Decemberr 16st, 2008
|In recent weeks, there have been a series of articles in the world press on threats from increasing population pressure in Galapagos. The articles appear to have been prompted by the recent expulsion of illegal immigrants from the islands by the Ecuadorian government.In September, the government began a crackdown on illegal residents living in Galapagos. About 1,000 people were rounded up and put on planes back to the mainland. Some 2,000 others were put on notice that they had to leave within a year. Following this, an article in the Los Angeles Times reported:
“[President] Correa’s government was the first to strictly enforce laws that require formal ‘visas’ for Ecuadorians to visit the Galapagos. The papers of all arriving at the islands’ two airports are checked. Checkpoints and patrols have become routine on Santa Cruz Island, home to the port town of Puerto Ayora.”
But the story on illegal residents prompted some headline writers to instead focus on a threat from tourism. Although no new limits on tourism have been established, nor has the government of Ecuador been hinting at any quotas, some headlines still read: “Tourism curbed in bid to save Galapagos haven,” “Ecuador attempts to reign in Galapagos tourist boom” and “Galapagos expels citizens as a flood of tourists threatens islands.” These articles did not elaborate on their headlines but simply repeated the reports of a crackdown on illegal residents.
Illegal immigration to the islands has meant a large increase in population over the past decade. This has been due to higher wages and living conditions in the islands and to increasing tourism development. These population pressures, combined with the threat from introduced plants and animals, prompted UNESCO to put Galapagos on the list of World Heritage Sites in Danger last year.
Changes to Boat Itineraries
Boat itineraries in Galapagos are undergoing changes. The Galapagos National Park held a meeting at the end of January with representatives of the travel industry. During the meeting the Park emphasized the need to reduce the impact of visitors at certain sites. These include Hood, Tower, Bartolome, North Seymour, South Plazas and Punta Espinosa.
In attendance were members of ASOGAL, CAPTURGAL (the Galapagos Chamber of Tourism), and ADATUR (Galapagos Boat Operators), All agreed that sacrifices would have to be made in order to keep the islands healthy for the future.
Small boat itineraries have been the first to be affected. Larger boats (with 48 or more passengers) will also be affected, although changes to their itineraries have been delayed for several months.
The National Park plans to strictly regulate requests for special itineraries. It said that changes to a yacht's approved itinerary would not be made unless there were very compelling reasons. By 2007, special itinerary requests will need to be submitted no less than eight months in advance for consideration.
Other measures are being looked into to remove pressure from the most visited sites, especially those in the central part of the archipelago.
Penalty for Celebrity Cruises
The Galapagos National Park has handed down a penalty to Celebrity Cruises for illegal shark fishing on board its boat, Xpedition. It has suspended operation of the boat for two months and levied a fine equivalent to the salaries of 500 crew members (rumoured to be in excess of $80,000). There was no indication as to when the suspension would begin.
A spokesperson for Celebrity, which is owned by Royal Caribbean Cruises, said that they were appealing the decision. She said that the Park had renewed Celebrity's operating permit for this year.
The penalty resulted from the illegal fishing of sharks by crew members on board the boat. In September, the Association of Galapagos Guides filed a complaint with the Galapagos National Park. They released photographs showing three Xpedition crewmembers holding sharks that they had allegedly caught while on board the ship.
Tourism Boat Caught With Sea Cucumbers
On 19 January, the tourist boat, Galapagos Adventure II, was caught by the Ecuadorian Merchant Marine four miles off Santa Cruz with 18 sacks of sea cucumbers. The boat was impounded and an investigation was launched by the National Park. No ruling has yet been made. The Galapagos Adventure II belongs to the Galaven company.
Artisinal Fishing Tourism Approved
Artisinal fishing as a tourist activity has been approved by the Inter-institutional Management Authority (AIM). This new form of tourism allows visitors to learn about the art and culture of small-scale fishing by local residents. The fishing sector had proposed this as a way for local fishermen to participate in tourism. No details are available about what will be offered, or by whom.
Source: International Galapagos Tour Operators Association (IGTOA)