Thursday, February 12, 2009
National Darwin Day
It's National Darwin Day so I feel I must post seeing how I've just been to the Galapagos. There are some nice things on the web I've noticed. Firstly I'm very impressed with Darwin on Twitter, and there are some nice articles on the BBC website, including this one with pieces of footage from the Galapagos. Of course the Galapagos feature prominently, touted that it was Darwin's observations of the Giant Tortoises and Finches here that influenced his theory of evolution. National Geographic however have published an interesting article saying that really it was his experiences in Argentina and a trove of fossils which gave him his initial musings. One of my photos is even being used to illustrate a story. Amongst all this news coverage however there are articles warning of the threat of tourism on this beautiful archipelago. Whilst it is still the best preserved in the World, if the tourism it is attracting continues the uniqueness of the Galapagos and its species will be lost forever.
I now feel a pang of guilt. I was one of those tourists, having been my dream for years to visit the Islands. My experience of tourism in the Galapagos was generally very positive. The guides were very clear as to how we should act - pulling people back if they strayed from the paths or too near the animals, making sure that only one or two boats visited an Island at any one point. It certainly didn't seem very touristy. Many of the Islands remain uninhabited, no shops, no cash points, no restaurants. We were hosed down every time we returned to the boat to ensure we didn't carry anything between the Islands and given talks on preservation and the impact of people, how measures were in place to ensure they were protected. Eco-education was the aim of this trip. But the figures are there: a four-fold increase in visitors in the last 20 years, and most worryingly an increase from 112 recorded alien species in 1900 to over 1,300 today. The aircraft cabins are sprayed before landing on Baltra but evidently some insects are getting through and causing havoc.
Shutting off the Islands to tourists could cause serious economic problems for Ecuador, but now it seems that a new balance must be found to ensure that the Galapagos remain as they should. I shamefully feel so lucky to have visited such an amazing place and understand first hand why it should be cared for.
1. Hood Mockingbird
2. Cactus Finch
3. A tourist boat in the Galapagos