|Image copyright Edwin Barkdoll.|
My husband and I recently visited the Galapagos Islands in celebration of our 20th anniversary. It was a tough call choosing to go to the Galapagos. On the one hand, visiting this natural wonder has been a long-standing dream; on the other, such travel is anything but eco-friendly, given the fossil fuels necessary to transport us there. Plus, most trips to the Galapagos are cruise-based, which I didn’t want to support because of the high eco-footprint of cruise ships. It was important to me that if we were going to make this trip, we do so as responsibly as possible. We found an ecologically sensitive tour company which offered a trip that included the very rare opportunity of camping for a couple of nights, along with kayaking, staying in local hotels, hiking up to the rim of a volcano overlooking the second largest caldera in the world, and supporting local fishermen’s transitions into eco-friendly tourism (emphasizing wildlife viewing rather than taking).
The trip was amazing. Never have I experienced wildlife so unafraid of humans. Even the giant tortoises, who live to be close to 200 years old, would walk up to us, even though slaughter and exploitation are within their living memories. Sea lions chose to swim with us, playing, circling, and cavorting within inches of our faces, and ten dolphins came over to play in the bow waves of a boat we were on, seeming to perform for our entertainment as we cheered at each new feat. Even yellow warblers, who rarely come close at home, flitted around our feet. There were Marine Iguanas everywhere and gorgeous Sally Lightfoot crabs (the only animals afraid of us) and sea turtles and sharks who swam beside us, and frigates and boobies and congregations of golden eagle rays. For someone like me who loves animals, this was truly heaven.
What was gratifying was seeing the effort the Ecuadorian government goes to to ensure that the Galapagos Islands, once exploited, are now protected. Permission to camp was hard to come by and took years for approval, and our tour company ensured that we left the campground cleaner than we found it. Trips into the national park (which comprises 97% of the islands) had to be accompanied by a national park guide, and nothing could be removed (not a shell, a feather or a rock). The two-meter rule (you are not permitted to get any closer to the animals than two meters) was constantly reiterated. After decades of exploitation on the Galapagos Islands, the Ecuadorian government is making every effort to restore ecosystems and ensure the health of the native species. This is challenging in light of introduced species which threaten indigenous ones, but there are tireless efforts to right the wrongs of the past. The government has limited the number of people who can live on the Galapagos, and now, if you were not born there and aren’t married to a native of the Galapagos islands, your visit must end after three months.
Such attention to protection and restoration makes sense in a country that was the first to ratify a new constitution that affirms the rights of nature, stating that nature “has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.” It’s worth reading the articles to understand just how meaningful this really is. There is much that still needs to be done to truly protect the Galapagos, but it is gratifying to see what humans can choose to do as we evolve in our thinking about our place on this beautiful planet.
For a humane world,
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Filed under: animal protection, Environmental Preservation, MOGO (Most Good), nature | Tagged: animal protection, eco-tours, Ecuador, environmental protection, Galapagos, Most Good Least Harm, nature, nature rights, wildlife | Comments Off