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Galapagos Ecology and Ecotourism

The Galapagos Islands may look rough and harsh, but the numerous ecosystems found on each of the islands are, in fact, very fragile. Inadvertant damage or the introduction of a new species can devastate a timeless island environment. Because the islands get over 100,000 visitors every year, some steps have been taken to preserve the islands.


How are the Galapagos Islands Being Protected?

  • 97% of the 7,800 square kilometers total land area of the archipelago has been protected as the Galapagos National Park (GNP) since 1959 and managed by the Galapagos National Park Service, a specialized governmental arm of the national forestry, protected areas, and wildlife agencies created in 1968.
  • Legal protection was extended to the water in 1986 with the declaration of the islands’ adjacent seascape as the Galápagos Marine Resource Reserve.
  • Since the passing of the Special Law of the Galapagos in 1998, the area extending 40 miles beyond island territory has also been protected, patrolled, and managed by the Galápagos National Park Service.
  • Population size on the four colonized islands—Santa Cruz, Isabela, San Cristobal, and Floreana—is controlled through strict migration policies regulating the number of permanent residents and limiting the stay of temporary residents (tourists, volunteers, and workers from mainland Ecuador and abroad) to six months.
  • Mandates for protection of the Galápagos Marine Resource Reserve place limits on the size, number, and location of fish captured by local fishermen. Foreign fishermen (and even ones based on the Ecuadorian mainland) are not allowed to fish in Galapagos.

 Has the International Community gotten involved in the preservation of Galapagos?


The importance of preserving the ecological dynamics of the Galápagos Islands has also been prioritized and supported on the international scale. The Galápagos were declared the world’s first Natural World Heritage Site in 1978 and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1984. The Galápagos Marine Resources Reserve is now the second largest marine reserve in the world, after the Great Barrier Reef National Park in Australia.


Are these steps working to protect the Galapagos environment?


Unfortunately, despite progressive legislation and a participatory political framework, the impacts from human populations and illegal fishing—especially sea cucumber and shark-fin harvesting for lucrative Asian markets—continue to be significant challenges to conservation.


How will these measures effect my Galapagos trip?


The regulations mean some inconveniences for Galapgos travelers. The restrictions aren't major, and hopefully they'll help keep the islands prisinte for future generations. Here's what to expect:

  • Visitation to the islands’ National Park territory is limited to about 50 total sites, available only during daylight hours (6 a.m. to 6 p.m.) and subject to park rules and guidelines.
  • The park service charges foreign visitors $100 to enter the Galapagos. This money goes towards conservation efforts and park service costs.
  • Navigable and day cruise ships may not deviate from the itineraries specifically approved for them by the National Park Service.
  • Park rangers and naturalist guides will insist that tourists refrain from eating, drinking alcoholic beverages, and smoking on the islands, touching, feeding, chasing, and/or photographing animals with flash, removing any item—living or dead—from the islands, and venturing off the trail or away from the tour group.
  • Water-skiing and jet-skiing are prohibited due to their considerable environmental impacts, and recreational fishing is restricted to those boats that have legally purchased catch permits from operational artisanal fishermen.

What role does tourism play in the management of the Galapagos Ecosystem?


By following the guidelines established by the GNP, visitors will promote a standard of nature tourism that maintains the majestic appearance and wildlife abundance—as well as the overall ecological integrity—of the sites visited, which are among the most spectacular within the archipelago.

Visitors serve as an important link in the conservation strategy of the Galapagos: tourism promotes income generation in an environmentally benign way and generates sustainable ecological consciousness and understanding. Educating tourists about natural history and the interconnectedness of humans and the environment in the Galapagos spreads a localized message of conservation that can be promoted on a larger scale.

The challenge to tourists is to adapt their Galapagos experience to their own lifestyles by continuing to support conservation initiatives financially and communicating their impressions to others.


Are the new laws and controls working?


The efforts to save Galapagos are paying off. The damage to the islands has been significantly slowed and in some cases reversed. Here are some success stories:

  • Invasive rats were eradicated from North Seymour Island in 2008.
  • Feral goats, once considered the worst of the introduces species, have been eradicated on Santiago, Española, Floreana, Northern Isabela and other islands.
  • The boundaries of the park are colosely monitored to prevent settlers from encroaching on park land.
  • The Floreana mockingbird became extinct on Floreana Island itself and only survives on two offshore islets, but there are plans to remove the factors that destroyed the original population and re-introduce it to Floreana.

There have been many other success stories, but the park authorities must maintain constant vigilance to prevent further damage to the island ecosystems. Be sure to do your part!

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to The Galápagos Islands: Herons and Egrets in the Galapagos, Green Sea Turtle, Sally Lightfoot Crabs, Fish in the Galápagos, Lava Heron, Galápagos Adventure Tours, Lava Lizard, Where to Book a galapagos Trip, Galápagos Ecotourism and Management and Punta Cormorant - Floreana Visitor Site.

By Christopher Minster
I am a writer and editor at V!VA Travel guides here in Quito, where I specialize in adding quality content to the site and also in spooky things like...
26 Oct 2009

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