Operation Aquatic Iron Dust Storm

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society ship Farley Mowat arrived in the Galapagos Island National Park Marine Reserve on June 22nd, 2007, after a long voyage from Melbourne, Australia.

The intent of the voyage was to stop briefly in the Galapagos for fuel, provisions, and crew changes, and then to carry on to the Panama Canal before heading north to Iceland to intervene against illegal Icelandic whaling activities.

However, two factors have intervened to convince us to make a change in plans and to delay our campaign to Iceland.

The first and most important factor is the emergence of a new threat to the entire Galapagos ecosystem and the second is the development of a contractual relationship between Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and the government of Ecuador.

General Bolivar Cisneros Chief Commander
National Police, Captain Paul Watson,
and Colonel Teresa Carranza
Commander Environmental Police

Never before has a non-governmental organization (NGO) entered into a signed agreement to partner with a federal policing agency to investigate, intervene, and enforce both international and national conservation law. On July 5th, 2007, Sea Shepherd Founder and President Captain Paul Watson and Chief Commander of the Ecuadorian National Police General Bolivar Cisneros Galarza jointly signed a document in Quito , entitled "Convenio de Cooperacion entre la Policia Nacional del Ecuador y Sea Shepherd Conservation Society." The contract was witnessed and signed by Dr. Juan De Dios Parra Sepulveda, the secretary general of the Latin American Association for Human Rights.

This document now allows Sea Shepherd to work in cooperation and partnership with the National Police Force and the National Environmental Police Force to uphold the Special Law for the Galapagos and to uphold the laws protecting Ecuadorian National Parks and the Environment of Ecuador.

In addition, Sea Shepherd has signed agreements with Amaznor and Selva Vida Sin Fronteras to help protect the Amazon pink dolphin in Ecuador .

This alliance with government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Ecuador is a major responsibility that has been given to Sea Shepherd and is the result of seven years of our effort working with the Galapagos National Park (GNP) to uphold the Special Law for the Galapagos. Special thanks for this must go to Sea Shepherd Ecuador and Galapagos Director Sean O'Hearn-Gimenez and Mariana Almeida, executive president of JUNGLE- Life without Frontiers.

This new agreement binds us even closer to our long-term objectives in the Galapagos and motivates us to address an urgent and imminent threat to the entire Galapagos ecosystem.

An unwelcome ship is presently heading towards the Galapagos to conduct a dangerous experiment in carbon storage by illegally dumping 100 tons of iron dust into the sea in an area 350 miles west of the Galapagos.

In June, the 19 Galapagos Islands and the Galapagos Marine Reserve's (GMR) inscription was changed by UNESCO to a World Heritage Site in Danger.

Despite this, a company called Planktos Inc., (a for-profit enterprise calling itself an eco-restoration company, based in San Francisco in the United States with offices in Vancouver , Canada ), has targeted the international waters west of the GMR as the area to conduct experiments in seeding the oceans with iron dust to accelerate the production of phytoplankton.

Sea Shepherd along with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF), the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and the Galapagos National Park (GNP) are concerned that this experiment represents a threat because of possible unknown effects it could have on marine life and other ecosystems in Galapagos.

Planktos Inc. does not have an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), which guarantees that no harm will be done to the GMR. The CDF has publicly expressed its concern for this unnecessary and risky venture.

This activity is not lawful under U.S. law - specifically the U.S. Ocean Dumping Act - and for this reason, the company will be using a non-U.S. flagged vessel and will be transhipping the iron dust from a foreign port outside of the U.S. Because the iron dust is material that originates from the U.S. , the company will still be in violation of U.S. law.

Pictured above is Planktos' flagship the Weatherbird II

The objective of the experiment by Planktos Inc. is to seed the oceans with the iron dust to stimulate phytoplankton blooms, the microscopic marine plants that soak up the energy of the sun to convert carbon dioxide in organic matter and in that way supposedly slow down global warming.

Planktos CEO
Russ George

With the U.S. EPA not approving the Planktos plan, there is cause for legitimate concern. Planktos CEO Russ George (a former Greenpeacer) says U.S. regulations should apply only when a firm dumps levels of a substance that are one percent or more above the level considered toxic.

The EPA in a submission to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), of which both Canada and the U.S. are members, urged other countries to scrutinize the project, stating that, "Planktos was not able to provide the EPA with any information ... (on) the potential environmental impacts" of the plan. In particular, the EPA cites the possibility that the project would lead to toxic algae blooms, and that the decomposing plankton masses would release other greenhouse gases or choke off the oxygen supply in the deep ocean. Russ George replied, "The world has spent the last 20 years and more than 100 million dollars" developing the science behind the plan. He added that the plan would not only draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, but by restoring dwindling plankton levels, it would help reverse the acidification of the ocean, a climate-change-related process that is killing the planet's coral reefs.

Examples of a phytoplankton bloom and individual
phytoplankton (top right: diatoms; bottom right: dinoflagellate)

That claim is disputed by the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology, which said the absorption of increasing amounts of carbon dioxide is the main cause of ocean acidification in the first place.

"Sea Shepherd views this plan by Planktos Inc. as a scam to take money from corporations in return for carbon credits earned for lowering carbon emissions supposedly to slow down global warming despite the fact that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that this will work," said Captain Paul Watson, founder and president of Sea Shepherd. "Sea Shepherd's primary objective is to investigate and intervene against activities that are in violation of international conservation law and protect ocean ecosystems."

Admittedly, this is an experiment to see if it will work but Sea Shepherd is opposed to experimentation that may have negative consequences for marine ecosystems. Sea Shepherd doesn't believe in playing dice with marine ecology.

This activity, according to CDF, worries the international scientific community because the potential environmental impacts of the project are unknown. "The 'iron hypothesis' was first suggested by John Martin, an oceanographer at the Moss Landing Marine Laboratory in California , who died before his idea could be properly tested," according to the British newspaper The Independent on May 3rd, 2007.

Stuart Banks, an oceanographer with the CDF, has expressed concerns that the unique ocean current system influencing Galapagos could move the iron dust into and around the GMR. Banks said, "Surface flow would transport most of the surface iron initially to the west. Although a proportion would be metabolized rapidly by surface blooms pushing eastwards, a proportion may sink and return to the reserve in the opposing equatorial undercurrent or via the north equatorial current in the surface, then back down through Galapagos.

"Unknown effects could come into play upon normal microbial processes and create possible toxic effects upon fish and other animals living in the open seas rather than exclusively near land. The phytoplankton/ zooplankton groups at the dust release site could be damaged as well. Another fear is that the presence of iron dust could imbalance the natural oxygen's levels in the sea, causing serious problems to some marine life.

"Isolated iron dust seeding will probably generate short-lived phytoplankton blooms that are ineffective given their objective to improve CO2 sequestration in deep water. Just constitutive release of trace iron as found with natural processes such as along shore, or wind-driven upwelling support high productivity systems over time", according to Banks."

The CDF researchers fear that large events offshore potentially may deplete nitrates and phosphates otherwise metabolized where those natural upwelling processes (and their dependant communities) occur, causing imbalance and impoverished systems in other places.

The CDF has questioned if it is worth the risk to be experimenting with one of nature's greatest and best-preserved treasures. The CDF also believes, (and Sea Shepherd concurs), that without an EIA to validate this experiment taking place so close to Galapagos there is more to lose than to gain.

Planktos Inc. claims that this project will enhance the environment and that iron fertilization programs such as that being undertaken by Planktos Inc. have claimed wide-ranging benefits although these claims have not been proven and are based on an incomplete understanding of how carbon fixation and retention are regulated in the open ocean, of the pivotal role played by hydrodynamics, climatic fluctuations, and nutrients other than iron in controlling the development and subsequent degradation of phytoplankton blooms.

This problem is the type of situation that Sea Shepherd was founded to address. As noted in the preamble to the London Convention, all States have the responsibility under international law to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.

The United Nations World Charter for Nature goes even further in stating that all states, non-governmental organizations, and individuals have a responsibility to uphold international conservation law both within and outside of areas of national jurisdiction.

The plan by Planktos Inc. is a violation of U.S. law if the material dumped originates from the territory of the United States . The objective of Sea Shepherd in this case will be to secure evidence of the material for forensic examination, to secure evidence of the material as it is being dumped into the ecosystem, and to identify using GPS the exact coordinates of the dumping of the material. Sea Shepherd may also utilize obstructive tactics to prevent the illegal dumping of the material into the ecosystem.

A forensic examination will also determine the chemical composition of the material to determine if the iron dust is pure iron or if it also contains other toxic materials that could be harmful to marine life.

The plan by Planktos Inc. is a violation of the London Protocol and of international regulations that prohibit ocean dumping.

Sea Shepherd's primary objective is to investigate and intervene against activities that are in violation of international conservation law.

Plan of Action

Sea Shepherd already has a ship in the Galapagos in addition to a patrol vessel that was donated by Sea Shepherd in 2000 to the Galapagos National Park . The ship is crewed by volunteers and more volunteers may be able to join.

The ship can monitor the movements of the Planktos Inc. vessel and can intercept the vessel in the planned area of deployment 350 miles west of the Galapagos.

Sea Shepherd has extended invitations to representatives of the IUCN, WWF, CDF, the U.S. EPA, the Ecuadorian National Environmental Police, the Ecuadorian Navy, the Galapagos National Park , and other interested parties to participate in the voyage to observe and to collect evidence of the Planktos Inc. activities.

Sea Shepherd will work in cooperation with all the participating bodies to work out a more detailed plan of action acceptable to all participating organizations.

Sea Shepherd will also document and publicize the activities to educate the general public concerning the operation and the potential damages such an operation could cause.

This coordination must take place immediately because of the imminent deployment of the iron dust in waters close to the Galapagos Marine Reserve.

Sea Shepherd will investigate the possibility of criminal charges and/or a civil suit against Planktos Inc. in the United States .

The one hundred million dollars that is being spent on this dangerous sci-fi venture could be better spent on converting the entire energy infrastructure on the Galapagos to solar power and the replacement of all fossil fuel powered vehicles on the islands with electric cars. Sea Shepherd will be submitting to the Ecuadorian Ministry of the Environment a proposal to solarize the islands.

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Reports from the IUCN and the Galapagos National Park

Report from the IUCN to the International Maritime Organization (IMO)

London Convention Scientific Group
30th Meeting (LC/SG 30)
18-22 June
Regulation of CO2 sequestration
Submitted by IUCN

Summary:  Fertilization of the oceans to stimulate phytoplankton growth using micro-nutrients such as iron in order to sequester CO2 is the subject of increasing commercial interest, despite major outstanding questions about its effectiveness, its impact on marine ecosystems and potential feedback loops that could serve, inter alia,  to exacerbate the effects of climate change. No international forum has yet considered rules to ensure that ocean fertilization activities to sequester CO2, including in high seas areas, are effective and do not create hazards to human health, harm living resources and marine life, damage amenities or interfere with other legitimate uses of the sea. Such a forum and a process could be provided through appropriate guidance from the London Convention and Protocol, accompanied by regulations by States to control the activities of their citizens and nationals and of ships flying their flag and ships leaving their ports. First, however, extensive research and discussion at the global level are necessary to address many of the open scientific and legal questions regarding the effectiveness and potential environmental impact of open ocean fertilization activities for CO2 sequestration purposes and responsibility for controlling related activities.

Action requested: See paragraph 11.


1. Increasing concern over the impacts of climate change is driving quests for new technologies to sequester greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide in the ocean and seabed. The Parties to the London Protocol have recently amended Annex I of the London Protocol to enable sequestration of CO2 in sub-seabed geological formations under carefully controlled and regulated conditions. They have also agreed to foster further scientific research and monitoring to assess its long-term effectiveness as a sequestration mechanism and its environmental impacts.

2. Fertilization of the oceans to stimulate phytoplankton growth using trace nutrients such as iron is another proposed method to sequester CO2 from the atmosphere into the oceans. Despite years of research, there are still many doubts about its potential effectiveness[i] and significant concerns regarding its potential impact on marine ecosystems and potential feedback loops that could serve, inter alia, to exacerbate the effects of climate change.[ii] According to recent studies, it is questionable whether such fertilization could substantially contribute to fixing carbon in the ocean, and the effect might well be temporary, in particular in tropical areas.[iii]  According to the May 2007 summary report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on potential mitigation measures: "Geo-engineering options, such as ocean fertilization to remove CO2 directly from the atmosphere, or blocking sunlight by bringing material into the upper atmosphere, remain largely speculative and unproven, and with the risk of unknown side-effects."[iv]


3. Yet there is increasing commercial interest in this process. There is now at least one commercially operated pilot research project underway and growing interest by several other similar newly-formed small companies in using iron fertilization activities to sell carbon offset credits.[v]

4. As reported in the New York Times on 1 May, the first commercial project was to have started in early May 2007 when the WeatherBird II, a 115-foot research vessel operated by Planktos Corp., was to have left its dock in Florida to head out to the South Pacific near the Galápagos Islands . According to the New York Times and the company website, the ship plans to dissolve tonnes of iron over a 10,000-square-kilometer patch (2,912 square nautical miles) in the high seas of the Eastern Pacific. Over the next two years, the company plans to conduct six discrete pilot studies of moderately large-scale pelagic iron fertilization. In addition to the Eastern Pacific off the Galapagos Islands, other candidate sites include locations off Moorea and Hawaii .  Each of this project's six studies will be, in the company's own words, at least one to two orders of magnitude larger and last four to six times longer than any of the 10 previous international research efforts in this field[vi] (emphasis added).

5. The company Planktos is already offering carbon credits generated through iron-stimulated plankton blooms in the oceans and afforestation projects in Europe (www.planktos.com ). According to their website, they sell offsets from these projects to individuals and businesses that are looking to reduce their carbon footprint. Other companies such as Climos (www.climos.com) are also involved in iron fertilization commercialization efforts.

6. IUCN recognizes the importance of scientific research to find methods to reduce the impacts of climate change. Nevertheless, it also believes that commercial activities, including those conducted at the research and pilot levels, involving the intentional deposit of substances to change the marine environment should be guided by provisions no less stringent than those under the London Convention and Protocol to enable a balanced consideration of the potential benefits as well as the potential impacts.


7. No international forum has yet considered rules to ensure that ocean fertilization activities to sequester CO2 are effective and do not create hazards to human health, harm living resources and marine life, damage amenities or interfere with other legitimate uses of the sea.  As noted in the preamble to the London Convention, all States have the responsibility under international law to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.

8. Such a forum and a process could be provided through appropriate guidance from the London Convention and Protocol, accompanied by regulation at the State level of the activities of their citizens and nationals and of ships flying their flag and ships leaving their ports. This is particularly appropriate bearing in mind that Contracting Parties to the London Convention are to individually and collectively "promote the effective control of all sources of pollution of the marine environment" (article 1) and under the London Protocol, shall "protect and preserve the marine environment from all sources of pollution" (article 2).


9. First, however, IUCN suggests that extensive research and discussion at the global level are necessary to address many of the open legal and scientific questions. Unanswered scientific questions regarding the effectiveness and potential impact of open ocean commercial fertilization activities include, for example:

  • Will artificial iron enrichment actually result in a flux of organic carbon to the deep ocean?
  • If it does, would it stay there and if so, how long will it stay in the ocean before it is returned to the atmosphere?
  • Will additional organic material flux to the deep ocean cause a significant reduction in the dissolved oxygen concentrations as this organic material decays? What would be the significance for deep-sea marine life of a decline in deep ocean oxygen levels?
  • What are the other potential impacts on the benthic communities living on or in the sediments?
  • What would be the impacts of iron fertilization on natural (seasonal) planktonic bloom patterns and dynamics? Will any increased phytoplankton growth occur at the cost of planktonic blooms in other areas?
  • What would be the impacts of iron fertilization on higher levels of the food chain? Could this improve the production of fish, change fish species composition, or decrease fisheries in general, both in the short and long-term?
  • Will iron fertilization dramatically alter the nature and function of the ocean marine food chains, especially if iron fertilization was done on a semi-continuous basis?
  • Will the increased phytoplankton, if any, resulting from iron fertilization cause regional weather and climate modifications by increasing cloud reflectivities through the enhanced emission of sulphur-containing gases, which result in production of sulphate aerosols?
  • Will the increased phytoplankton, if any, result in an increase in the greenhouse effect through, e.g., the release of methane and nitrous oxide, and will the increased production of halogen-containing gases also possibly result in reduced ozone?
  • Will the absorption by plankton of solar radiation, which drives photosynthesis, have a substantial warming effect on the ocean surface, and if so what will be the effects, e.g., on mixing, oxygen concentration, and the viability of the organisms living in this warmer surface layer?
  • Will the addition of iron cause any other long- or short-term changes in ocean chemistry in the project area or other areas?

10. Important legal questions that will need to be addressed include:

  • Does the placement of iron in any form for the purposes of inducing phytoplankton blooms qualify as dumping under the London Convention and Protocol? Article III (1) (b)(ii) (London Convention) and Article I (4)(.2)(.2) (London Protocol) states that "placement of matter for a purpose other than the mere disposal thereof does not qualify as "dumping" under the Convention/Protocol, "provided that such placement is not contrary to the aims of this Convention"/Protocol.
  • Who is to make the judgment, required under Article III (1) (b)(ii)(LC) and Article I (4) (.2)(.2) (LP), that ocean fertilization is or is not contrary to the aims of the Convention/Protocol, i.e., "is liable to create hazards to human health, to harm living resources and marine life, to damage amenities or to interfere with other legitimate uses of the sea" (Article 1 London Convention), and "harm to living resources and marine ecosystems, hazards to human health, hindrance to marine activities, including fishing and other legitimate uses of the sea, impairment of quality for use of sea water and reduction of amenities "(London Protocol Article 1(10) and Article 2). The operator, the flag state, the port state, the State party, the Scientific Group, the Consultative Meeting of the Convention and/or the Meeting of Contracting Parties of the Protocol?
  • What is the role of civil society, parties and non-parties to the London Convention and/or Protocol with respect to activities that may affect the high seas global commons?
  • Who is responsible for damage to the marine environment from, e.g., oxygen deprivation, suffocation, nutrient depletion, acidification, etc., should such damage occur?
  • Who is responsible to the global community and coastal states should the process in fact exacerbate warming of the oceans and atmosphere, or provoke other modifications of regional weather through, e.g., effects on clouds, and hence worsen the impacts of climate change?

11. Action requested:

IUCN requests:

  • The Scientific Group to initiate, on a priority basis, scientific studies to determine what further action is necessary to bring commercial open ocean fertilization projects under appropriate scrutiny and control.
  • The Scientific Group to immediately bring to the attention of the Parties to the London Convention and to the Protocol the urgent need to ensure that ongoing and future commercial fertilization activities, including in high seas areas, are swiftly brought under international and domestic regulation and that related commercial research and pilot projects are subject to appropriate scrutiny and control in line with the aims, duties and provisions of the London Convention and Protocol.
  • The Scientific Group to immediately bring to the attention of the Parties to the London Convention and to the Protocol the urgent need for legal studies to determine what further action, if any, is necessary to bring ocean fertilization projects under appropriate scrutiny and control and to ensure that commercial ocean fertilization projects are subject to assessment, permitting, control and monitoring procedures as are activities considered to be dumping under the Convention and the Protocol.

Experimental Project Worries Galapagos National Park Authorities/ Proyecto Experimental Preocupa a las Autoridades del Parque Nacional de Galápagos

PRESS RELEASE  PR.C.P002.R004 - 23/05/2007

The experiment is intended to be done with the Weatherbird II launching Experimental project raises concern among PNG Officials.

The Galápagos National Park (entity in charge of managing and administering the two protected areas of the Galápagos Archipelago), is concerned with the US Company Planktos and its plans to experiment in waters near the Galápagos Marine Reserve. For this reason the park has been examining data to stop the Planktos experiment, which could affect the fragile ecosystems of the Galápagos Islands , declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Planktos Inc., along board their ship the Weatherbird II, pretends to mitigate global warming by dumping iron nanoparticles over an area of 10,000 square kilometers, with the goal to create plankton blooms able to absorb carbon dioxide form the atmosphere sending it to the bottom of the ocean.

This action, according to various scientist and oceanographs at the international level, could have unpredictable consequences for ocean ecosystems.  These individuals have attested to the fact that Planktos's experiment is scientifically dubious, environmentally dangerous and capable of altering marine food chains.

A report from the Scientific Group of the London Convention, released by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), states that according to years of heavily weighted investigation, there exist serious doubts regarding the effectiveness of these methods for capturing carbon. The report also expresses its concern that these experiments could harm marine ecosystems and have possibly negative environmental impacts as well as possible negative secondary effects for those involved in the project.

The Galápagos National Park has not received any official declaration from those responsible for this experimental project or from anyone at the Planktos Company. The information here within was obtained from various press and from Planktos's webpage, which promotes their experiment.

Furthermore, the exact geographic position or the exact date for the Planktos experiment is unknown at this time. However, Planktos's webpage advertises that the experiment will take place 100 kilometers west of the archipelago. Nevertheless, Galápagos National Park Technicians are still concerned that currents, which approach the coast of the Galapagos Islands , will carry the experiments contents (Iron).

BOLETÍN DE PRENSA PR.C.P002.R004 - 23/05/2007

Con la embarcación Weatherbird II se pretende realizar el experimento.

Proyecto experimental preocupa a autoridades del PNG

El Parque Nacional Galápagos, entidad encargada del manejo y administración de las dos áreas protegidas del archipiélago, se encuentra preocupado ante las intenciones de la Empresa estadounidense Planktos In, de realizar un experimento cerca de las aguas de la Reserva Marina de Galápagos, por lo que ha interpuesto oficios a diferentes instancias a fin de obtener información exacta y detener este experimento que podría afectar a los frágiles ecosistemas de las islas Galápagos, declaradas Patrimonio Natural de Humanidad por la UNESCO.

Planktos Inc.  usando la embarcación  Weatherbird II,  pretende descargar nano-partículas de hierro sobre un área de 10 mil km2, con la finalidad de crear un florecimiento de fitoplancton que absorba el dióxido de carbono de la atmósfera y lo envíe al fondo del océano , teóricamente con el propósito de mitigar el calentamiento global.

Esto, según varios científicos y oceanógrafos a nivel internacional, tendría efectos impredecibles en los ecosistemas marinos; califican a este experimento, que altera la base de la cadena alimenticia marina, como científicamente dudosos y ambientalmente peligrosos.

Un informe del Grupo de Científicos de la Convención de Londres, emitido por la UICN (Unión Mundial por la Naturaleza), indica que pese a años de investigación, existen serias dudas sobre la eficacia de este método de captura de carbono, y expresa su preocupación por el impacto en los ecosistemas marinos y posibles efectos secundarios opuestos a los buscados.

El PNG hasta el momento no ha recibido ningún pronunciamiento oficial por parte de los responsables de este proyecto experimental, ni de los líderes de la empresa. La información recolectada ha sido obtenida por diversos medios de prensa y de la  página web de la compañía Planktos In, que está promocionando tal acontecimiento.

No se conoce la posición geográfica ni fecha exacta en la que se realizará el experimento; sin embargo, en la página web de la empresa Planktos In, manifiestan que será a cientos de kilómetros al oeste del archipiélago, pero para los técnicos del PNG,  es preocupante  que las corrientes que bañan las costas de las islas Galápagos traigan consigo la sustancia.

Proceso de Comunicación - Parque Nacional Galápagos - Ecuador

Para mayor información, escríbanos a: comunicacion@spng.org.ec, o visite www.galapagospark.org Oficina Isla Santa Cruz , Pto. Ayora, Telefax: (593)05-2526189/511/190, Casilla Postal: 17-24-1154, png@spng.org.ec

Oficina Técnica San Cristóbal , Pto. Baqeurizo Moreno, Tel./Fax.: (593)05-2520138/0497, cristobal@spng.org.ec mailto:png@spng.org.ec

Oficina Técnica Isabela, Pto. Villamil, Tel: (593)05-2529178, isabela@spng.org.ec mailto:png@spng.org.ec

Oficina Técnica Floreana, Pto. Velasco Ibarra, Tel: (593)05-2529509, floreana@spng.org.ec mailto:png@spng.org.ec