The Galapagos Islands’ unique and broad variety of creatures inspired Darwin for his theory on natural selection and have survived and evolved for hundreds of years. Now, however that unique ecology is threatened by the increased tourism development of the past decades, alarming the local authorities and forcing them to act towards the protection of their environment.

The first action was to expel the illegal migrant workers. This decision is criticized by the author, arguing that tourist numbers and a reformation of the tourism industry is the issue that should be addressed in order to better protect the sensitive landscape of the Galapagos.

Original article by Rory Carroll, The Observer, 12 October 2008.

Essay by Daisy Modiano
Master in Tourism Destination Management student 2008/2009

The Galapagos were the first area declared as a world heritage site by Unesco and is now considered, by a UN committee, to be in danger of losing their heritage status by mass tourism damage. This decision, along with environmentalist groups, has increased pressure on the Ecuadorian government to restrict tourism development. The article suggests that the government feeling the pressure, decided to start by evicting the illegal migrant workers, whereas is should focus on restricting the tourist arrivals.

There is clearly an issue of the Galapagos, and each of the islands’, carrying capacity limits and the way that tourism development should be managed in order to protect its sensitive environment. Taking into account the fragile character of the area, the alteration of its unique inhabitants and landscape, there seems to be an urgent necessity to actually decide how much development the area can take. Naturally this is no easy task, but it is necessary to control the numbers of visitors, the arrival of cruise ships and planes, the activities in national parks and the ocean, balancing the economic profits with resource conservation.

In the 1970’s, in the anticipation of tourist interest for the Galapagos, a management plan set the sustainable number of annual visitors to 12,000. However these numbers were surpassed, with successive governments paying attention to the increase of revenues rather than that of the visitation. Tourism destinations are dynamic, constantly changing, along with the factors affecting them. It is important for any destination to proceed with tourism development after careful planning and with constant, effective management and monitoring in order to be aware of the possible dangers that it could face, based on its unique character, and take full advantage of the benefits that tourism can surely bring. Indicators can help the destination ( its planning agency, or the responsible governmental body) gather necessary information, establish their sustainability objectives, the progress they make, and prioritize their future objectives towards a sustainable tourism development(Tourism Management Dynamics by Buhalis and Costa).

According to the article, there are no plans to control the increasing numbers of visitors to the Galapagos. What is more alarming is the comment of a spokesman of the regional planning agency regarding this issue: “Of course the tourist numbers have an environmental impact, but we cannot forfeit the economic opportunity”. This seems to be a common issue in many other destinations around the world, when faced with the environmental and other impacts of uncontrollable tourism development. Economic benefits versus nature (resources) conservation. While the answer to this dilemma might seem obvious, the fact is that we should ask in a different way: Short term benefits ignoring the future damages or long term-sustainable profits for all ends? Failure to respect the limits of the destination’s carrying capacity can ultimately lead to the deterioration, if not destruction, of the original resources. The destruction of what first initiated tourism interest, thus finally leading to the loss of the deprived economic benefits.