In reality, many places around the planet never quite match up to the expectations and preconceptions that we have for these places. Glossy tourist brochures and websites, churn out endless images of unspoiled nature, friendly locals, incredible food and culture – however, often the truth is very different and we can encounter the worse excesses of mass tourism, social inequality and places spoiled by pollution and litter. Sometimes, we can find both extremes close by one another.
One place that won’t disapoint though is the Galapagos Islands, lying almost 1000km out in the Pacific from mainland Ecuador and boasting spectacular biodiversity that inspired Darwin’s theory of Evolution by Natural Selection. Back around 1990, I visited the Islands as the final part of a University of Wales Expedition to study Ecuador’s amazing ecology and biodiversity. Without a doubt, anyone who is even remotely interested in natural history will find the Galapagos fascinating, with so much local variety existing between the different islands.
The only way to get around is by boat, with a local National Park guide, as legally required for all visitors – I spent a week on board a smaller tourist boat with a mixed international group of tourists and visited several islands. The wildlife is amazing and you’ll certainly encounter pretty much everything you can find in the guidebook; you can swim with sealions, watch dolphins jumping in the bow wave, sit next to marine iguanas or giant tortoises, encounter unique seabirds such as waved albatrosses, blue-footed boobies or frigate birds – the list is endless.
Moreover, given the absence of previous human inhabitants on the islands, the wildlife dosen’t readily want to run away and is incredibly tolerent of visitors. For photographers, this can be quite a revelation and even rather unsettling. It was this lack of fear amongst the local wildlife populations that allowed sailors, from days of yore, to exploit the situation through stocking up their ships with some of the island’s more vulnerable species, including giant tortoises which were stacked alive into the holds of waiting ships. The sailors also introduced many problem species such as goats and dogs that competed with native wildlife populations.
So, even the wonderful Galapagos is not without its problems and threats; commercial pressure in recent years from bigger tour companies has resulted in increasing levels of overtourism which has started to exceed the ecological limits of the fragile islands. The human population has also mushroomed, as mainland Ecuadorians move to the Islands to cash in on the economic tourist boom, through working in service industries. This has often put the local people increasingly into conflict with conservation objectives, with associated issues of pollution, over-exploitation of natural resources (including over fishing), erosion and spread of non-native species of flora and fauna. These threaten the delicate balance of nature.
Of course, bigger boats means bigger bucks for tour operators, but also puts increased pressure upon fragile natural environments and ecosystems. It’s a lesson we see repeated aroud the world. The Galapagos Islands population have to be careful not to “kill the goose that lays the golden eggs” – especially in an environment of such high international significance from a biological perspective.
Anyway, just a brief introduction for now. I hope you enjoy a few pictures of the islands (without further description), of their amazing geology and wildlife and also some images highlighting the threats facing this fragile paradise….