As one of the most unique places on the planet, the Galapagos Islands attract thousands of nature lovers every year, who come to explore its diverse landscape and experience an encounter with the wildlife. Every person who embarks on a Galapagos wildlife cruise, or indeed visits in any capacity, has a responsibility to help maintain its delicate eco-system. |
Travel with a Responsible Operator
Supporting sustainable tourism in the archipelago starts with choosing a reputable operator with whom to travel. It's important to check the background and "green credentials" of the operator to ensure that their Galapagos wildlife cruise itineraries promote responsible practices.
Follow the National Park Rules
The archipelago is a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site, and the National Park Directorate has set in place 14 rules that everyone who tours the region on a Galapagos wildlife cruise is asked to respect.
The rules cover stipulations such as travelling only with authorized operators and guides, and remind visitors that the law strictly protects the local wildlife. Beyond the legalities, however, it's up to each individual to follow through and understand that their choices and actions while in the archipelago have far-reaching effects.
Foods, plants, and animals: It is very important to the balance of the eco-system that no foreign food, plant or animal matter is brought in to the area. Visitors should commit to fully co-operating with quarantine officials during any inspections or requests for information.
Souvenirs: Unfortunately, some unscrupulous vendors may try to sell souvenirs made from banned substances. These include items made from lava rock, animal parts, shells, black coral or native wood. Under no circumstances should these be purchased, as the practice is illegal. Visitors have an obligation to report any instances if they are approached to buy such items.
Leave No trace: This is one of the most basic rules of travelling sustainably, and it's even more important in a pristine and remote environment like this. It entails aspects like removing or recycling any rubbish and the prohibition of smoking or the lighting of fires.
Wildlife: The governance of the National Park covers not just the environment, but also the resident wildlife. The rules state that humans must maintain a distance of at least six feet from animals at all times, even if they approach. The feeding of wildlife is strictly prohibited and flash photography is not allowed. (Professional photography and videography must be pre-approved by the park directorate.) While the animals can be incredibly bold and curious, it's important to remember that wildlife is, and should remain, wild.
Keeping the environment pristine: Any motorised aquatic tourism practices are not allowed (although diving and snorkelling are permitted in designated areas). Aerial activities are also prohibited in the region.
A Vision for the Future
Over the past decade, the conservation of the islands has been buoyed by numerous strategies to extend the protection of both the terrestrial and the marine landscape, including the banning of commercial fishing and the creation of the Marine Reserve. In addition, authorities have changed the law to prevent opportunistic non-residents from profiteering: it’s now required that a person lives in the islands for five years before being allowed to apply for residency and start a tour business. Another caveat to establishing a tour business is that "half of all money earned by the local tourist industry must be reinvested into conservation initiatives."
Sustainability is Everyone's Responsibility
For anyone fortunate enough to enjoy the trip of a lifetime on a wildlife cruise in Galapagos, it's vital to understand and respect this astounding place for what it is: one of the most unique places on the planet and a virtual living laboratory to be preserved at all costs.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in the Galapagos Islands. 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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