Introduction to ecosystems
Introduction to ecosystems

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Introduction to ecosystems

6.3.3 Galápagos research and human effects

Most of the animals and birds on the islands have no fear of humans, which is one of a number of reasons why the islands are such an attractive place to carry out research.

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Galápagos research

DR. DAVID ROBINSON
We're in the Pacific, about 1000 kilometres west of South America on the equator. Martin Wikelski is heading for his research site. It's an island called Santa Fe, part of the Galápagos archipelago. Santa Fe, like all the Galápagos Islands, is the tip of a volcano that became land only a few million years ago. Many of the animals and plants that now live there are found nowhere else on Earth. These island species have long fascinated biologists interested in evolution, but this is also a good place for animal physiologists to study. Like all animals found in isolated oceanic island groups, the species found in Galápagos are astonishingly unafraid of people because of the absence of predators. And even on an inhabited island on a hotel patio, marine iguanas, a Galápagos species, lounge in the shade of the chairs. With few natural predators, they don't see people as a threat. They're easy to observe and study, and a source of fascination.
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This video highlights the pressures of increasing tourism and increasing population. Since the video was made, an area of land close to Puerto Ayora, the main town on Santa Cruz, has been set aside for 1200 new houses, which will double the size of the town.

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Managing tourism in the Galápagos Islands

DR. DAVID ROBINSON
When Charles Darwin landed on the Galápagos Islands in 1835, they were barely inhabited. But today things are very different. Over the last quarter century, the permanent population has grown rapidly from 5,000 in 1980 to over 25,000 today. This has caused problems for the National Park Service who want to preserve the unique character of the islands.
MICHAEL BLIEMSRIEDER
An increasing population size is a problem. For example, here in Santa Cruz and Puerta Ayora where we are now, there's no more space. The last areas were given away already to immigrants during the last four or five months, so people is living already at the borderline of the park.
DR. DAVID ROBINSON
In addition to the local population, over 150,000 tourists visit the Galápagos every year. The numbers keep on growing. Tourism on the Galápagos is tightly controlled by the Park Service. Some islands are totally closed off. Wardens supervise visitors at all times within the park zone, but there's such interest in these islands that the tourists keep on coming.
CHANTAL BLANTON
I think Galápagos should be important as a tourist area because one of the major purposes of protection in Galápagos is for conservation and for education. And it's very difficult for people to understand the problems that occur in Galápagos or in protected areas such as if they can't actually come here and see it with their own eyes. The problem from tourism isn't so much the tourist interaction with the organisms. What is more of a concern is all the people that tourism, as an ancillary activity, bring to the islands. And that is a concern because the islands cannot support large numbers of people.
DR. DAVID ROBINSON
So far, the Park Service and its supporters have managed to keep the big hotel chains and the huge cruise ships at bay. But the competing pressures of maintaining the islands' unique heritage and simultaneously allowing the local population to develop economically will always require delicate handling. Life on the Galápagos can be difficult, but nevertheless, scientists and conservationists regard it as a privilege to work there.
MICHAEL BLIEMSRIEDER
There are plenty of problems, and plenty of difficult situations, and plenty of frustrations, but they're also plenty of rewards and success. And things you can say, well, I helped to do this. I am getting an ulcer and things like that. I'm getting sick sometimes because of the problems, but well, that's part of the job. I mean, I prefer to be here instead of sitting at a desk at the main office in Quito.
CHANTAL BLANTON
Number one here is conservation. Number one here is this continuum to be, not a museum, not a vivarium. It's a living laboratory of evolution.
DR. DAVID ROBINSON
In the decades since Darwin's visit, the fame of the Galápagos has spread around the world. Much more is known about its natural history, but there's still much work to be done. Darwin's comment still holds true. It really is a remarkable and curious place.
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