The Galapagos: Charles Darwin’s preservation project recommits this gringo to sustainability

May 3, 2019

I can’t imagine a world where Charles Darwin had not visited the Galapagos Islands.

Without the mystique and significance Darwin’s work bestowed on the archipelago, it’s likely that these beautiful islands would now be a collection of overbuilt resorts, waters churning with Waverunners and super yachts.

In fact, the islands, a thousand kilometers west of Ecuador only achieved UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1978. This doesn’t mean they are saved, but it does provide some protection from our endless search for the last resort.

The birds have the run of the land and sky in the Galapagos thanks to Charles Darwin.

Many years before our time, buccaneers and whaling ships could plunder to near or total extinction tortoise populations, stacking these gentle green giants on their backs in the holds of ships to provide meat for long voyages. A few attempts at prison colonies launched and failed, and during World War II the United States used Baltra Island as a base to defend possible attacks on the Panama Canal. Invasive species have been introduced, endemic species have perished. Somehow the islands persevere.

Ecuador seems to understand that the value of these islands for ecotourism outstrips the short term benefits from more aggressive plunder. In fact, the Galapagos are a fat cash cow for mostly offshore interests in Quito and beyond. Development is controlled, and residency is strictly limited. Most islanders depend on the trickledown economy.

Much has been written about Darwin and the exceptional and diverse beauty of these islands. I doubt any of my words could contribute to the canon. This archipelago is on everyone’s bucket list for a good reason. Spending a week on sea and land here has been a profoundly moving experience that recommits me to the principles of sustainability and the joy of living on this incredible planet.

Thank you, Darwin. You changed our understanding of the world and your legacy helped save the evidence.

R.S. Gompertz is a native of Southern California who currently lives and writes in Seattle. He recently completed a tour of Mexico and South America during which he spent several weeks in Cuenca. His most recent book, “Life’s Big Zoo,” is available on Amazon. For more information about his life, work and travels, click here. 

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