IGTOA in Action
IGTOA and its member companies recognize that while tourism has been the driving force behind conservation efforts and scientific research initiatives in the Galápagos for decades, it has also been the catalyst for many unfavorable changes there. Our Mission is to preserve the Galápagos Islands as a unique and priceless world heritage that will provide enjoyment, education, adventure and inspiration to present and future generations of travelers, and to ensure that tourism remains a positive force in the Galápagos. To this end, IGTOA, with the generous support of its member companies and thousands of travelers, has contributed over $600,000 to critical conservation initiatives in the Galápagos archipelago since 1997. Below is a brief overview of how we’ve helped address some of the most pressing challenges in recent years.
Invasive species and diseases pose the greatest existential threat to the endemic wildlife and unique ecosystems of the Galápagos Archipelago. In its 2010 Mission Report, the World Heritage Committee stated, “a critical gap remains in efforts to prevent the arrival of new species to the islands. The most likely introduction channel for new species is via the shipping of organic produce from the continent to the islands.” The report goes on to say that biosecurity control systems (the procedures and safeguards put in place to prevent invasive species from arriving) are far from adequate. The report cites the use of multiple cargo loading ports, which lack necessary biosecurity infrastructure and processes, aging and maladapted cargo ships, and the failure to apply internationally accepted bio-security practices when loading and off-loading boats as some of the key problems.
IGTOA in Action
In 2012 and 2013, IGTOA contributed $50,000 to the non-profit WildAid to improve the current shipping and quarantine system between mainland Ecuador and the Galápagos archipelago. The initiative includes improving mainland and island port facilities, training biosecurity personnel, and strengthening cargo handling procedures and cargo vessel standards. These improvements, when fully implemented, should dramatically reduce the likelihood that new invasive species will reach the Galápagos archipelago. To learn more click here.
Invasive Species Control
The Charles Darwin Foundation estimates that there are about 1,770 introduced species in the Galápagos archipelago. While many of these species are harmless, some are classified as invasive because they have spread noticeably since their introduction. A portion of these pose a threat to native and endemic species, through predation and by out-competing them for food or other resources. Plant invaders include blackberry, which on Santa Cruz alone covers about 15.000 ha of the highlands, where it poses a serious threat to the endemic Scalesia forest. This is also the case on the islands of Floreana, Isabela, San Cristóbal and Santiago.. Efforts to control the spread of blackberry have been unsuccessful thus far. Goats are one of the best-known animal invaders in the Galápagos. Introduced by whalers in 19th century, they have turned once pristine forests into barren grasslands and destroyed much of the habitat and food supply of the Galápagos giant tortoise. On the inhabited islands of the Galápagos, domesticated dogs and cats roam free and often harass and prey upon native wildlife, including marine and land iguanas, young tortoises, and birds, which possess no natural defenses against them
IGTOA in Action
IGTOA has donated over $100,000 to the Charles Darwin Foundation, which has been on the front-line in the efforts to control invasive species. IGTOA has also sponsored several campaigns to humanely sterilize dogs and cats. In 2013, for example, IGTOA provided two teams of veterinarians with equipment and transportation to conduct an emergency pet sterilization campaign on Isabela and Santa Cruz.
Fishing and Other Threats to the Galápagos Marine Reserve (GMR)
In 2007, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee cited illegal fishing and unsustainable fisheries as one of the reasons for its recommendation that Galápagos be added to the List of World Heritage in Danger. Since the 1990s, both legal and illegal fishing have boomed within the 50,000-square mile GMR. As more accessible fisheries around the world have become depleted due to overfishing, and the demand for “delicacies” such as shark fin and sea cucumber has spiked in Asian markets, fisherman have set their sights on the abundant waters of the GMR. In 2007, a sting operation conducted by Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) resulted in the confiscation of over 19,000 shark fins taken from the GMR. And in 2011, a fishing vessel containing the remains of at least 379 dead sharks was seized within reserve. Monitoring the vast GMR and preventing illegal fishing there are exceedingly difficult. But even when marine crime suspects are apprehended, they rarely face justice due to inadequacies in the judicial system. Galápagos is the only Ecuadorian province without its own provincial court, leaving authorities with little choice but to send suspects to the mainland, where they are unlikely to be held accountable for their actions. The 19 crew members implicated in the shark finning case cited above, for example, were released to their home province on the mainland and it’s unlikely they will ever beprosecuted.
IGTOA in Action
In order to help improve law enforcement within the GMR, IGTOA donated a GPS system and video equipment to the Galápagos National Park service to aid in their patrols for illegal fishing activity. We have also provided financial support for SSCS’s effort to improve judicial response to marine crimes. In 2013, for example, we donated $10,000 to cover travel expenses for Dr. Hugo Echeverria, the legal advisor to SSCS, who is spearheading efforts to pass more effective legal enforcement and to set up the first judiciary focused on environmental issues in the Galápagos. Largely because of the efforts of Dr. Echeverria and SSCS, the national judicial authority of Ecuador recently announced that it is going to create a provincial court in the Galápagos, which means that environmental cases will no longer be tried six hundred miles away on the mainland.
Education and Opportunity for Residents
In its 2007 report recommending that the Galápagos be added to the list of World Heritage in Danger, the World Heritage Committee cited insufficient measures to develop local capacity through education. Specifically, it noted the absence of a general capacity-building strategy among local residents to enable them to be better prepared to undertake technical or professional work traditionally done by foreigners. This has contributed to population growth in the archipelago as employers have been forced to bring employees from mainland Ecuador and other countries to fill available jobs. The education system in the Galápagos has also failed to provide students with an adequate appreciation and understanding of their natural environment, which are essential for creating an ethic of conservation among the next generation of citizens and leaders.
IGTOA in Action
Since 1997, IGTOA has sponsored numerous programs to improve education and professional development opportunities in the Galápagos. For years, we have helped fund the interpretative services program at the Charles Darwin Research Station, which provides opportunities for young people to gain experience in tourism and public relations. In 2013, we provided Ecology Project International with a grant to build local capacity for conservation leadership among young people and to engage teens in research and conservation. As a result of our support, 150 local students and ten teachers from all nine Galápagos schools had the opportunity to contribute to the protection of the archipelago. As part of the training, students monitored 60 tortoises in the wild, eradicated 6,000 square meters of invasive blackberry plants, and restored native habitat for giant tortoises and other species.