Galapagos

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The Galapagos Islands; Pristine Destination or Just Another Tropical Island?

If Charles Darwin would come to life and visit the Galápagos Islands after 178 years of his first visit he would still be very impressed. Not because of the ‘hideous-looking’ marine iguanas or how tame the birds are but because of the accelerated disruption the archipelago is going through. Galápagos Islands are an archipelago of volcanic islands famed for their diversity of species and are distributed in either side of the Equator in the Pacific Ocean, 920 kilometres west of continental Ecuador, of which they are part. Once inscribed on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger, the UNESCO have recognised the efforts by the ecuadorean government and decided to withdraw the Galápagos Islands from the threat list three years later, action that was criticised by an important number of conservationists (The Guardian, 2010). Closed politics practices, poorly managed and quickly growing tourism infrastructure, unregulated immigration, introduction of alien and invasive plants, and poor urban development are a threat to the island’s sensible ecosystem hence a risk to the economic future as tourism is the main economic force in the archipelago.

To be convinced by my claim, the first thing a reader needs to know is the definition of sustainability defined by the World Tourism Organisation (WTO, 2001) ‘Sustainable tourism development meets the needs of present tourists and host regions while protecting and enhancing tourism for the future. It is envisioned as leading to management of all resources in such a way that economic, social and aesthetic needs can be fulfilled while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, biological diversity and life support systems.’

Hennessy & McCleary (2011) argued that the conception of pristine nature undergirds the recent crisis discourse and practicing closed politics are not in fact positive for the Galápagos welfare. As they suggest, “the idealisations of pristine nature in the Galápagos have the double effect of spotlighting the archipelago as a unique place of significant natural and scientific importance, which has led to a booming tourism industry, and also leading to a social conflict and uneven distribution of wealth and services that endanger the archipelago's prized nature.” In their research, they suggest that the imagination of the Galápagos Islands should be closely tied to society’s welfare. Focusing on bringing the archipelago back to a pristine-nature state needs to be rethink in order to come up with a new practice where nature is closely intertwined with society as it is clear that many residents are not satisfied with how human life has developed in the islands. This holistic re-imagination approach, in their opinion, is key to beginning to effectively address the issues that jeopardise the health of island natures and the population’s well being.

Romero & Wikelski (2002) studies have shown that some animals such as marine iguanas in tourism exposed areas are not chronically stressed by tourism. Twenty one marine iguanas were captured in a tourist trail in Punta Espinoza and thirteen not exposed to tourism were captured two kilometres inland in order to measure their corticosterone levels. Although Romero and Wikelski’s research demonstrated that tourism is not increasing corticosterone levels in tourism-exposed marine iguanas, they believe “this good news should be tempered with the potential that the tourist-exposed iguanas’ longterm survival may be compromised, since their lowered corticosterone response to a stressful stimulus may limit the beneficial effects of acute corticosterone release” when needed, like in an oil spill. Well-managed tourism may allow animals to habituate to regular and standardised human behaviour, resulting in reduced hormonal stress response and a 2

sustainable practice (Romero & Wikelski, 2002) but according to the Galápagos Park, tourists influx...
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