Preserving the uniqueness of the islands

November 14, 1999|By Tui de Roy

The Galapagos have been called "a natural laboratory of evolution" because climatic and geographical settings have played a crucial role in giving the islands a biota found nowhere else in the world. But of equal, or perhaps even greater, significance is the fact that humans came on the scene here much, much later than to any other major group of islands anywhere in the Pacific Ocean.

Studies of sub-fossil bird bones found in caves across the South Pacific islands have shown a staggering wave of extinction in the wake of early Polynesian colonization, numbering in the thousands of species. The Galapagos were spared this mass extinction, the scale of which has not been rivaled since the demise of the dinosaurs.

The Galapagos have endured through the millennia, and are enduring today still, though ever more precariously. More than anywhere else in the world we must learn again that old evolutionary truth: You must adapt to your environment or there will be no tomorrow.

Strangely perhaps, there is a tendency the world over for organizations and individuals alike to think of Galapagos conservation as such a worthy cause that, surely, its financial needs have long since been secured. So much so that it may come as a complete surprise that such fundamental items as the salary of the Darwin Station director, or fuel for the National Park Service's patrol boat cannot be ensured from one month to the next. Little wonder, then, that vital park and station work, whether environmental education in the local school or control of goats on Alcedo Volcano on Isabela Island, has often been delayed and postponed by necessity.

Visitors frequently ask me what they can do to ensure the safe future of Galapagos. The first thing, whether before you book a trip or even after you return, is to ask your tour company what their active role has been. Have they ever provided equipment or transport to scientists or park personnel in the field? Have they ever made a donation to Galapagos conservation or urged their passengers to do so? Have they ever taken a stand against serving illegally harpooned or gill-netted fish or lobsters aboard their ships? If they do not believe in actively nurturing the resource upon which their business relies, let them know you will shop elsewhere.

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