The galapagos reopened July 1 with relaxed travel restrictions, but the archipelago is finding that more sustainable tourism is paramount to the health of its ecosystem.
The Ecuadorean province is one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet, but tourism has in the past interrupted or complicated its ecosystem, which is famous for supporting Darwin’s theory of natural selection.
A recent study of the island of San Cristobal found plastic in all of its marine habitats, with more than 400 plastic particles found per 10 square feet in the worst polluted areas.
Furthermore, the Galapagos National Park and Charles Darwin Foundation are working to reintroduce 13 species of animals that had gone extinct locally and protect marine resources from pollution.
But tourism had dropped dramatically during the pandemic, and it’s brought about some good news: the animal population is growing.
Galapagos penguins and flightless cormorants are two species that have seen significant growth in population last year, due to the lack of tourists disturbing their nesting grounds. Galapagos penguins have increased 34 percent in population. Cormorants have reached a 16 percent increase, the highest population in 40 years.
While tourism can impact the environment in detrimental ways, it’s also responsible for 85 percent of the archipelago’s economy.
Between March 2020 and March 2021, the region has estimated a loss of US$850 million (HK$6.63 billion) in revenue, making tourism’s return critical.
But it’s about the balance: travelers need to choose sustainable travel providers and accommodations to reduce their negative impact so the region can be enjoyed by travelers for centuries to come.
Touring Galapagos is one of these sustainable, local travel providers. The tour company emphasizes the importance of the local environments and how travelers can help reduce their negative impact while offering luxury interisland cruises.
“Lockdown and the coronavirus pandemic have had a paradoxical impact on the Galapagos; native animal species have thrived as a result of limited disturbances but the halt in tourism has had a devastating impact on local businesses,” said Michael Eiseman, cofounder of Touring Galapagos. “That’s why it’s important that we get tourists back, but in a way that is both sustainable and educates them about the fragility of the habitats.”
As of July 1, entry requirements are simpler. Travelers can enter the archipelago without a negative PCR test provided they have been fully vaccinated for at least 14 days prior to their trip. Those who aren’t fully vaccinated must show proof of a negative PCR test taking up to 72 hours prior to travel.