Visiting Isla Santa Cruz in the Galápagos Archipelago

Galápagos Observations

Puerto Ayora and Academy Bay, as seen from the rocky escarpment that was the highest point on the trail to Bahia Tortuga (Turtle Bay).  

The central part of the town's waterfront, with a park along the shoreline and tourist shops on the other side of the street. The Spanish word for "waterfront" is malecón, which is a word you'll encounter from time to time.  

Some of the local fishing boats at anchor close to shore.  

Another local fishing boat. This one is named Intrepido II, so there must have been an Intrepido I that served the fisherman well enough so he could afford Intrepido II.  

The island is surprisingly big and robust but has hosted much human activity (especially farming and cattle ranching) that has altered the natural landscape. In the past such deliberate or accidental alterations could be expected since people had a different view of nature. Natural resources were a limitless bounty placed on the earth for the benefit of man. It was an acceptable and common practice for people to exploit the resources with little thought of consequences other than their own immediate benefit. By now, such reasoning has been superseded by a more enlightened philosophy of man (and his needs) being but one component in a complex web of life where all creatures have a right to exist. Unfortunately this philosophy has not been actualized everywhere on earth. Although the Galápagos Archipelago is a strikingly unique natural area, there are strong competing interests and forging a win-win compromise between the interested parties has been difficult.

Another thing that strikes me is how much of the tourism here is mass-produced, with tour operators shuttling packs of tourists here and there on a strict schedule rushing to "do" the Galápagos in a week or less. When visiting any complex and novel ecosystem, it takes time to develop a meaningful mental concept that has some depth of understanding. We will barely have enough time to do this ourselves, with 20 days granted by the Port Captain. People who rush through in less than a week are just going to remember an incoherent blur of details that will be hard to assimilate into a cohesive impression of the place.

I've mentioned before that there are so many people living here it's hard to consider the island to be a natural reserve, especially a world-class reserve. To be sure, you need local guides, but then the guides have families, the families need food, clothes, schools, roads, electricity/water, so you need all the people to maintain this infrastructure all of whom have their own families with additional needs; finally you have the tourists themselves with their own needs. By the time you've built up the support structure to take care of the tens of thousands of tourists who visit annually, you now have a small city with all the usual city-like infrastructure and problems, all affecting, inhibiting, and displacing the very natural ecosystems the tourists came to see. The real trick is balancing the needs of the people with the needs of the natural environment. Despite my negative comments, I think they've done a decent job balancing those needs. Their main technique is to limit tourist activity to a few popular if overused attractions, then they place the rest of the Archipelago strictly off-limits. So the islands actually do have lots of pristine all-natural areas—it's just that no tourist (including me) ever gets to see them, which is fine with me.

A frigatebird soars overhead. The white patch means it's a female.  

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