I had the very good fortune to happen upon a BBC2 program tonight about the Galapagos Islands.
For years I had thought that eco-tourism was a good thing… “ecological tourism”.
The Galapagos were very much in my top three “places to visit before I die“.
No more… ! Oh no… that would be the biggest mistake I could ever make…
Actually, and to be brutally honest, eco-tourism is not a misnomer… it is a misconception.
I had always misconstrued the expression “eco-tourism” as that which the media tells us it is… “ecological tourism”, meaning “environmentally friendly tourism”. How could I have been so stupid as to have been brainwashed by this ?
There is no such thing as “environmentally friendly tourism”. Wherever tourists go on this planet there will be a support network set up to cater to their needs, as shown in tonight’s program.
I had never before realised that Equador had set up whole communities of workers to cater for the tourists that go to the Galapagos. I had always assumed, from programs I had seen, that limited numbers of boats turn up with restricted numbers of passengers and that these pasengers are catered for purely on the boats that bring them, and that the occasional landfall (under the strict rule that initiating physical contact with the local widlife is prohibited) is the limit of human intrusion into these wonderful islands.
Not so !!!!!!
Tonight’s program showed that not only are there huge communities of Equadorian workers arriving on the islands, but that the areas designated to them for habitation by the National Parks authorities are full to overflowing because so many tourists and scientists are requiring support and ameneties. This exends so far as to the fact that people who have been there long enough actually resent the newcomers arriving because they are diminishing the very reason these people went there in the first place… Helloooo ! …. Like you are good for the local environment ?
“Eco-tourism” is exactly what is says on the tin…. Economic Tourism. It brings money into the country being visited.
How on earth could I have been so stupid for all these years ? I realised, long ago, that this was the intention of eco-tourism but somehow, in the midst of all the euphoria and hyperbole, I had missed out on the the most fundamental element of the meaning of such terminology and had got it confused with what I had really wanted it to say…. i.e. Ecological-tourism… which is a myth ! There is no such thing !
I love Labrador. I love the fact that I can be 100 miles from the nearest human being (apart from my pilot/housekeeper) in a small lodge, on an island in the middle of a huge lake with only the birds, the beavers, the otters and the fish for company. It is idyllic. I would love to be able to spend 365 days a year there and fend for myself with only the occasional parachute drop of supplies from Rick as he flew overhead in winter heading to the Labrador coast to deliver the mail to the people who live in those remote, and unworldly, settlements that cling to the coastline. I would hope that my presence there would have a minimal effect upon the local environment. After all, there would only be me to support and I would not deliberately harm the local wildlife. But the Galapagos ? No… not now.
The “Theme Park” of the eastern Pacific Ocean. A metropolis in mid-ocean; the scientists and environmentalists overcome by their own support network and that of the tourists who, eventually, fund their existence.
“Lonesome George” from Pinta Island is the last Giant Tortoise of his, particular, breed. There will never be another like him, and he is destined to live out the remainder of his days in total isolation from those of his kind because no more such creatures exist.
Although efforts are being made to rid the islands of foreign, man-made, infestations of creatures such as goats (which have destroyed the vegetation upon which native species depend), we have to be honest and say that the damage has already been done.
This beautiful, remarkable and unique environment has already been destroyed, forever… by mankind.
If you are thinking about travelling to the Galapagos Islands (as I was) then please, please, think again. Leave them be. Give them one last chance to continue being the most remarkable place on this beautiful earth.
Give the creatures that inhabit that unique environment the opportunity to survive… without the threat of tourism… without the threat generated by the support network that tourism generates.
Equador may not be the richest nation in the world in economic terms, but it holds the world’s greatest riches in a different form. It is my hope that it can see the irreversible damage that it can cause, and can withdraw in time to leave such a wonderful piece of God’s earth to continue its’ development in the way nature intended.
Love the Galapagos Islands with every beat of your heart… but stay away.