Let’s call him Marco. Marco came from outside the moutainous city of Quito to work on a boat as a ‘pepinero’ (a sea cucumber fisherman) back in 2003 (though it is illegal to hire outsiders as fishermen). He had never been diving before, but the other fishermen gave him a crash course. He stuck the regulator in his mouth and went underwater for a number of hours (some fishermen dive more than 8 hours in one day) searching for Stichopus fuscus. Marco made fast ascents (more than twice as fast as the recommended rate), stayed underwater way too long, and got really cold. He also suffered severe decompression sickness. On May 1st, the sea cucumber season opened. On May 2nd, Marco was looking not unlike the purple sea cucumbers he caught (see photos). He had become paralyzed from the waist down and was brought to Gabriel Idrovo, the doctor who runs the local hyperbaric chamber, for treatment. He recovered.
Photograph of ‘Marco’s’ decompressed torso courtesy of Dr. Idrovo
Most decompressed fishermen would go straight back to the sea, but Marco decided he would no longer dive and instead took a position cooking the sea cucumbers on the back of the boat. One evening, while stirring the tub of pepinos, the gas tank exploded and took all of the skin off of both of Marco’s legs. He went to the hospital where the wounds got further infected. Two weeks after his first visit, he was back in the office of Dr. Idrovo for more hyperbaric treatment for burns. Again, he recovered.
Yesterday, the local fishermen marched on the National Park premises demanding alternatives to fishing. Marco now owns a motorcycle company. He is the reason for all the crotch rockets whizzing around town. Are these the ‘alternatives’ everyone is so keen on? Get out of fishing, out of diving, out of resource extraction (or maybe just into sportfishing). Get into tourism. Motorcycles. T-shirts. Many fishermen are dive guides during the off-season. The talk to their clients about the marine reserve, they point out the bright yellow supermale groupers, and then, on their week off, they spearfish the same supermales and sell them back at the dock.