Guide to Galapagos: Responsible Travel
Pura Aventura promotes only responsible travel to the Galapagos Islands. We work closely with the Galapagos Conservation Trust (GCT) to ensure that our Galapagos holidays are in line with their advice and thinking.
The Galapagos Islands are unique - they are probably the only place in the world where we can get a flavour of how the world was before humans.
The Galapagos Islands are a microcosm of the social, political, ecological and economic changes occurring in the world.
If we can achieve a balance between the needs of humans and the natural world in Galapagos, we can do it elsewhere and the archipelago can provide a model for sustainability for the whole world.
Sustainable Travel to the Galapagos
Visit the Galapagos but visit them well. The GCT recommends eight day small boat cruises, ideally on locally owned, SmartVoyager certified vessels.
Tourism to the Galapagos Islands provides huge amounts of income for conservation. The Galapagos are often held up as being a model for sustainable tourism development.
The regulations are rules which are in place are remarkably effective at sustaining the islands. Bear in mind that around 95% of the species which Darwin saw on the Galapagos are still there today.
Having said this, it would be foolish to deny that there are pressures on the islands.
These break down into the following categories:
Not all of the Galapagos Islands are within the confines of the national park. It is in the populated areas, specifically the main town of Puerto Ayora, that population pressures are at their greatest.
On the whole, the standard of living in the Galapagos is very good ? the average income on the islands is very high compared to the mainland, particularly compared to the Andean highlands, which are poor. Illegal immigration to the islands has been a major problem.
The population of Santa Cruz in 1990 was 2,000. By 1997 this had risen to 8,000. In 2006 the official population was 19,000 but most estimates put the total at around 29,000.
In terms of waste, depletion of resources, use of water, etc. this puts enormous pressure on the environment.
For a time, a draconian regime in the islands saw immigrants being sent back to the mainland on cargo ships. Things are being managed rather more humanely now, the focus being on prevention.
All visitors to the islands must now purchase an immigration card to allow the authorities to keep track of numbers arriving and departing. Population growth on the islands appears to be stabilising.
The island authorities (both National Park and island government) now have a more holistic approach which attempts to balance the needs of the human population against those of the National Park.
After decades of managing a low level conflict, they are now facilitating compromise.
The Island authorities are tackling the issue of overfishing by offering fishermen the right to swap their fishing licenses for tourism licenses.
For the past couple of years this has really made a difference with fishermen setting up day trips and diving packages. Kayaking is also being deliberately limited on the cruise boats to give the rights to fishermen turned tour operators.
In addition, education projects funded by tourism are now ensuring that locals are trained to sufficiently high standard to work within tourism: chefs, mechanics, guides, etc.
Recycling schemes mean that around 30% of the island's waste is recycled.
Finally, education projects are helping to introduce the children of the islands to their own national park. The cost of entering the park and travelling by boat means that for many years, children simply did not see their own environment.
With the help of boat owners, the park authorities and the Galapagos government, children are now being introduced to the different islands and given a sense of their key role in the preservation of the archipelago.
In common with other oceanic island systems, the Galapagos Islands are fragile.
Galapagos biodiversity is susceptible to invasive species, over exploitation, climate change and major pollution events.
To date, the biodiversity has been remarkably well conserved as a result of the relatively minimal interaction between the islands and global human processes.
However, around 24% of the Galapagos species are considered to be threatened.
The biggest threat to indigenous wildlife are introduced species. The worst are really rats, cats and goats which are very hard to catch and kill.
In 2006 they managed to eradicate goats from the northern end of Isabella by attaching radio transmitters to various females (Judas goats as they were known) and then flying in by helicopter with high powered rifles to kill them.
Whilst successful, this process is expensive. The Isabela goats above cost us$6 million to eradicate.
Again, education projects on Santa Cruz are helping to eradicate introduced plant species in favour of indigenous species but it is a long process.
Rising visitor numbers
There are around 98 licensed live aboard boats. No new permits are being issued - only when one boat is retired does another permit become available.
The park authorities decide which boat stops where and when. It is for this reason that the Galapagos Conservation Trust recommends boat travel to the islands - it is fully managed.
However, on the 2006 figures we have around 78,000 people annually coming to the islands not travelling on boats.
Of these probably around 40,000 were tourists on unregulated land based packages. Whilst there are excellent land based tours, there is, as yet, no reliable means of knowing who is a reputable operator and who isn't.
For this reason, the advice from the Galapagos Conservation Trust is still to travel on a live aboard boat.
Please remember that you are visiting a National Park and are requested to follow the regulations established.
The instructions you receive from your guide are intended for the preservation and conservation of the islands, as well as your own safety.
The basic rules are:
- Stay on the marked trails
- Do not touch or feed the animals
- Do not get too close to the animals
- Do not drop litter on the islands
- Do not smoke on the islands
- Do not take food onto the islands
- Nothing is to be taken from the islands
- Stay with your group and guide at all times
- Clean the soles of your shoes before disembarking in the islands. You may have carried some seeds endemic to one island and would not want to introduce them to another
- Clean the soles of your shoes before embarking into the panga from the islands back to the yacht so as to avoid transporting seeds
- Shore visits are between 6am and 6pm only