The value of Galapagos as a natural space which is home to ecosystems and unique species of flora and fauna, as well as a major source of goods and services for local people, Ecuador and the world is unquestionable.
Galapagos shares certain ecological characteristics with other volcanic islands such as: the shortage of fresh water and the presence of persistent soil, a phenomena of active volcanism and the presence of endemic flora extremely sensitive to the introduction of alien species that frames natural interactions, and the high vulnerability to shocks from anthropogenic sources.
But unlike other similar islands, due to the late human colonization and conservation efforts since mid-century, Galapagos still retains much of its original biodiversity. That is why it has become a “flagship place” of conservation recognized on a worldwide level, Galapagos constitutes a unique eco-region, where key ecological processes are still active and operating with little interference by man, it earned the epithet “a natural laboratory of evolution”.
The archipelago has several international figures that have applied to try and ensure conservation of Galapagos, including: Reserve for World Heritage Sites, Ramsar Site, The Whale Sanctuary, Biosphere Reserve, etc.
The Global Strategy for Nature Conservation identifies Galapagos as a priority bio-geographical province for the establishment of protected areas.
Nationally the National Park and Marine Reserve, reflect the commitment made by the Ecuadorian government to preserve this important legacy for future generations of Galapagos, Ecuador and humanity in general.
Moreover, the need to conserve the Galapagos for Ecuador is determined by several additional elements: (a) it represents its international image at the tourist level, (b) is part of the natural heritage of protected areas, belonging to all Ecuadorians; (c) the proper management and conservation of the archipelago empowers Ecuador’s international image as a country responsible for the management and use of natural ecosystems as a source of environmental services, determining the welfare of its population and (d) is one of the best symbols of Ecuadorian nationality and sovereignty.
This aspect is relevant since, although the archipelago inhabits just one per thousand of the inhabitants of Ecuador, their importance in absolute terms is vastly larger and internationally projects the image of a unique natural space, well maintained and managed. Galapagos constitutes a true symbol of the Ecuadorian nation.
For all these elements, it is unquestionable that Ecuador and the world have an interest and are jointly responsible for maintaining the Galapagos in the best possible condition which implies that the human population and goods and services generated by ecosystems in the archipelago should be managed from a perspective of sustainable development.
However, all the political will to conserve the archipelago and international support to achieve it, are not sufficient if this effort is not counted with strong support from the Galapagos community, which must, ultimately, lead the archipelago towards the path of sustainable development. But while the national and international interest in Galapagos is clear, one wonders why the galapagueños need to conserve nature in the Galapagos archipelago?
The most direct answer to this question is based on recognizing that the local population depends entirely on the environmental goods and services generated by the ecosystems in Galapagos. The income from tourism and its own entrance fees to protected areas, contribute to a significant increase in the per capita income of the inhabitants of Galapagos and maintains balanced budgets of many public institutions in the province. You can also highlight the importance to the local economy of the revenue generated by fishing and to a lesser extent, exports of agricultural products such as organic coffee.
Conservation is undoubtedly the best business in the Galapagos. The natural capital of the archipelago is the main asset available to local people and the real engine that could and should promote their development. Galapagos Conservation generates sustainable benefits that contribute directly and indirectly to substantially improve the quality of life and welfare of local people.
Moreover, we must recognize that much of the Galapagos community already has socio-cultural roots in this territory, especially the generation born in the archipelago, one in three “galapagueños”, and who maintain a more rooted pro-conservationist attitude. In those early inhabitants and their descendants, is the root of a “territorial hold” that must be enhanced.
Galapagos Conservation should have as its main ally the local population itself, as a “custodian” of its natural capital on which their current development depends and the future of the next generations. In the long term, it should conform to a sense of ownership, a connectedness as owners-proprietors, and as such responsible for the care of this natural heritage. The local population must enhance this deep sense of ownership, articulated with the rescue of values of this “island identity”.