The Galapagos Islands are primarily known for their abundance of unique wildlife and as the place in which Charles Darwin's conducted the research that led to his Theory of Evolution. For those who explore the area on a Galapagos wildlife cruise, a visit to this fragile, fascinating chain of islands is a once-in-a-lifetime experience; but for more than 25,000 people, the archipelago is home. |
A Growing Population
Since the 1970s the population has increased greatly, with more than 75% of the current number having migrated from the mainland. Human occupation is restricted to an area that encompasses just 3% of the total land, with the vast majority living in the coastal towns on Santa Cruz, Floreana, San Cristobal and Isabela. A far smaller proportion (around 15%) lives in the more rural areas.
Most of the migration occurred for economic reasons, with a rapidly growing tourism industry and a declining standard of living on the Ecuadorian mainland. Before the implementation of the special immigration protocols in 1998, it was estimated that at the then-current rate, the population of the archipelago could double every decade. Since then, stricter controls have been put in place by the Ecuadorean government, which include a system of Transit Control Cards for all visitors coming into the area on Galapagos wildlife cruise itineraries.
Creating a Sustainable Society
Creating a sustainable society in a conservation area is not without its challenges, but the Conservancy of the islands is dedicated to the ongoing education of residents to "become champions of conservation". The aim is to encourage locals to look at subsistence through a different lens to that of mainland living. Rather than trying to recreate a lifestyle that relies heavily on imported produce, machinery and techniques that are at odds with the environment, it encourages locals to consider themselves "stewards of the archipelago", and live within a system more compatible with biodiverse preservation.
Education: the Key to the Future
Along with the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Ministry of Education, the Conservancy is working towards education reform designed to foster a strong sense of values and engagement. Their focus is on demonstrating examples of "best practice" to teachers and administrators first, with a view to transferring this to classrooms.
Sustainable Practices in the Community
Another area in which the Conservancy is active is in increasing the capacity of sustainable agriculture throughout the archipelago, by demonstrating alternative methods of farming and environmental management.
Introduced domestic pets present a grave danger to the local wildlife; the Conservancy's Humane Pet Management promotes responsible pet ownership and sterilisation in partnership with the Animal Balance organisation.
The local Foundation for Responsible Alternative Development (FUNDAR) believes the establishment of a strong civil society is imperative to the base of any social change in the archipelago. "Citizens must act together with a common goal in order for change to happen." While only a very small percentage of locals oppose the concept of sustainable development, in reality not much is understood about what it entails. They say it is an inter-generational process, which involves allowing residents to benefit in the "now", but in a way that also assures that future generations can benefit too.
The Responsibility of All
While there is still some way to go until the region becomes a truly sustainable society, everybody who visits can do their part to ensure that the values are upheld. For anyone visiting on a Galapagos wildlife cruise, this means respecting the National Park Code of Conduct at all times and not doing anything to upset the balance of the ecosystem.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in wildlife. For those interested in a Galapagos wildlife cruise, Marissa recommends the itineraries organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of species in one of the most spectacular regions on Earth.
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