Galapagos Islands – Delicate Balance (13.03.15)
This time of the year – World Wildlife Day (3 March) – always provides an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the many beautiful and varied forms of wild fauna and flora across the planet.
Working in travel and tourism one knows all too well how important it is to raise awareness of the natural world and its many species, so as to enhance their existence as well as to promote the multitude of benefits that conservation provides.
This year’s focus remains on endangered species, as we struggle to understand and engage with the world of organised crime against wildlife. The consumption of animal products threatens the existence of so many endangered species.
In addition to crime, there are many other factors affecting the long term sustainability of many differing wildlife regions across the globe.
One of these threatened environments is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Galapagos Islands. The main threat comes from human intervention as the local population and economy expand at a rapid and altogether unsustainable rate. The demand on the islands’ natural resources and the build up of waste is due to the growing local population and rise in tourism numbers. Which in turn was one of the main reasons the Galapagos islands were named, in 1978, one of the first World Heritage Sites.
The increase in population contrasts with most of the islands’ history, as they were largely ignored by the human race until Charles Darwin published his journal and remarks in 1839, followed by ‘Theory of Evolution’. Jump forward 1¾ centuries and you find that today they are championed as one of the planet’s most exciting ‘nature experience’ holidays, and most pleasant Pacific island destinations to live.
Fascinating, remote and like nowhere else on earth, the Galapagos Islands offer an eco-system that has developed uninterrupted for millennia, thanks to its location. Positioned just over 900kms from Ecuador’s west coast, today the islands rely on tourism for the delicate management of their biological marine reserves, national parks and indigenous species.
As ever the balance between tourism and the sustainability of safeguarding such a wilderness area remains fine. For example, when I first visited the Galapagos seventeen years ago, I was immediately drawn in by the almost unnerving calmness of the local fauna. As we drove from the airport to town, I saw a giant seal lying on a park bench, then another lolling against a bus shelter – for all the world as if waiting for No. 31 to Queens Park to appear at any minute.
From that moment on I was spellbound by the wildlife, as much as the raw beauty, ruggedness and range of varying island landscapes. At Nomadic Thoughts we suggest a cruise of at least a week, allowing for the opportunity to fully appreciate the great range of natural experiences. The job of choosing the appropriate cruise boat is also not to be taken lightly, as the enormous distances between islands is compounded by a powerful sea swell, equatorial temperatures and the necessity for a local understanding of the environment.
We choose both our vessels and our knowledgeable crew, including resident naturalist and environmentalists, extremely carefully. Knowing ‘how to go’, is as important as ‘where to go’ among the 21 islands, 100+ rocks and islets.
Seeing the range of flora and fauna options is one aspect, understanding the unique eco-environment is another. In order to maximise your island experience, expert advice, guidance and stewardship is essential.
After all, the list of local residents is as formidable as it is forthcoming, with more than 1,300 species found nowhere else in the world: marine iguana, land iguana, dolphins, penguins, lava lizards, the odd snake, geckos, seals, sea lions, whales and the giant Galapagos tortoise to name but a few. In addition there are 27 varieties of birds, including all of Darwin’s finches, pelicans, frigatebirds, gulls, albatrosses, flightless cormorants and the lovable blue-footed boobies. None of which have a natural fear of mankind, often approaching with the same familiarity as if you were family.
A well-planned and sensitively executed visit to the Galapagos invites you to become as much a custodian of the islands as a merely voyeuristic visitor. In today’s world of endangered species and fragile environments, it is Albert Einstein’s words that should ring out louder than ever:
“If a man aspires to a righteous life, his first act of abstinence is from injury to animals”.