The Economic and Environmental Impact of Growing Tourism on Local Populations and Resources at Galapagos Islands

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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...
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