The world it seems is in love with the Galapagos Islands. Where else can you see marine iguanas basking in the middle of the street, sea lions dozing on benches, or pelicans unperturbed by all the selfies in which they feature. Or perhaps it’s because drivers slowly drive around the giant tortoises that appear like mushrooms on the roads, or the sharks, stingrays and turtles that cruise along by the busy piers? Maybe it’s the storks, herons and oyster catches that go about the serious business of fishing just feet away from screaming toddlers and sweating tourists, or maybe it’s the finches that boldly clean up your breakfast crumbs right off your plate?
What I do know is that all of this is a reality; my husband Michael and I have witnessed all of this and more without even leaving the busy, most inhabited island of Santa Cruz, Galapagos, Ecuador. We witnessed all of this was just our first day here on this magical island.
As I watched the sunset descend on this wondrous place, I was struck by how sad I felt……… sad? Yes sad because so much more of the world could be like this, if only more of the world’s most invasive destructive species chose to make a change. Yes I am talking about us humans. Homo sapiens, in my humble opinion are more of a curse to mother earth than a blessing. Yet there is hope! The ongoing conservation efforts here in the Galapagos show just what is possible if we put some effort, thought and money into preserving rather then destroying.
I understand that the Galapagos Islands are unique, isolated as they are and with a wide range of species ‘free from predators’. Although history shows that has not always been the case, over the centuries countless whales, tortoises and fur seals were slaughtered and harvested. In fact the fur seal still retains a fear of humans unlike the sea lions who completely ignore us, unless we get too close.
The Galapagos Islands are isolated and hard to reach, which is why they developed a unique flora and fauna. Yet they are not untouched. Over the centuries whalers, sailors and settlers have impacted the islands. The biggest damage has been caused not by what they hunted but what they left behind. The devastation that the wild goats of Isabela left behind is just one example. The recent eradication of those goats and the reintroduction of Isabella’s native flora and fauna including giant tortoise’s is also an example of what can be achieved if we put our minds to it.
Galapagos is under immense pressure. It‘s popularity brings its own problems. Each boat, plane, load of cargo, or person that comes here has the potential to bring new challenges. One of these new challenges is a fly, one that feeds on Mangrove Finch hatchlings causing further problems for this endangered and unique branch of Darwin’s finches.
Spending time exploring the islands and seeing the love and concern that many of these islanders have for their archipelago brings me hope. Although we may lose some of the battles and may not be able to save every species. The biggest battle has already been won. Humans and animals can learn to share their resources and live in peace and harmony; it is evident right here in the Galapagos Islands. Long may this peaceful harmony reign.