By Lorin Hancock, Lead Specialist of Media and External Affairs at WWF

As a communications professional at WWF, my primary purpose is to motivate and inspire people to act to make the world a better place. But I have a confession: sometimes, it’s difficult to stay positive. You’ve seen the news. The crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, and plastic waste are overwhelming, and the impacts are everywhere. Progress is slow-moving and plagued by setbacks. Some days, hope can be hard to come by.

With all the chaos in the world, the opportunity to travel to the Galapagos with Natural Habitat Adventures was one I couldn’t refuse. I was ready to get away and do something entirely disconnected from my day-to-day work. What I did not expect was how much the journey would inspire and refocus me, and just how relevant it is to the work I do. It gave me hope.

I love to travel, and I’ve had the privilege to see many wonderful and unique places across the globe. But there is nothing like the Galapagos Islands. People have asked me what the best part was and I’m at a loss. Visiting these islands is like stepping out of the TARDIS—you can’t tell if you’re back in time before colonization of the Americas, in an alternate universe where humanity never really got a foothold, or on a completely different planet altogether.

Beach in the Galapagos

© Lorin Hancock / WWF-US

The landscape is breathtaking: pristine beaches of fine white or jet-black sand; barren lava fields dotted with oases so vivid green they can’t be real; crystal-clear ocean waters (just look down from the boat to see a nature documentary unfolding beneath you); plentiful wildlife that’s curious, like they aren’t accustomed to people but don’t necessarily have any instinct to fear us.

But here’s the big reveal—this isn’t a land untouched by humans. It’s a land well-managed by humans. This is the ultimate argument that conservation and restoration programs work.

Here’s a little history lesson, all of which I learned from our incredible guides (shoutout to Andres and Leandro who felt like family by the end of the trip). The uninhabited Galapagos islands were first discovered in 1535… and were basically ignored. They had one great thing going for them: nothing! At least as far as the Spanish empire was concerned. No gold, no silver, nothing worth the pain of settling on remote islands where fresh water and building materials were hard to come by. So, for a while, the Galapagos were spared colonization. But that didn’t last long.

Pirates started using the islands as hideouts during the golden age of piracy, and in the centuries following, parts of the islands were formally settled, and communities established. The United States even opened an Air Force base on Balta Island in the 1930s, bringing in 30,000 soldiers.

With people, came the invasive plant and animal species that started taking over: goats, rats, cats, wasps, blackberries, and Spanish cedar. Whalers found giant tortoises to be a convenient source of food and water—and they even became the must-have curio for Western upper classes. The islands, the delicate ecosystem so perfectly evolved, and all the incredible endemic wildlife were at risk of disappearing forever.

Giant tortoise poking its head up in the Galapagos

© Lorin Hancock / WWF-US

So, what happened? People intervened, this time for better rather than for worse. Galapagos National Park was established in 1959, and with it came native species rehabilitation efforts and invasive species eradication. But they didn’t just shut the islands away from all human traffic. Four of the islands are inhabited and home to more than 30,000 people. Anyone can explore and enjoy the protected areas—if they are led by an authorized guide and observe strict rules to prevent damage.

Even on the inhabited islands, there is a clear respect for nature. In Santa Cruz for example, we stayed overnight at the majestic Tortoise Camp (in a literal treehouse, which was a dream come true). In addition to some of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen, there were giant tortoises scattered all over, roaming free and living their best lives.

We also visited the nearby Montemar coffee farm which exemplifies the mutually beneficial relationship people can have with nature. The tortoises must migrate across the island to breed, but invasive cedar and blackberries have impeded that process. By clearing this land of invasive species and maintaining it as a sustainable coffee farm, the tortoises can now migrate freely. And the coffee sales ensure the owners can make a living and keep this relationship thriving long-term.

This is what success looks like: some areas primarily for people, some areas primarily for nature, and we all benefit from the presence of the other. WWF’s vision statement is to build a future in which people live in harmony with nature—and this is what we’re talking about.

Group photo in the Galapagos - Lorin Hancock's group

© Lorin Hancock / WWF-US

What I learned from this trip is it’s not too late to realize this vision globally. Yes, there are many, many reasons to be worried about the health of our planet. But we are in no way fighting a lost cause.

WWF works on restoration projects around the globe. These projects can’t be rushed, and they can’t be successful without the buy-in and active participation from local communities. We won’t see major progress overnight, which is even more reason to get started now for the sake of future generations. And we have the Galapagos Islands as our guiding light—a shining example of how people can come together to heal nature.

Experience the wonders of the Galapagos with Nat Hab and WWF!