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WWF in Action: Galapagos Islands

Working to Protect the Galapagos Islands

If you landed in the Galapagos Islands a century or two ago, you would see giant tortoises lumbering across grassy fields, marine iguanas by the hundreds sprawled on rocks and sea lions cooling off at the water’s edge.

It sounds, in fact, exactly what you’d still witness there in the 21st century. Except today, there’s a new influential species that has invaded the islands: the human being.

The Galapagos archipelago was once a virtually untouched oasis with no human inhabitants. In the 1920s, European and North American settlers began to arrive, as well as Ecuadorians who came to fish and farm. The human population has grown from roughly 3,000 in the 1960s to about 30,000 in 2012. In addition to residents, more than 160,000 tourists visit the Galapagos each year.

WWF has worked in the Galapagos for more than 50 years , launching its work in the islands with the Charles Darwin Research Station, which you’ll visit on NHA’s tour.

Here’s a list of some of WWF’s other current initiatives in the Galapagos:

  • Waste management: Increased human activity results in an increased demand on ecosystems. This is an especially big challenge in the Galapagos. Litter and other poorly managed waste easily becomes marine debris, resulting in, among other things, the death of animals that become entangled in pieces of string or plastic bags or that consume floating trash.

WWF is working to create a successful waste management and recycling system on the inhabited islands. Currently the organization is helping to construct a new type of landfill on Santa Cruz that will offer environmentally safe disposal of solid waste. Another important component of WWF’s work is to create a culture of responsible consumption by educating local communities on the need to reduce waste and recycle.

  • Enforcing laws: In 1998, WWF helped establish the 50,000-square-mile Galapagos Marine Reserve. Since then, the Galapagos National Park has struggled to enforce the law that protects the reserve from harmful fishing activity. Park managers were faced with high operating costs and inadequate resources to patrol the large marine reserve. 

With key partners, WWF has helped create more efficient ways to monitor vessels in the marine reserve, using such technology as satellite, radio and radars. These systems help detect illegal fishing activities and minimize the risk of vessel accidents, which could lead to oil spills. The organization also supports training park wardens on how to use these technologies.

  • Illegal fishing: The Galapagos Marine Reserve’s diversity of marine life makes it attractive to illegal fishing interests. As a result, almost all of the Galapagos’ commercially important coastal species are being overfished. Overfishing destroys marine environments and hurts communities that depend on the fish. WWF collaborates with fishing communities to embrace sustainable practices that protect the fishing industry and the marine ecosystems.
  • Sustainable tourism support: Worldwide fame has turned the Galapagos Islands into one of the most popular tourist destinations on the planet. More tourists means a bigger demand for tourism and hospitality employees, which grows permanent or seasonal populations on some islands. It also leads to a higher demand for imported goods and fossil fuels.

    WWF wants to ensure that tours like yours become a tool for conservation and sustainable development. WWF helps the Galapagos design and implement business models that both support conservation and improve people’s livelihoods. This is done through collaboration with partners, governments and communities. WWF is intently working on reducing the ecological footprint caused by the industry and visitors.

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