A month ago we told you about some significant changes to the rules of travel in the Galapagos Islands that will go in effect in 2012. In a nutshell, the new regulations say that a ship cannot visit the same island twice within a 14-day period, which will likely have an impact on the available itineraries that are currently being offered to visit the place. While the intent of that story was to inform travelers of these changes and how they could impact any future plans to visit the Galapagos, the article failed to mention exactly why these changes are being made.
As most travelers know, the Galapagos are a unique and very special place. Located approximately 525 miles west of Ecuador, they are home to a large number of plant and animal species, many of which aren’t found anywhere else on the planet. Those creatures include several types of sea turtles, the flightless cormorant, warm water penguins, and a marine iguana that actually dives under the ocean to capture its prey.
The Islands were famously visited by Charles Darwin, aboard the HMS Beagle, back in 1835, and his observations of the endemic plant and animal life there led to his groundbreaking work The Origin of Species. The Galapagos are like a fantastic, living laboratory, offering Darwin, and other researchers that followed, an opportunity to observe the way animals adapt to their environment in a natural setting that is unlike any other on the planet.Because of the diversity of plants and animals on the Islands, UNESCO designated the Galapagos as a World Heritage Site in 1978, and in recent years it has become a popular tourist destination. So popular in fact, that the number visitors has begun to threaten the fragile environments of the Islands, which were amongst the most pristine, well preserved wildernesses on Earth. In an effort to ensure that they stay that way, the Ecuadorian government has instituted the new travel rules to help prevent over crowding and to spread tourist traffic more evenly across the 19 islands that make up the chain.
It should be noted that while these new regulations will force tour operators to change their itineraries, and in some cases the way they do business, the announcement has been met with universal applause. By prohibiting vessels from visiting the same location twice in a two week period, they are also limiting the size of the crowds on an island on any given day. This makes the experience all that much better for the visitors, while keeping the impact on the environment to a minimum as well.
While doing some research on this topic, I corresponded with several tour operators, and it quickly became clear to me how much they loved the Galapagos. Each of them remarked about how happy they were to see these regulations put into place and how it would help preserve the Islands for future visitors to enjoy as well. This is an example of how sustainable tourism can allow us to continue to visit the spectacular places of our planet, while also protecting them from harm. As avid travelers, I’m sure that is something that we can all get behind.