Erstellt am: 10. 3. 2017 - 15:00 Uhr
Reality Check Special
Listen to a Reality Check Special with Johnny Bliss in conversation with locals and conservationists in the Galápagos islands.
Saturday, February 4th, 12-13, and afterwards seven days on demand.
The Galápagos Islands are renowned for being one of the best places in the world to view wildlife, but their very fame in this regard may also become their undoing. Tourism obviously stimulates the economy, but how do locals feel about it?
Johnny Bliss, 2017
I am a guy who loves wildlife. Most of my favourite journeys around the world, the ones where I retell the stories over and over again, have at some point or another included a spectacular encounter with wild animals.
So the Galápagos Islands were definitely on my radar screen.
It would be very easy, however, to be put off from making the trip; after all, to get there, you have to go to Ecuador (which is kinda out of the way) and from there, book additional roundtrip flights, which are not cheap.
Upon arriving, you then must pay a hundred bucks to be allowed into the park. Once you're in (on one of the tamer, populated islands), if you want to visit one of the truly wild islands that don't have supermarkets on them, you'll have to pay for an expensive tour to take you there, as you are not allowed to visit privately (and anyway, you would need a boat).
* - ostensibly
All of this is on purpose, of course, to protect the island's delicate ecosystem from the effects of too much tourism. The park entry fee goes to conservation efforts*, and the fact that it is so expensive, means you have to really want to go, to justify making the expense.
As a result (the argument would go), the visitors who do come tend to be more informed about animal conservation, and are more likely to be responsible in their behaviour toward the animals. In theory.
Johnny Bliss, 2017
"Definitely, not all of the people visiting the Galápagos have this respect," Gustavo Morejón, a researcher from the Charles Darwin Research Station, told me. "For example, a few days ago I went to Tortuga Bay, and in Tortuga Bay, the first sign there says 'Please, don’t feed the animals'. And the first thing that tourists do, is feed animals!"
However, his colleague Paola Diaz, had a more optimistic view on things: "I think people come out of Galapagos, and spread the word about conservation and about how important it is to visit a protected area, an example in the world," she told me. "So I don’t think it’s a negative thing."
While I can see both sides, I do have to admit some of what I saw concerned me; for example, on one occasion I took a tour out to the remote island of Bartolomé with a package group of Asian tourists. Their behaviour unfortunately epitomized everything you wish tourists would not do. If there was anything to photograph, they were right up there touching it, getting as close as possible, with little to no regard for the fact that this was not a zoo; this even briefly included a sea lion! The whole group of them came up and were on the verge of touching it when it roared and snapped at them, and our guide told them in no uncertain terms to back off.
Still, that's just one side of the greater picture. The Galápagos islands have changed in other ways since the days of Charles Darwin.
Johnny Bliss, 2017
For one thing, there is a permanent human population now, who have settled on five of the islands: Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela, Baltra, and Floreana. A local chocolatier, named Juan Daniel Navarro, told me, a few decades ago the population numbered only about a thousand. Today, however, roughly 28,000 people call the Galápagos Islands their home.
* - we were 'downtown' in the town of Puerto Ayora, on the Galápagonian island of Santa Cruz.
"This all used to be dirt roads," he told me, gesturing expansively at the metropolitan-looking streets surrounding us*. "It was a completely different trip then, when we were little. [But] you can’t… stop it. There’s no changing it, you just gotta go with it. I would love it to be all torn down and rebuilt in a more tropical way, instead of blocks of cement everywhere."
A woman in her early thirties named Jennifer also told me that this had been quite the culture shock.
"I remember this place was totally wild," she told me quietly, sitting there one quiet evening in the entryway of her house & homestay, on the island of San Cristobal. "No light until 8 o’clock in the morning, and every night, the only sound was the 'Oh oh!' from the sea lions. With the modernity, we got a new waterfront and… well, now it’s more useful for transportation, but you cannot [re]move the asphalt! I still have some things in my memories and basically part of them are gone."
Sad as that is, that still doesn't really tell us much about how the local (nonhuman) ecosystem has itself been impacted. For that, I returned to the Charles Darwin Research Station, to speak with the Communications Coordinator Paola Diaz about a very concerning topic: invasive species.
"Invasive species is one of the big issues that we work on here at the Research Station in Galapagos," she lamented. "A big [problem] is the Philornis fly. It’s just like a house fly, but really damaging for land birds, because they lay eggs on the nests. The flies come inside of the nostrils of the little baby birds, and… it’s awful."
Johnny Bliss, 2017
I asked her to elaborate.
"They… just… eat…" she struggled.
"Their brains?" I added helpfully.
"Yeah. So, it’s really sad, because the land bird population is being affected, especially the Mangrove Finch population on Isabela Island. It’s a unique species of Darwin Finch; it’s the most threatened one. There’s only eighty to a hundred individuals in the whole world, in Isabela, and the Philornis fly is threatening the whole population."
FM4 Reality Check Special on Saturday, March 11th
Listen to a Reality Check Special with Johnny Bliss in conversation with Juan, Jennifer, Gustavo, and Paola, on the islands of Santa Cruz, Isabela, and San Cristobal, in the Galápagos Islands.
Saturday, March 11th, 12-13, and afterwards seven days on demand.
If you miss the program, you can still stream it via the Reality Check podcast or at fm4.ORF.at/player.