Ecotourism in the Galapagos has been a challenging thing to develop. How, realistically, are you supposed to protect the most intriguing, unique, and famous ecosystem on the planet, when it has become one of the most desired places to visit?
One of the first things you're taught when you visit the Galapagos is to take only photographs, and leave nothing. Not even footprints. You spend your first day in utter awe of where you are, but also in total paranoia that you're going to drop something - anything - even one of your hairs - and disrupt the unique and ruggedly pristine landscape of the Galapagos.
A few decades ago, it became very clear that ecotourism travellers were flocking to the Galapagos to trace Darwin's footsteps and be inspired by the giant turtles, blue-footed boobies, iguanas, and frigate birds. Due to the ecological and environmental significance of the Galapagos Islands, it became increasingly evident that responsible tourism management and development was imperative to the sustainability of both the Galapagos ecosystem and ecotourism industry.
Sustainable Tourism and Visitor Management
Sustaining ecotourism in the Galapagos in the most responsible manner has come down to the Directorate of the Galapagos National Park, and the tour operators it has granted permission and access to the park. The Directorate's outlook for the future of the islands is a shared one, denoting that every party using the islands is responsible for sustaining them.
Sustainable development and environmental management are the key elements of the Directorate's vision for the future. The Directorate also implements a four-part visitor management system including proper zoning for public use, knowing an acceptable visitor load, tourist monitoring, and the strict regulation of itineraries. This system is one that must be respected and followed by all entities in the Galapagos to ensure that there is a future for ecotourism in the Galapagos.
Control and Monitoring of Ecotourism Operations
The Directorate closely monitors the tourism operators in the Galapagos. After all, between 2000 and 2008, the number of yearly visitors to the islands increased from about 68,000 to over 170,000. In order to accommodate that kind of influx, the Directorate needed to be exceptionally diligent in their implementation of control and monitoring systems.
It is a very technical and highly monitored process, but all tourist arrivals are strictly controlled, through the verification of vessel and tour operator licenses, adherence to pre-approved itineraries, respecting carrying capacities, enforcement of park visitor entry fees, visitor registration, and regular inspection of tourist boats. It also isn't just the islands and the waters that are monitored; visitor sites in populated centres, like Turtle Bay on Santa Cruz, or the Interpretation Centre in San Cristobal, all require tourists to register their attendance, and will only admit tourists during set times, and to a certain capacity.
Yacu Amu Experiences
One such operator is Yacu Amu Experiences, an inbound tour operator specialising in nature, cultural, and adventure tours throughout Ecuador. They were the first tour operator in the Galapagos to be certified by the Rainforest Alliance, and able to operate eco tours in the Galapagos due to their adherence to the Directorate's management guidelines.
Ecotourism in the Galapagos
The Galapagos is one of those truly special places in the world, so it isn't hard to see why ecotourism in the Galapagos has become so popular. Even if tourists aren't particularly ecoconscious when they arrive, the Galapagos has a way of converting your thoughts and behaviours into those of responsible and sustainable tourism.
It appears as though the Galapagos has managed its ecotourism idol status well. Through the development and implementation of strict guidelines, policies, procedures, and systems, the Directorate has ensured that the environmental, ecological, and cultural integrity of the Galapagos has stayed in tact, all while welcoming thousands of ecotourism travelers annually.