I recently returned from my first visit to the Galapagos and was simply blown away. The wildlife encountered, the landscapes, the seafood, all incredible.
But what struck me the most was how the place is basically a giant, interactive school disguised as a bunch of islands. The guides taught our group themes ranging from plate tectonics to evolution to adaptive radiation. Tortoise breeding centers had set conservation goals and interactive displays which showed what true conservation really takes to accomplish (time, effort, research, money, and communicating with locals).
For conservation, controlling invasive species and human impact is the name of the game. Entire volcano tops once covered in ‘Darwin Bush’ are now completely covered in invasive Guayaba trees. The good thing is guayaba jam is delicious, so I like to pretend that by eating that jam I’m saving Galapagos, one fruit seed at a time.
There seems to be a triumvirate of power constantly working out a balance: ecotourism, fishing, and the national park service. Ecotourism industry wants more access to areas, more infrastructure in towns. Fishing wants to fish. And the National Park Service wants to keep some areas restricted.
It was clear that the Galapagos is a community that deeply cares about protecting the island and its resources, but struggles at times to use available knowledge to make the right call. As with many conservation programs around the world, it is a work in progress and based on conversations with locals I feel confident it will continue to improve.
While I’m prone to the land-based organisms, it was impossible to ignore the incredible marine life that would literally walk and swim right up to you. I was able to watch marine iguanas and green sea turtles tear seaweed off submerged rocks along the shore. Dive and spin and ‘play’ with baby sea lions. Swim through a channel with a dozen reef sharks below.
We even caught a brief glimpse of a humpback whale and spotted a rare fur sea lion, which to be honest looks more like a giant marine bear mouse than a sea lion.