THE GROWING HOPE OF THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS
hen you think of the Galapagos, what do you see? Do you see the giant tortoises or goats? Do you see unique scalesia plants or blackberries? Do you see nature or agriculture? Of course, the answer will always be the first. We want to see the unique character of a place, but in this case there is some bad news. The Galapagos islands are threatened by invasive species. In the last centuries the Galapagos developed itself as a important touristic income for Ecuador. The economy grew faster as the Chinese and tourists seem to pay more and more for their exclusive holiday to the enchanted islands. Although the organized tourism started in the 60’s, the sector started to ‘boom’ in the 90’s. The growing labor market caused a migration of people from the poor rural mainland of Ecuador to the rich Galapagos. The soil was perfectly usable for agriculture, which grew along the population; uncontrolled. Eventually the population was too big to produce for on the islands themselves. This seemed the beginning of the end at that time. The results of the population, agricultural and touristic growth were a disaster for the unique environment.
AT HACIENDA ESPERANZA
Due the population growth, the farmers had to came up with new ideas to feed all the people. They introduced hundreds of plants in the hope that they would catch the market. The opposite happened. The introduced plants as blackberry and guava which overgrew the endemic plants with stronger competition and even worse, the farmers began to give their work up. Some of them decided to go work in the more profitable touristic sector and abandoned their land. The introduced species on these lands were free to grow.
At the moment the awareness of the local island inhabitants is growing. The people realize that their tourism is depending on their environment. They want to protect their ecosystem. The national park started project with local farmers to conserve the boundaries of their area and to reforest all of the abandoned land with endemic plant species. In the small farmers community La Soledad, located on the island San Cristobal in the
east of the Galapagos, Hacienda Esperanza (ranch of hope) works to reforest seven hectares land which was given by the national park. Jose Simbana started his own volunteer project to accomplish this. Volunteers from all over the world come to his hacienda to help creating a new habitat for the giant tortoise and its surrounding nature. Besides, the man wants to help the farmers on the island in order to let them keep their land and not abandon it. The project is a win-win situation. The Galapagos benefits in their nature conservation and the volunteers learn from the work in another culture. They learn about the Galapagos nature, the Ecuadorian farm work and about the relations between these rural functions. Besides, they experience the islands as no one else does. There can be concluded that the Galapagos islands are threatened by their inhabitants but that the people are getting more aware of their environment. The volunteer project at Hacienda Esperanza creates hope for the island’s nature and inhabitants. If you got interested, motivated or inspired by this project to help the Galapagos, take a look at the website of the hacienda and apply to volunteer: www.galapagosesperanza.com