Endangered tourism: the Galapagos Islands

This article is part of a continuing feature on sustainable travel, where we’ll be discussing endangered destinations as well as those reconstructed and beyond hope.

Today’s focus: The Galapagos Islands. These small, diverse islands have come a long way since since Darwin landed the HMS Beagle on their shores in the early 1800s. In recent years the tourism industry has boomed, spurning unhindered commercial growth and reckless expansion into the country’s infrastructure. Combined with poor management by the Ecuadorian government, the Galapagos are edging closer to their breaking point.

As I mentioned in the parent article, Graham Watkins and Felipe Cruz released a paper earlier this year reviewing the wealth of ecological and socioeconomic data that have recently become available on the islands. What they find is rather striking; the volume of invasive species, the greatest threat to the Galapagos’ ecosystem, has exponentially grown in the past years. As they plainly state, “The number of registered introduced species in the archipelago in 2007 is 1,321, 10 times more than the 112 species registered in 1900.” Yikes.
So what can we do about it? I won’t tell you to not go to the islands, but think hard about how and why you want to go. If you decide to visit, try to frame your journey from an ecological and socioeconomically beneficial standpoint. Support the community. Visit, learn about and preserve the fragile ecosystem that is shrinking every day. Don’t go because you want to go hang gliding or base jumping in an exotic destination; supporting that type of tourism in such a fragile location only fuels irresponsible growth, competition and detriment in the economy.

As they are, the Galapagos Islands are one of the last remaining ecological destinations in the world. You’ll see creatures and plants unlike anything you’ve ever seen when you visit – fish in colors and shapes that you can’t imagine, trees that climb up, over and around the landscape. Someday, lets hope that some day our grandchildren and great grandchildren can enjoy their beauty as well.