The Galapagos Islands might become listed as “in danger” by Unesco at their World Heritage Committee occurring this week in New Zealand. Ecuador, the territory’s ruler, submitted an application to Unesco to further protect the Galapagos because of their fragile ecosystem. Unesco protects 830 sites all over the world, called World Heritage Sites, that are considered to have “outstanding universal values.” The islands gained World Heritage Site statues in 1978.
Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa declared in April that since the islands were home to many endangered species and unique plant and animal life that are at risk, the islands were a priority for national action. Species on the islands include tiny penguins, marine iguanas, and venerable giant tortoises. The islands are Ecuador’s top tourist draw. However, because of the drastic increase in tourists the islands are suffering an environmental and social crisis and are in dire need of restrictions. Tourism has increased by 12% annually with over a 150% increase on passengers from cruise ships in the past 15 years alone. This drastic increase is leading to the decline of the islands. The islands face invasive species that are brought with tourists and migrants that compete and destroy the native species.
The increased rate of tourism has brought workers from the mainland to work in construction, restaurants and cruise ships which brings the total residents of the islands to 20,000. There is a large need for cheap labor on the islands because of the industries that come along with tourism such as restaurants, hotels, and cleaners. Thousands of migrants coming into the country has been a large source of the problem with the islands ecosystem.
In May 2007, rangers in an ecological reserve were in dispute with the Ecuadorian Armed Forces about illegal fishing in protected waters. This dispute showed how many practices are damaging the site. Ecologists say that the problem in the Galapagos is deeper then the government has publicly acknowledged. The increase in people and of non-native species is threatening the ecosystem throughout the islands.
Ecuador may soon need to place restrictions on outsiders coming into the islands in order to protect them. There is a need to redo the tourism model for the islands by reducing the amount of tourists while maintaining high revenues. In the past year, the tourism in the islands brought in $486 million for Ecuador which is the fourth largest source behind oil, bananas, and fishing. Fernando Ortiz, head of Conservation International, states that action needs to be taken to stop tourism as “this place could turn into another Disneyland.” However, some argue that the tourism is not the reason for the decline as most visitors stay on cruise ships. Rocio Martinez, who is president the islands Chamber of Commerce, argues that the islands are based on tourism and they should take advantage of the environment and benefit from the tourism.
For more information, see: