On Saturday, the Galapagos National Park's 50th birthday celebration unwittingly illustrated the reasons why the Galapagos Islands are now a UN World Heritage Site in Danger.

To start with, the evening began with celebratory low-altitude firework explosions that not only scared all the local animals, but it also killed an unspecified number of local wildlife. One of the reasons people visit the Galapagos Islands is to see animals up close that have not yet developed a fear of humans. Activities such as fireworks will take that opportunity away. Fallout from the ballistic rockets littered the local marine habitat. While the animals of the Galapagos fled during the barrage of fireworks, the event devoted the evening to celebrating the island's new tourist dock.

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An endemic crab killed by fireworks

One of three reasons the Galapagos Islands were added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Danger list is the uncontrolled increase in tourism. Last year, 174,000 tourists visited the islands. The local government constructed a new dock to accommodate the ever-increasing number of tourists. The floating docks have no trash guards or trash receptacles, and an abundance of plastic trash and litter ended up tossed into the marine habitat below it during the celebration.

new tourist dock

The fireworks display that was detonated over marine iguanas, endemic crabs, and local bird nesting habitats was only one part of the festivities. After the fireworks, the event released several unmanned, untethered, open-flame hot air balloons that will become trash wherever the wind deposits them. As well, the event's celebratory speeches revealed the government's plans for the future of Galapagos.

Toyota, Porta, and Pilsner were more visible than pelicans, iguanas, and sea lions. Toyota, an honored guest at the ceremony, is the fortunate financial recipient of the Ministry of the Environment's new solution to vehicle pollution. The government will pay Galapaganean residents' $3,600 to swap their old trucks for new trucks.

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Trucks wins and the endemic birds lose

Every day trucks speeding along the newly paved road kill numerous birds.

The question the government should be asking is not, "how many people can the Galapagos accommodate and entertain?" but rather, "how can we have an ecologically perfect Galapagos?" A Galapagos where pelicans are not dodging fireworks, and crabs are not the casualties of a night of celebration. The Ecuadorian government can choose to manage the Galapagos as a moneymaking Disneyland Toyota town or as the ecologically priceless archipelago it is, at least for now.

all photos credit: Andrea Gordon and SuperVegan

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