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Galápagos Ecotourism and Management

Since the Galápagos Islands currently receive over 100,000 visitors each year, protective measures managing visitation and use of the islands and surrounding marine ecosystem have been implemented in order to sustain their ecological integrity. About nine-tenths of the archipelago has been set aside for conservation and scientific research. Specifically, 97% of the 7,800 km2 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.

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.

For residents of Galápagos, ecosystem management implies social and economic management as well. 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. Furthermore, mandates for protection of the Galápagos Marine Resource Reserve place limits on the size, number, and location of fish captured by local artisanal fishermen. 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.

For visitors, regulations pertaining to island conservation mean that visitation to the islands’ National Park territory is limited to about 50 sites, available only during daylight hours (6 a.m. to 6 p.m.) and subject to park rules and guidelines. Furthermore, in order to localize and monitor tourist impact at visitor sites, 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. Do not be disappointed if you cannot partake in these tourist activities.

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. Furthermore, 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.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to The Galápagos Islands: Planning your Galapagos Trip, Green Sea Turtle, Bravo Clinid, Galápagos Wildlife Guide, Blue-Footed Booby, Galapagos Cruises: What's Included?, Flightless Cormorant, Tourism in Mainland Ecuador, Buccaneer Cove and Yellow-Crowned Night Heron.

04 Jun 2007

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