Conservation efforts and institutions that protect the Galapagos Islands
The Islas Galapagos (official Spanish name of the Islands), as they came to be known in nearby South America after their discovery, had enjoyed millions of years of isolation in the Pacific Ocean until one fateful day in 1535. Almost completely by accident, a Panamanian priest called Fray Tomas Berlanga stumbled across the islands when his ship was blown off course on the way to Peru.
From the moment of their discovery, the Galapagos islands were never to be the same again. The unique and tame wildlife described by the Fray was subjected to hundreds of years of destruction and decimation by hungry pirates and greedy whalers. The natural balance of the islands was irreversibly affected forever.
However, the isolated and unique evolution of the Islas Galapagos still held many secrets, which were to prove vital in the research of British scientist Charles Darwin in the 19th century. What he discovered there was fundamental to his theory of evolution, one of the most important discoveries in the history of science.
As a result of Darwin’s work, interest in the islands increased. Following the publication of a book by American naturalist William Beebe called ‘Galapagos: World’s End’ in the 1930s, the first laws were decreed to protect the islands. However, these laws were difficult to enforce and had little effect.
It wasn’t until 1959, on the 100th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s original thesis on evolution, ‘The Origin of the Species’, that the world finally woke up to the need to protect these remarkable islands. The Charles Darwin Foundation was established and the Islas Galapagos were finally afforded official protection under the Ecuadorian national park system.
Since then the islands have been well-protected by a loyal team of conservationists. The environment is maintained and protected as much as possible from the harmful effects of man, for the first time since they were discovered half a millennia ago.
Visits to this unique National Park are allowed, but you must be part of an organized Galapagos tour, be at all times in the company of a licensed naturalist guide and follow the Park rules strictly.
The Galapagos Islands are one of the most magical places on earth. Here animals live without fear and do not run away from visitors. To maintain the uniqueness of the Galapagos Islands the National Park Service has developed rules to aid in the preservation.
Guides explain and enforce these rules making sure that visitors stay together on marked paths and respect the follow the other park service regulations:
The Charles Darwin Research Station conducts and facilitates research in the Galápagos Islands and the Galápagos Marine Resources Reserve of Ecuador. The Darwin Station is part of the Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galápagos Islands, an international non-profit organization dedicated to scientific research in the Galápagos Islands since 1959.The Darwin Station provides:
With a constantly changing environmental, political and commercial situation in the Galapagos, and an environment so unique it’s not found anywhere else on earth, the need for conservation is urgent and ongoing.
The Charles Darwin Foundation, Inc.
The oldest private scientific research institution in the islands, the Charles Darwin Foundation has been working in the Galapagos since 1959.
Their goal is to provide the decision-makers with the scientific knowledge that they need to make the best possible conservation policies for the islands.
The Charles Darwin Research Station
The research station, located in Puerto Ayora, is the main operations center for the Charles Darwin Foundation.
It is here that most of their projects are based, although, with over 50 land and marine conservation projects active at any one time, their work is carried out in various locations across the islands.
The Galapagos Conservation Trust
The Galapagos Conservation Trust is a British registered charity set up in 1995 to raise awareness of the need for conservation in the Galapagos.
Affiliated to the Charles Darwin Foundation and a member of the international network of Friends of the Galapagos, the Conservation Trust continues to raise money to fund vital land and marine conservation in the islands.
The Galapagos Coalition
Made up of a dedicated group of biologists, scientists, and lawyers with expertise in environmental and international law, the Galapagos Coalition works to understand the relationship between the conservation of the Galapagos Islands and human activities.
By promoting responsible eco-travel, habitat preservation, and marine conservation, these organizations play a vital roll in maintaining the precious environment of the Galapagos, while also ensuring that the islands remain a viable source of sustainable economy for the communities who live here.
Of course, a delicate world that has created itself in such a remote and isolated realm is a delicate system. Human interruption and introduction easily disturb such a delicate laboratory – such an intricate system that took millions of years to evolve to survive in what might seem the least likely of places.
There are a plethora of environmental problems plaguing the islands, some stemming from the pressures of world climate changes such El Niño (ENSO), others arising from commercial fishing, and overpopulation, and many resulting from the introduction of species by humans dating back to the 1800’s. Another big problem the Galapagos Islands had to face was a big oil spill in 2001.
The global weather anomaly hit the Galapagos hard. While an entirely natural occurrence, the weather pattern took a vital part of the ecosystem out of the chain. Many fish searched for different waters to feed upon. The fur seals were most greatly affected as they depend on the fish closer to the surface. The surface waters were heated more during the attacks of El Niño, and the fur seals between ages 1-4 were virtually all wiped out. El Niño also affected coastal birds. The absence of fish in the coastal waters meant that many of the traditional nest areas for birds were abandoned.
While this unforgiving and uncontrollable force of nature has had a destructive impact on the Galapagos, many of the environmental issues facing the Galapagos originate from a potentially controllable source –human beings. The presence of people in the Islands has two sources: migration from the mainland and tourism.
The mere human presence of people alone does not hold such a severe threat to the native species. After all, its humans did not arrive alone. Since the times of the first inhabitants, non-native species have been imported to the Islands, often with drastic consequences. Many of the species introduced are not rare or deadly in themselves, but when placed on fragile Islands where life took years to adapt, mere rats, dogs, cats, and goats have dramatic effects. Feral dogs, most likely imported to the Islands as mascots of early settlers, have been a threat to tortoise eggs, native iguana species, and even penguins. Four goats were introduced to the Santiago Islands in the early 1800’s, went rampant and one estimate calculated that their population had grown to nearly 100,000.
Due to their constitution and ability to feed on nearly any plant, goats alone may be responsible for the local extinction of up to 4 or 5 species of vegetation and compete with the Galapagos tortoise for their food source. A newly introduced wasp species has been sited on the Islands, and may be responsible for a declining number of caterpillar larvae, a food source for finches. The Charles Darwin Research Station constantly searches for solutions to the problem of introduced species. To find out about this and other projects they are working on check out their website.