Galapagos
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Facts About the Islands

• Galapagos consists of 6 main islands, 12 smaller islands, and around 50 islets.

• 97% of the area is National Park and the remaining 3% is used for human exploitation.

In the National Park area, local artisanal fishing is allowed almost everywhere. There are presently about 1,000 fishing licenses of which about 350 are being actively used. Also, tourism is allowed inside the Park but in a lower number of locations.

How greed nearly wiped out a species - Galapagos saw a boom in population numbers during the peak in fishing for sea cucumbers in the 90's before strict immigration regulations were in effect. Many fishermen came from the mainland attracted by the high profits people were making from this trade. It is not a surprise that this resulted in an overexploitation of the sector and to the complete collapse of the one sea cucumber population that is commercially harvested. Despite the disappearance of the sea cucumbers, up until today there has remained an extensive network of poaching and smuggling outside the 2-3 month annual, officially-sanctioned sea cucumber season.

We are the cause of ever-escalating problems - The 3% of Galapagos that is exploited by humans is the cause for most of the problems the Islands face today. Introduced plants spread from the farms and invasive species like blackberry are causing a smothering effect on endemic plants. Introduced pets are causing the endemic birds and marine iguanas to flee the populated areas. The constant transport of cargo between the continent and Galapagos is bringing an unknown number of rats and insects to the fragile ecosystem. These transports are needed to feed and supply the ever-growing human population as the local farms are no longer equipped to deal with the numbers. More and more roads are being asphalted, causing an increasing number of bird mortality. It is also making remote locations more accessible thus increasing the risk of contamination like, for instance, blackberry.

The need to get off our fossil fuel addiction - The inhabitants of Galapagos have a relatively high level of welfare. This results in excessive expenses and these days you can find anything you need on the islands. Most kitchens are equipped with all the appliances you would find in a house on the continent, and more and more houses have air conditioning. Since Galapagos is still dependent on a diesel-powered generator one really wonders if such luxuries are justifiable. The diesel is transported from the continent by giant tankers and even though they are modern ships there is always the risk of a spill.

Big renewable energy projects, however, are in progress. On one island, San Cristobal, the wind turbines generate half of the islands power consumption and the project is a success. On another island, Floreana, the solar panels that were supposed to replace the diesel generator are now working in addition to the generator. The inhabitants were told that thanks to the solar panels they could now all get air conditioning and additional appliances. This doubled the islands power consumption and made the project seemingly useless.article_separator_480x1

There are four inhabited islands in Galapagos:

(click on maps to view)

Santa Cruz islandSanta Cruz (population approx 24,000)

The island with the largest population, estimated at 24,000 in 2008. Here are the main offices of the Galapagos National Park service, the offices of the Charles Darwin Foundation as well as most NGO’s, including Sea Shepherd. It is also the main tourist hub as most cruises depart from Santa Cruz Island. The Park’s main fleet as well is anchored here.

Sea Shepherd projects:

 

San Cristobal island

San Cristobal (population approx 10,000)

Here we find the center of government, heads of police and navy.The coastguard vessel San Cristobal (there is only one navy ship that patrols the Marine Reserve) is stationed here. San Cristobal is the only of the four inhabited islands that has its own adequate supply of fresh water.

Sea Shepherd projects:

 

Isabela islandIsabela (population approx 3,000)

The island is less accessible as it has no direct air connection to the continent like Santa Cruz and San Cristobal, which is likely what has protected it from growing as rapidly as the other islands. Plans are, however, to get direct flights to the continent and the local government has been investing large amounts of money in docks, hotels and tourist excursions.

Sea Shepherd projects:

 

Floreana islandFloreana (population 200)

The island with the smallest population, very little developed for tourism.

Sea Shepherd projects:

 

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Sea Shepherd’s projects that encompass the entire Galapagos National Park and
its Marine Reserve:

  • Legal project
  • AIS
  • Tiburon Martillo
  • Support to the Galapagos National Park Service in any other way aimed to stop poaching and illegal fishing in the protected waters of Galapagos.

Besides these projects we have also encountered, on every visit to the Galapagos Marine Reserve with our ship Farley Mowat, illegal fishing vessels fishing within the protected waters. Sea Shepherd crews have pulled in more than a hundred miles of longlines and freed numerous sharks, turtles, rays, tuna, and other marine life. All of this evidence has been handed over to the GNPS.