A Galapagos cruise is the opportunity to visit a part of the world many consider to be the most unique on the planet in terms of its landscape, ecosystem and wildlife. First made famous by their place in Charles Darwin's research for his Theory of Evolution, these extraordinary islands continue to play a vital role in our study of ecology and the natural world.
The Conversation on Conservation
One of the most pertinent subjects surrounding this part of the world is conservation. Numerous environmental issues have had (and continue to have) an impact on the habitat and wildlife of the archipelago, including early human intervention and global climate changes.
For responsible travellers, learning more about the conservation initiatives in place for the region can make the experience of a Galapagos cruise even more meaningful.
Galapagos National Park
Almost the entire area of the archipelago was established as a National Park in 1959. Today, the management of the park comprises several hundred rangers under the leadership of a superintendent. When the region was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, in 1979, the directorate became responsible for the permanent conservation of the islands. (The Galapagos Marine Reserve also came under UNESCO protection in 1998.)
Since 2007, when the archipelago was added to the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites in Danger, even stricter controls were imposed on visitors and residents. These include the regulation that all visitors must be accompanied by a certified guide, and the establishment of an entrance fee for those entering the park on a Galapagos cruise.
The Charles Darwin Foundation
Since 1959, the CDF has been instrumental in maintaining the archipelago's conservation in terms of research and education. The organisation continues to exist through private funding and donations in order to carry out its valuable work.
In 1964 the foundation established the Charles Darwin Research Station, on Santa Cruz, which not only provides an important site for visitors, but also creates ongoing opportunities for scientists and researchers on study programmes. The many initiatives the CDF has facilitated over the years include iguana breeding programmes, the reduction of non-native plant species, funding for scholarships, prevention of illegal shark fishing and the review of scientific papers on the study of life in the archipelago.
The Galapagos Conservation Trust
The GCT is a UK-based non-profit organisation that was established in 1995 in order to raise funds and create awareness of conservation issues faced by the region. The trust supplies much-needed funding to a range of existing programmes, but also works to identify problems and come up with the solutions and funding to solve them.
Some of the projects the GCT has been involved in recently include the installation of solar panels at the Charles Darwin Research Station, implementing a scholarship-based system for Ecuadorian students to study abroad, the protection of sharks from illegal fishing to harvest their fins, and raising money to fund a programme to protect local avian species.
A Global Conservation Effort
Along with other high profile organisations like UNESCO, the WWF and the Galapagos Conservatory, there are numerous other smaller organisations also dedicated to preserving the archipelago and its wildlife.
However, it's up to every visitor to do their part and, for those entering the region on a Galapagos cruise, this means following the regulations and being mindful of the fragility of this unique environment.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in the unique wildlife of the Galapagos Islands. Marissa chooses the expert-led Galapagos cruise itineraries organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of wildlife in one of the most spectacular regions on Earth.