Journal (Part Seven)
back to land
set out with the ambitious goal of gauging the present environmental
health of the Galápagos Islands.
Our plan was to follow Charles Darwin's 1835 route
and see what he saw. Whether or not you agree with his theory of
evolution, his careful observations brought to light creatures that
exist nowhere else on earth.
Darwin sparked a debate that is still raging 165 years
later. And the question is this: How does new life begin?
Darwin called this the "mystery of mysteries."
The Galápagos is still probably the best place
on earth to explore the theory of evolution. The creatures that
arrived here developed and changed over the millennia in unique
ways. The islands thus became a Petri dish of sorts, and the creatures
in it an experiment.
The experiment has been running now since the islands
popped out of the sea some five million years ago. Scientists have
the benefit of observing the results. But now, just as they're starting
to make sense of what they see, the experiment is getting contaminated.
During GalápagosQuest, we gathered data, interviewed
scientists, talked with locals and made observations. In general,
the beauty and uniqueness of these islands impressed us. The dedicated
people of the Galápagos National Park Service and the Charles
Darwin Research Station work hard to protect the islands and their
Thanks to their efforts, the endangered giant tortoises
are beginning to recover and many animals, such as sea lions, marine
iguanas and blue-footed boobies are doing well. We found no ozone
low-haze levels and excellent water quality.
But we also found that some 60 new species enter the
Galápagos each year species that contaminate the Petri
dish, so to speak.
Each week, we have zoomed in on one of the main environmental
issues facing the Galápagos. We reported both sides of the
story and then asked our 80,000 online collaborators to decide how
the issues should be handled. Here are the results:
1: Eradicate 100,000 goats (introduced by humans) to save 600 giant
tortoises on Isabela Island? Online collaborators' answer: Eradicate
Week 2: Close the season on sea cucumbers (which clean
the sea bottom) even though it threatens local fishermen's ability
to make a living? Online collaborators' answer: Protect the sea
Week 3: Should tourists be limited to reduce introduced
species even if it means drastically cutting conservation funds?
Online collaborators' answer: Limit tourism.
In each case, the results came down soundly on the
side of the environment. We are not the first to recognize the problem
here. In 1978 UNESCO named the Galápagos a World Heritage
Site, meaning that it has protection from the international community.
Still, the islands continued to deteriorate.
So, in 1995, monitors recommended putting the Galápagos
Islands on a list of World Heritage Sites in Danger. This would
have meant focusing international attention on the environmental
crisis here. Ecuador fought the listing and, in the end, UNESCO
decided not to add it to this list.
Some improvements have been made since then, including
passing a special law to deal with environmental problems. Many
scientists and conservationists, however, think that the problems
continue to merit the "in danger" status.
Moreover, in direct violation of the "Special
Law," Ecuador's Ministry of the Environment plans to open the
sea cucumber season.
his Web site.)
We believe that this world treasure should be put
on UNESCO's World Heritage Sites in Danger list. To accomplish this
goal, we have drafted a proclamation that sums up our findings.
We will deliver it to the Director General of UNESCO,
Ecuador's president and others. All have the power to help protect
Meanwhile, GalapagosQuest continues. This week, Jean
Michel Cousteau and the Dive Masters from Pacific Wilderness join
us as we go underwater. We will dive 20 sites from the top to bottom
of the Galápagos to see how well undersea creatures have
fared compared to their terrestrial cousins.