Tourism and conservation in the Galapagos Islands

Here at Metropolitan Touring we are reminded every day of just how important it is to conserve the environment. Our workplace is the Galapagos Islands, and as one of the most fragile regions on the planet, getting the right balance between the number of visitors and conservation is crucial.

Giant tortoirse from Galapagos.

In Galapagos Islands everything is base in the conservation and protection of the species.

Tourism has, for many years, been an important contributor to the Ecuadorean economy, and one of the main sources of employment for the Galapagos Islanders. Nowadays, over 200,000 visitors travel to the islands each year. 75,000 of them will enter the National Park, which comprises 97% of the land surface of Galapagos. Not long ago, cruise ships dominated the tourism industry in the archipelago, but in recent years there has been an increase in land-based tourism. Despite the considerable cash flow it brings to the islands, the travel industry also causes problems to the environment. These are caused by contamination generated by outdated boat engines, oil spills, inappropriate anchors, lack of holding tanks for grey and/or black waters in most small vessels, and the unintentional introduction of invasive plant and animal species from the mainland.

Sustainable tourism is a must. We founded our company – the pioneer of travel in the Galapagos Islands – on the principle of respectful contact with the natural world. Part of this philosophy involves working alongside the local community. We sponsor talented young Galapagueños by giving them the opportunity to travel aboard our vessel Santa Cruz II, to give them the opportunity to explore the archipelago they inhabit. This brings forth an understanding of just how special their backyard really is and why it’s so important to take proper care of it.

Upwellings in Galapagos islands.

We promote sustainable tourism and work under strict environmental policies.

These youngsters eventually come to share our passion and commitment. Even one of our alumni now works for us as a qualified naturalist guide. This kind of interaction with the local community is what ensures that the future of the islands will be in good hands. Our company’s non-profit organization, Fundación Galápagos, works to improve education in the islands while providing job opportunities for members of the communities. It also ensures that everyday practices, like waste disposal and recycling processes, are effective.

Tagus Cove, Galapagos Islands.

It’s key for us that visitors understand the importance of preserving and protecting wildlife in the Galapagos Islands.

Nonetheless, it’s equally important to make sure that visitors also understand their responsibilities. Our clients are fully briefed on the regulations put in place by the Galapagos National Park authorities that try to avoid any detrimental impact on the Islands’ unique habitat. As a company, we bring all our rubbish out of the islands. Our accompanying naturalists ensure nobody strays from the marked trails, or feeds and touches the wildlife. We make sure our guests understand why they shouldn’t smoke onshore, and we also explain to them why collecting rocks, seashells, wood or vegetation as a souvenir could have disastrous consequences for the island’s ecology. We cooperate fully with all officials involved in environmental inspections and quarantine procedures. And we do so not just because we have to, but because we want to.

The Santa Cruz II, our largest vessel of the three we operate, has a capacity of just 90 passengers, in line with the policy that bans large cruise ships from the islands. The other two – Yacht La Pinta and Yacht Isabela II – hold just 40 and 48 passengers respectively. The Galapagos National Park authorities must approve every one of our itinerary submissions. This manner of operating is designed in such a way as to avoid any of the islands receiving too many visitors in one day. These regulations have proven to be so effective that the Galapagos Islands have been taken off the UNESCO World Heritage Danger List, during a time when visitor numbers have actually shown a steady increased. Conservationists argue there’s still work to be done, however, it’s pleasing to see progress is being made.
As a company we constantly assess our impact on the environment and strive to reduce our footprint. We’re proud to report that this has been recognized with several awards. Amongst them, we were finalists in the 2009 Tourism for Tomorrow Awards, were awarded Best Ground Operator by the UK’s LATA in 2008 and 2009 and our Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel on Santa Cruz Island was awarded the World’s Leading Green Hotel in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
We hope that when you visit the Galapagos, you’ll do so with us, supporting responsible and sustainable tourism in one of the most incredible places on the planet!

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  • Bob Bobert
    May 14, 2019 at 9:44 pm

    Tourism is DESTROYING the Galapagos Islands!

    • Christopher Klassen
      May 16, 2019 at 5:18 pm

      Hi Bob! Thanks so much for your comment!

      Your concerns about the Galapagos Islands are completely valid and understandable. However, we’d like to let you know that 98% of the archipelago became a National Park back in 1959, thanks in large part to the international scientific community. Not only that, but they took it one step further: they vouched for a highly restricted and sustainable approach to tourism as a way of helping support the National Park. After an extensive study throughout the early 60’s, the Galapagos National Park opened its islands to visitors, albeit under incredibly strict rules and regulations.

      Fast forward to today, and the rules are still very much in place, and then some. For instance, did you know that nobody, at any given moment, is allowed to explore the National Park on their own? Small groups (a maximum of 16 explorers) must be led and accompanied by a licensed and certified Naturalist Guide throughout the short and sustainably-created trails that exist in the Park. Other rules that govern the national park include: no food, no bathrooms, no waste, no touching of the wildlife, no smoking, and not even the use of flashes or selfie sticks when taking photos!

      There are also only 69 vessels that navigate Galapagos waters, and rather than being the gargantuan cruise liners that one would expect to see the in the Caribbean, these are small (max. 100-passenger) Expedition Vessels and Yachts (the majority of these vessels are tiny, single-guided, 8-cabin boats).

      Anything larger than that is strictly prohibited from even entering Galapagos waters.

      So, to sum up: there are only 1,690 beds – available across 69 Expedition Vessels and Yachts – for visitors wishing to explore the Galapagos National Park. Not to mention, these Vessels are strictly required to manage their wastewater and solid waste. Even the type of fuel they use is highly regulated.

      Add to that the fact that there’s around 8,000 square kilometers of land surface area spread out across 19 islands and hundreds of smaller islets and rocks, a grand total of 176 visitor sites available year-round (being on the equator has its perks), strict itinerary laws, regulations, controls, and a notable entrance fee… and it’s no small wonder why such few people actually do come to the Galapagos National Park on a yearly basis. In fact, there are more people attending a single football game in a single afternoon, than there are visitors coming to our National Park in one whole year!
      We hope that helps assuage any worries or doubts you had regarding this incredible destination, with respect to “tourism destroying the Galapagos Islands”!

      In the end, the greater part of the archipelago is actually kept incredibly pristine and free of human presence!

  • madeleine stevens
    June 10, 2019 at 11:07 pm

    hi can anyone help me I have an assessment on tourism in Galapagos islands due TODAY someone help, please

    • Christopher Klassen
      June 11, 2019 at 1:55 pm

      Hi Madeleine, thanks for writing to us! One of our Destination Experts will be getting in touch with you shortly!

    • Christopher Klassen
      June 11, 2019 at 2:12 pm

      Dear Madeleine, it has come to our attention that your inquiry is regarding homework. Unfortunately, we can only help you with information regarding traveling and planning your trip to the Galapagos. For all other inquiries regarding academia, we recommend Google, a Library, or your school teacher! Good luck with your assessment!

      Here’s a blog that might come in handy for your assessment though:

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