Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Protecting the Wonders of the Galapagos (Essay based on the book Plundering Paradise)


Living in the Galapagos is all about survival and in order to survive one must be patient, flexible, and have the capacity to adapt. My name is Hannah and I have lived in Puerto Ayora for the past 2 years before moving to Puerto Villamil in 2001. When I was in Ayora, I worked at the Darwin Station, which was founded in 1959. My job there was to protect the endemic species of these bountiful islands and to inform visitors of this fragile ecosystem. It has been a rough time for all of the Galapagos. Instability comes in the form of government, population, and economic troubles.
There have been many leaders of both Ecuador and the Galapagos over the past several years including “El Loco”. Each leader has crumbled under the pressure of leading a country in such a dire economic situation. The Galapagos are low on Ecuador’s priority list when it comes to distributing limited funds which makes those who live here want to ask more of the government, or worse, ignore their demands and laws of the current leadership altogether. On the other hand, Ecuador still controls these islands and those of us who live here rely on their good graces.
Puerto Ayora’s population has only been around for a short period of time; it’s longest inhabitants settling around 50 years ago. Most people who work in Ayora partake in the tourism business, using their dilapidated boats to show gringos the area. Some people such as my friend Jack Nelson own hotels on the water. Others work in restaurants or farms to provide food for the island’s many visitors. Many young men work as guides and make a lot of money instead of going to school and seeking higher education.
With tourism comes many problems, each being exponentially worse due to the small size of the islands. Introduced organisms from the ballast water of ships or on tourists are taking over and eradicating endemic species. Mangroves are dying due to a disease that turns them white. Tourism is helping the economy of Ayora, but the land is paying the price. The increasing population and demand for resources also puts a strain on the environment. Every day there are new boats that want to gain some of the industry that the Galapagos has to offer.
I moved to Puerto Villamil in 2001 when my job in Ayora began to be repetitive and larger problems arose on Isabela. In comparison, Villamil has almost no one living here. This area does not have a lot of tourists. There is no authority to contain those who live here and it is often referred to as the “Wild West”. The main draw to this area is the pepinos. Pepino farming pays very well and many young men are dropping out of school to make money. This kind of economy also comes with a price. At first there were many pepinos in the shallow water of Villamil. When those were gone the men had to use regulators with hoses attached to air tanks on the surface. Due to carelessness and desire to make the most money, many of them got the bends and had to be rushed to Guayaquil to the hypobaric chambers. Some of them also had ill effects from breathing contaminated air. Still today I see men sitting on street corners due to the mental damage. The pepino industry is also about to crash. They are being fished at an unsustainable rate and my job is to set limits on the fishing in order to avoid this crash and to rebuild the population.  
These two towns are different, each dealing with its own repercussions from its type of economy. Ayora must deal with impacts of tourism, invasive species, and increasing population while Villamil must deal with the effects of overfishing pepinos and the costs on the people who fish them. Although both have an unstable government with little authority and law enforcement, Ayora has a lot more people than Villamil does. My job in Ayora was to teach tourists about the wonders of the Galapagos. One year later I am in Villamil trying to stop the pepineros from destroying these same wonders.

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