The Future of Galapagos
The so-called 'Enchanted Islands' of Galapagos have been an enduring source of intrigue since Charles Darwin published his famous work, On the Origins of Species, in 1859. This volcanic archipelago supports an array of plant and animal life that has uniquely adapted to its environment, and Darwin's observations and subsequent theories changed the way scientists, geologists and naturalists looked at the world forever.
After many decades of decimation of the resident species (particularly the tortoise) at the hands of pirates and whalers, the region was designated a National Park in 1959. Today, nature tourism is a thriving industry and the archipelago is one of the most sought after wildlife watching destinations in the world. For those who visit the islands on Galapagos holidays it is quite often the fulfilment of a lifelong dream.
What of the Future?
While organised Galapagos holidays create an increase in awareness of the region's conservation efforts (which can only be a positive thing), the prospect of more visitors also has the potential for heightened risk to the delicate ecosystem. So what are the measures in place to protect the vulnerable species of flora and fauna, and what does the future hold for the archipelago?
Removal of Invasive Species
Over the past few centuries, the introduction (both accidentally and purposely) of mice, rats, certain insects, cats and goats have caused a huge amount of damage to the ecosystem and physical landscape of the archipelago. Measures are in place to eradicate invasive species and, already, there are a number of islands from which goats have been removed entirely. Local researchers and rangers plan to transform the islands back to their original state with the elimination of all the introduced species, one by one.
Better Management of the National Park
While the park service is committed to the conservation of the islands, they also need to work hand-in-hand with sustainable ecotourism operators. One of the most recent changes is to the length of cruise cycles for organised Galapagos holidays. The increased cycle length means vessels visit the significant sites less often in a period, therefore reducing the impact without a reduction in the quality of the experience. Park management has a number of other initiatives mapped out for the future, which are designed to further protect the delicate ecosystem of the islands.
Increased Conservation of All Species
In a reflection of the diligence of local rangers, conservationists and the researchers and scientists of the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF), many of the plant and animal species of the archipelago are in a far better situation than they were just a few decades ago. The most high-profile success story is that of the Espanola Giant Tortoise, which has been nurtured from fewer than 15 in the 1960s to a population of several thousands today.
Project Floreana is just one conservation project seeking to "restore the island's (Floreana) ecosystems to their earlier, more natural state through a combination of community-based conservation and adaptive management." The five-year plan is targeting some of the island's most vulnerable species (including the close-to-extinct Floreana Mockingbird), by re-establishing self-sustaining populations.
More and more local residents of the islands are becoming involved in ecotourism efforts as expert guides or in accommodation and hospitality. The management of the National Park Service and the CDF recognise that this kind of public involvement is critical to nurturing a shared vision of a sustainable conservation blueprint for the future of the archipelago.
Good News for the Future
The implementation of Project Floreana and numerous other initiatives is contributing to the establishment of long-term environmental and economic sustainability throughout the region. For anyone planning Galapagos holidays in the future, the news is all good.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in the unique wildlife of the Galapagos Islands. Marissa chooses the expert-led Galapagos holidays organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of wildlife in one of the most spectacular regions on Earth.
Writer and Online Marketing Manager in London.