Its time for your Galapagos vacation.Your tour operator has got your flights booked from Quito or Guayaquil and the yachts and cruise ships are waiting ready to take you between the Islands for the trip of a lifetime. You’ll be seeing some of the most incredible flora and fauna in a setting that has been hidden beyond for thousands of years.
However, many understand that the Galapagos are under threat from the presence of humans in the last few hundred years. Despite best intentions, people sometimes don’t respect the importance of conservation as much as they could and there are few places on Earth as important as the Galapagos Islands in this respect. The best conservation can come from the eyes and ears of visitors, so here are some useful things to watch out for as you travel around “Nature’s Laboratory”.
What can I do to make sure I am taking a responsible Galapagos vacation?
1) Check your Galapagos boat
Yachts are the only way to travel between islands, and marine traffic can have a strong impact on the environment. Make sure that your boat has no gas or oil leakages and that no chemicals or bilge water is dumped into the sea. No garbage or refuse should be thrown overboard either. If you’ve got professional experience with boat operations, your perspective can be very useful; you’ll be in a position to recognise and report anything that seems improper in terms of maintenance or operation. To put it in context, you’d be surprised how many aeroplane faults have been spotted by qualified passengers!
2) Listen to your Galapagos guides
Visitors to the Galapagos Islands should be guided at all times by a qualified individual. They should help keep you in the marked sites and pathways and assist in communicating and enforcing conservation rules. There should not be any more that 16 people in your group, to allow for proper control and guidance of tourists. They should also provide information about general water safety and monitor all swimming and snorkelling.
3) Don´t try and take the Galapagos home
Galapagos themed objects made of wood and ceramics are available on the inhabited islands, but any souvenirs made of black coral, marine tortoise shells, sea lions fangs and other such objects go against the principles of conservation. Don’t be tempted to buy any of these objects, and dissuade others from doing so as well.
4) Galapagos are very vulnerable to fire
In 1985, Isabel Island suffered severe damage from negligence with smoking and fire lighting. Amazingly, the same thing happened again almost a decade later in 1994. Resisting the urge to light up or enjoy a camp fire will make a big difference.
5) Respect the animals
The majority of animals on the Galapagos have no reason to fear humans, and consequently will allow visitors to get very close without bolting. However, you should go no closer with two meters of animals, as in some cases they will follow you, leaving their nests uncovered and exposing eggs or chicks to the sun. The trustworthy behaviour of the animals shouldn’t be given reason to change, and visitors should not touch any animals or interfere with their natural behaviour, let alone harass, chase or surround them. It is obvious advice, but no animals should be fed or baited on water or land.
6) Careful what you bring
Darwin highlighted the power of the evolutionary process over time, but things can be wiped out in the blink of an eye if pests and diseases are brought into the mix. Introducing any exotic organisms to Galapagos could have a devastating effect on the ecosystems that exist in a state of delicate balance. Any food, animal and vegetable products and plants or fresh flowers should be declared before leaving the airport at Quito or Guayaquil so that a trained inspector can deem if they are safe or not. Live animals in any form are also not permitted. The same principles apply for inter-island trips; each island is its own unique ecosystem, so introductions between islands can be just as destructive to the natural process of things as items from the mainland.
With these important guidelines, you can ensure that you are visiting the Islands as an informed conservationist, and assist others in following the same behavior. Despite best efforts, sometimes over-excitement, negligence or opportunism creates problems; if you see any violation of conservation principles, contact the tour company who you made the booking through. They will be in a position to speak with local operators and apply pressure to make sure that such incidents don’t happen again. With visitors keeping an ever watchful eye on the state of the Galapagos Islands, we can be assured of many more years enjoying the variety and splendour of this unique place on Earth.