Saving The Galapagos Islands
The creation of the Galapagos Islands is truly amazing. Similar to Hawaii, the Galapagos was formed by active volcanoes, thirteen, in fact, with the most recent eruption happening only about six months ago. When one thinks about an island that falls on the equator, he/she often assumes it is a tropic paradise, but most of the Galapagos is an arid desert with unique cacti, cold ocean water, and strange adaptable animals.
So, how did this island, that I lovingly think of as the perfect example of evolution, evolve? Fun fact, most Ecuadorians are very Roman Catholic, ergo, the topic of evolution did not come up as much as I would have liked.
These volcanic created islands were barren and far out in the Pacific Ocean. So, how did life get there? According to the Centro de Interpretacion on Isla San Cristobal, most of the animals found their way floating on naturally made rafts. The few animals that survived their trip to the islands continued to adapt, while the rest perished along the way. I personally found the Marine Iguanas to be one of the most interesting of all the creatures on the Galapagos Islands.
Iguanas are typically land based tropical herbivorous lizards, seen eating plants, flowers, and some fruits. However, when a few found themselves on the way to, and eventually on, the Galapagos Islands, these options were not available. However, they were survivors! They learned how to swim, how to expel salt from their system, started eating seaweed, and changed their color to better blend in with the volcanic rocks of the islands. In many ways, they look similar to their ancestors, but they have truly evolved to survive.
This is the common story of the Galapagos. For the islands to survive, changes need to be made. Over the past recent years, with climate change in effect, and increased pollution affecting the oceans, the Galapagos needs to evolve again, or this spectacular destination will change forever. With climate change and El Nino heavily affecting the water’s temperatures, fish populations and seaweed have severely declined. This means that the once giant Marine Iguanas have shrunk in size to survive. Sea lions are now changing their prey options or are facing starvation. Every year, many sea lion pups are left to starve on the beaches of the Galapagos because their mothers never return from the ocean. With the decrease in fish, the boobies are also being hit hard, and over the years less and less of them are breeding. With the rising temperatures in the ocean, the penguins have also slowed their mating.
If things do not change soon, then it may be the end of the Galapagos Islands.
Fortunately, the Ecuadorian government is aware of the issues, and while they can not fight climate change on their own, they have taken some very exciting steps in the right direction!
When you first enter the islands, you are greeted with a sign that reads, “No Plastic.” The Galapagos is on the move to reduce plastic waste, which often goes into our oceans and kills marine life. While in the US, and may other countries, people are fighting the idea of having to pay 5 cents for a plastic bag at a shop, this isn’t even an option in the Galapagos. We bought one reusable bag at a grocery store, I used it the whole trip, and even took it home with me! Remember when everyone was complaining on Facebook about how bad plastic straws are? Well, they are extinct on the islands. They have been replaced by reusable metal straws, which are great! It isn’t just plastic that the Galapagos is cognizant of. One will rarely find a trash bin at all. You are offered: Plastic, Glass, or Organic/Paper. This was even the case on mainland Ecuador.
This is very important. There is no trash. Things are reused or biodegradable. This means there is no waste going into the oceans. This means, there is no need for the majestic turtles washing up with plastic twisted around their bodies. Just this month, two Sperm whales were found dead in Germany with stomachs filled with waste: plastic and car parts. This should not be happening, and the Galapagos is trying to take the steps in the right direction.
In addition to being more aware of waste, the Ecuadorian government set up the Zero Fossil Fuels project on the Galapagos Islands. The islands are 100% renewable energy, with, according to one guide I spoke with, a move to being 100% solar. I was informed that Galapagos’s Isabela Island is already 100% solar energy. This is a very exciting progressive trend that I hope the rest of the world jumps onto. Unfortunately, the Galapagos has a lot to lose, a lot faster, than other places in the world.
Let’s all try a little harder to help keep places like the Galapagos Islands around for a long time. Use less electricity, recycle, bring your own bags when you go shopping, and eat less/zero animal products. Earth is a beautiful planet, with so many amazing animals and sights, lets keep her around for awhile.
To learn more about the Galapagos Islands and how you can help, please check out the Galapagos Conservatory.
Article and photos by Kira Bucca, Editor in Chief of Jejune Magazine.