Selected Issues Research Project The economic and environmental impact of growing tourism on local populations and resources at Galapagos Islands December 11, 2011 Ecotourism, one of the most important and stronger trends nowadays is rapidly growing at Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, since we can now refer to Galapagos’ tourism as “mass tourism” there are now several consequences that need to be taken care of.
Certainly it has become in one of the most important profit maker for the country because of the hospitality industry development but is it everything about it positive? What about the effects in the endemic biodiversity and the population itself of the islands? The Galapagos Islands came to be known as the “Enchanted Islands” by the 17th century because they disappeared to the eyes of the sailors into the fog at certain times of year, some Spaniards even said that the Galapagos Islands were not islands, but only shadows (Danulat, 2003).
Since this time the islands became a demanded place mostly because the islands served as source of food in long journeys. But, it was by the year 1835 when Charles Darwin made his discoveries about the species that were thought before to be immutable to be now part of the “Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection” which says that the species adapt according to their environment, that the Islands gained a lot of recognition and more people became interested in visiting them. Danulat, 2003) and, but that time of course anyone thought about what could happen long term due to the amount of tourists that started to visit and even recognizing Ecuador just because of the “ Enchanted Islands”, because it certainly brought effective consequences since that time until now, in fact, the annual income ($250 million) that tourists contribute to Ecuador’s gross domestic product (Danulat, 2003) means a lot for the country and there is no reason of not taking advantage of it, but because of this way of thinking is that now the Islands are suffering a lot of pressure.
And, the real the problem starts here, as watching the rapidly increase of revenue in the Islands not only tourists but residents from the continent too became interested in moving in and with them introduced species and diseases too. “The number of invasive species identified in the Galapagos has skyrocketed in the past couple of decades, as eco-tourists flock to the islands and others migrate there to work “ (Dance, 2008).
Every single thing multiplies with more tourists and residents, and with it, the need for many more housing, food, fresh water, fuel, electricity, thousands of tons of a thousand different things every month and many more tons of waste. As time went through, the farms that were created by the colonists for food supplies disappeared, more foreign species settled down and started damaging the endemic ones, some of even became extinct.
With technology development, mostly in transportation industry, each day more people are able to travel around the world and enjoy leisure, the development of mass tourism has taken place too, about “18,000 people visited Galapagos in 1980, and 10 times that number came in 2008 and there is expected a new record for this year” (Nash, 2009).
Managing mass tourism is even harder in islands because of its limitations “islands have no hinterland in which to offload or dissipate the burdens and side effects of tourism; small ones even less so” (Baldacchino, 2008) and this is Galapagos’ reality, so it means potential damage to the environment because as it increases the population every day, the citizens have to struggle even for space against the hospitality industry that is taking the land to offer their services.
In this manner, there are positive economic effects for the entire country but incredibly bad consequences for the natural resources and local population. Galapagos Islands were recognized by the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) as a World Heritage site. Sadly in the year 2007 it was named as a World Heritage in Danger. And it seemed that no one really was aware of this because it wasn’t until the time Rafael Correa that became president of Ecuador that there were no so many attempts to take care of the situation.
Rafael Correa issued an emergency decree stating that Galapagos National Park is “at risk” so the conservation of it is now a national priority. (Nash, 2009). Tourism has grown up really fast at Galapagos Islands and it has brought a los of profit to the entire country but, if the government does not continue to take the proper measurements whoever the president is, it will end up bad. As Schnedler said: Touristic success hasn’t yet spoiled the Galapagos Islands.
But concerns are growing that the five-fold increase in visitors over the past decade may be damaging the very same delicate ecosystem of unique animal and plant species that has made this “showcase of evolution” so popular (1992) There are a lot of regulations but there are not yet visible solutions, perhaps it is not only the amount of tourists that go there but a bad management of them what contributes to the problem. Mass tourism is damaging the ecosystem of the Galapagos Islands, and islanders face the problem of how to preserve the creatures and habitat that bring in the revenue.
If the development of ecotourism continues to grow in the same speed as it is in these days, the strong demand will not longer going to be covered correctly and if this trend continues, it will be impossible to maintain the protected islands as they are today. Even there are regulations for the tourists for instance to forbid them to get too close to the animals, it is incredible how the fauna is used to the humans, they are no longer scared of them.
Just as Steve Nash said: You can have experiences that are, from a natural perspective, mind-blowing…because the animals are not frightened of people; you can get very close. ” To swim alongside sea lions and penguins, approach marine iguanas, giant frigate birds, and blue-footed boobies within the length of your shadow, or to have one of Darwin’s legendary finches land on your hat—these can be moving and instructive encounters. (2009).
This situation wasn’t so controlled in the past but now it is, but still it is not enough. Today for example the clearly limited paths were tourists walk when visiting the islands are not so close to the species, there exists more security when entering to Galapagos to not introduce any species of either plants or other animals that could be very harmful to the native ones, there have been done many attempts to eradicate harmful species as wild pigs, goats, fire ants from several islands.
Even human settlement is restricted to a tiny fraction of the islands’ land mass (97 % is national parkland), fees are going up and tour groups can only visit a few islands among all the islands. Even there exist all these restrictions, as the economist Edward Taylor said “ Galapagos is one of the fastest- growing economies on the planet and tourism is far and away the major driver” (Nash, 2009) ecotourism is the new fashion and as there are many people that really visit this kind of place due to its nature there are also those interested just because they are trend followers.
In conclusion, it is a fact that tourism in an excellent driver to make revenue in Galapagos Islands and with it making profit for the entire country of Ecuador but, it is also true that if mass tourism in not controlled or at least better managed, the natural resources in the islands will be damaged into a point with no return. Environment is now suffering severe consequences of excessive tourism and the delicate and many of them unique species are going through a lot of pressure to adapt again to the habitat that are now shared with humans and things we produce.
The government should always act in a long term perspective otherwise the “Enchanted Islands” will not survive as they are. And even today there are a serious of regulations to provide care, apparently Galapagos will need more help and by this I mean the tourists’ and citizens’contribution to follow all rules and laws. The incredible natural resources and biodiversity of Galapagos Islands has suffered a lot but it is not too late yet so it is peoples’ chance to try to keep this oceanic archipielago as intact as possible
References Altobelli, R. Kirstges, T. Mass tourism. (2008). In The Encyclopedia of Tourism and Recreation in Marine Environments. Retrieved November 22, 2011 from http://www. credoreference. com/entry/cabitrme/mass_tourism Baldacchino, G. Island Tourism. (2008). In The Encyclopedia of Tourism and Recreation in Marine Environments. Retrieved November 22, 2011 from http://www. credoreference. com/entry/cabitrme/island_tourism Dance, A. Galapagos invaders go native. (2008) Nature International weekly journal.
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