Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, England on 12 February 1809. Twenty-six years later he was plying the waters of Galapagos aboard the H.M.S. Beagle gathering information on flora and fauna (15 September-October 1835). At that time, Galapagos had no permanent human residents. For many years, the Islands were simply a stopover for seal hunters, whalers and buccaneers, who kept goats on the islands as a readily available food source for the next time they passed through. During this time, the famous Galapagos tortoises were also considered an ideal food source. They could be stacked alive on the ship for months at a time, ensuring fresh meat for as long as they survived. In fact, galapago means saddle in Spanish, and the Islands get their name from the shape of the shell of the Saddleback tortoise. Darwin visited San Cristobal, Floreana, Isabela and Santiago, but never set foot on Santa Cruz, now the most populated of the Galapagos islands.
If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature,
but by our institutions, great is our sin. –Charles Darwin
Generally, people think of the Galapagos as a pristine place with unique plants and animals. Though much of the islands remain relatively undisturbed, there are also thriving communities with more people than one might expect. As of 2005, there were an estimated 27,000 people living on the islands. Four islands are inhabited. Santa Cruz, the most populated island, is where the majority of the tour boats begin their excursions. The capital of the Galapagos is Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal, the second most populated island. Isabela has approximately 2000 people and Santa Maria, more commonly called Floreana, has an estimated 80 people. Ninety-eight percent of the population is from mainland Ecuador and two percent is from other countries. The population growth continues to average approximately 6.4% per year with everyone living on ~116 square miles out of a total terrestrial area of ~4,960 square miles.
Over the years, tourism in Galapagos has dramatically increased. In the early 1960s, 2,000 tourists visited Galapagos and, according to the Galapagos Conservancy, in 2008, there were more than 173,000 visitors. Since 1991, the number of tourists visiting the islands has grown 9% each year. The Galapagos tourism sector, originally offering smaller nature-based Darwin type tours, has developed into a multinational cruise ship and adventure tourism industry. These days there are also ships holding up to 500 passengers that ply the Galapagos waters. In the last fifteen years the tourism industry has increased its income 14% each year. The estimated total value of tourism coming into Galapagos is $418.8M, with only, 15.5% of the full value of tourism reaching the local resident. The eight largest boats received half of the total gross income coming in for all of the tour boats combined. Without available credit, business development training and ongoing assistance, it is extremely challenging for local residents to own and operate a successful tour business.
In 2007, the Galapagos was placed on UNESCO’s (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) list of world heritage sites in danger. The challenges the Galapagos face are complex and multi-faceted and will need to be approached using an interdisciplinary strategy, which simultaneously considers economic, social and conservation needs.
Once, we separately asked twelve of our Puerto Ayora (from the largest populated island of Santa Cruz) high school-aged soccer players, if they knew what the Charles Darwin Foundation did? Only one player said that he knew they did something related to science and conservation and the others had no idea. I wonder what Charles would say? The long-term future of Galapagos really lies in the hands of the future generations living on the islands.
It always makes me happy to see that some of the blog entries receiving the most hits are Final Fiesta Day and Los Kioskos (both about the culture of Galapagos), indicating that people are also interested in Galapagos’s human side. Improving the Galapagos K-12 educational infrastructure and implementing consistent long-term environmental, science, language, technical trade and micro-enterprise skills programs will result in a more environmentally conscious community and skilled workforce. As Senegalese naturalist Baba Dioum said, “In the end we will protect only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.”
How paramount the future is to the present when one is surrounded by children.
Boersma, P.D., H. Vargas, and G. Merlen. 2005. Living Laboratory in Peril. Science, Vol. 308, Issue 5724, 925 (13 May).
Epler, B. 2007. Tourism, the Economy, Population Growth, and Conservation in Galapagos. Charles Darwin Foundation: Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, Galapagos. Accessed online on 12 December 2009. http://www.galapagos.org/2008/index.php?id=97
Galápagos Connection: Darwin in Galapagos. Accessed online on 12 December 2009. http://www.galapagosconnection.net/page_darwin.html
Kerr, S., S. Cardenas, and J. Hendy. 2004. Migration and the Environment in the Galapagos: An Analysis of economic and policy incentives driving migration, potential impacts from migration control, and potential policies to reduce migration pressure. Wellington: Motu Economic and Public Policy Research.
Ospina, P. and C. Falconi, ed. 2007. Galápagos: Migraciones, economía, cultura, conflictos y acuerdos. Quito: Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar, Programa de Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo, Corporación Editora Nacional.
Watkins, G. and F. Cruz. 2007. Galapagos at Risk: A Socioeconomic Analyis. Galapagos Conservancy. Accessed online 10 December 2009. http://www.darwinfoundation.org/files/library/pdf/2007/Galapagos_at_Risk_7-4-07-EN.pdf