottles, cans of fuel and oil for outboard motors. Most of the items found in the waste were brands that are not commercially distributed in Venezuela. We believe that they are tossed by foreign boats visiting the park, those of tourists in their yachts and/or from cargo boats that buy fish in Los Roques and sell it to other Caribbean islands. It is also possible that some of the waste comes from other Antillean countries through marine currents to the coasts of Los Roques. Waste accumulates in these "protected" zones because cleaning efforts are not as frequent as in recreational zones. INPARQUES, which has less budget and personnel than the AUA, is responsible for cleaning of non-recreational zones.
We did not observe accumulated garbage either in the Francisquí Recreational Zone or in the Gran Roque Special Use Zone. This is due to the fact that concession owners are obligated to maintain clean islands, and also because tourist operators return the garbage generated by their tourists to Gran Roque. The AUA maintains a biweekly garbage collection program on the island and in other recreational zones. Garbage is sorted by its type (plastic, metal, paper) by the solid waste management program, and it is then either incinerated or shipped to the mainland depending on its type. In the past, garbage was sorted by collectors before it was taken to the incinerator, now, it is sorted onsite at the incinerator plant. We must take into consideration the fact that ParksWatch-Venezuela visited the park during the low-tourist season. The efficiency of solid waste management should also be verified during the high season.
Gran Roque Island has inadequate wastewater management. Household septic tanks do not have adequate control and are not cleaned regularly. In 1999, an investigation done by the Environmental Quality Division of the Ministry of the Environment, determined that certain Gran Roque Island beaches presented bacteria, fungi, and fecal bacteria densities above legal permissible limits. During the rainy season, investigators that work in the park have reported foul odors. One of the park guards told us the foul odors spread because ill-maintained septic tanks filter out when the water table rises. It is necessary to evaluate if sewage management in Gran Roque could be affecting the park's marine ecosystem or the island inhabitants.
The over-fishing of certain highly sought after species has seriously affected these populations even before the archipelago was decreed a national park. The queen conch (Strombus gigas) and lobster (Panulirus argus) are the most affected species, producing over 90% of the nation's total production in 1987 (Posada & Álvarez 1988). Studies carried out by Los Roques Foundation determined that almost 70% of the extracted queen conchs were juveniles and the adult population had decreased by 17.6% (Posada & Álvarez 1988). As a result of these studies, the fishing season for the gasteropod has been closed indefinitely since 1991.
Regardless of the prohibition, queen conch fishing has continued illegally. This has caused animosity between INPARQUES and some fishers who on one occasion attacked the park guards and biological station personnel. The enormous mountains of shells on Isla Fernando, La Pelona, Cayo Sal, and Carenero, among others, are evidence of the scale of queen conch extraction. From April through November, when the lobster season is closed, queen conch poaching intensifies (Matos 2000). In two hours, up to 700 conchs can be captured (Posada & Álvarez 1988). Similarly, while lobster is protected during its reproductive season, fishing is still a common activity, including that of small fish, also prohibited by law (Yallonardo 2001).
Fishing in restricted zones is one of the most frequent violations in the park. Also, fishers usually do not report their entire catch to the fisheries authority (currently SARPA). In 1987, research determined that the harvest of fish for that season was 1,316,327 kg, and only 277,062 kg of these were reported (Posada & Brunetti 1988). Most of the illegal commerce of the fish catch occurs in Aruba, Curacao, and Bonaire where prices are better, which explains the reason why fishers do not report their total catch. There is also illegal harvesting of other species. In 1996, a ship bound for Japan with a 500 kg sea cucumber cargo valued at US $150,000, was confiscated in Los Roques.
In regard to the sea turtles that live in the park, Guada & Vernet (1992) estimated that 500 sea turtles are poached annually. A recent study determined that humans poach 30% of the nests laid by the four species of sea turtles that nest in the park (De Los Llanos 2002).
The 2001 census performed by the AUA determined 1,209 people were living in Los Roques. Even though there are no other censuses of equal quality, it is possible to deduce a temporary growth out of the age structure of the population. Most of the population (54%) is under 28 years of age and almost 30% is under 16 (AUA 2001). An important part of the population is between 28 and 40 years of age (22%) who have lived in Los Roques less than 10-years (AUA 2001). Apparently, they were attracted by the availability of jobs promoted by the tourist industry since 1990.
Due to the lack of space for urban growth and the imminent collapse of already deficient public services, population growth is in itself a threat. Crowding is common and about 40 families are homeless. Before the end of the year, 24 of these families will receive a home (AUA 2002). If migratory and reproductive tendencies continue, in the next five years the demand for space will increase dramatically.
Tourist industry growth
Because of the income generated by tourism in the last 10 years, INPARQUES and AUA have expressed a desire to develop tourist activities in Los Roques. Informal comments from both institutions express an interest to increase the number of lodges and to even allow access to currently restricted zones. Nevertheless, the ecological and economic effects of an increase in the number of lodges in the park have not been evaluated.
Tourist accommodations in Gran Roque
The tourist industry is practically monopolized by Aerotuy. Its airline is used by 49% of the tourists; 43% foreign tourists and 23% Venezuelan tourists stay in its lodges (10% of total), and 33% of the national tourists buy tour packages in Aerotuy's travel agency. The park's economy must be studied before the number of lodges is increased. In this way, predicting whether or not more lodges will benefit the park and/or the people of Gran Roque can be evaluated without risk. It is possible that many lodges already do not receive enough money throughout the year. If this were the case, the solution would be to evaluate the cause of unequal demand of lodges, not to build more.