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Lunes, Hulyo 25, 2011

Galápagos Islands

Island history
The Galápagos Islands were officially discovered by Fray Tomás de Berlanga, the Bishop of Panama, in 1535, when his ship was becalmed in the Pacific
and then swept off course. They appear to have been first namedIsolas de Galápagos by a Flemish cartographer named Orteliu, in the 1570's. The name Galápagos originates from a Spanish word for saddle, after the saddleback tortoises. The islands also became known as Las Encantadas (the Enchanted Isles), not for their beauty but for the peril of their strong currents, and frequent disappearance in the mist.
Pirates & buccaneers
By the late 1500s, pirates and buccaneers were regularly hiding out in the archipelago. By the 1680s, such famous buccaneers as William Dampier, Ambrose Cowley and Edward Davis, used the Galápagos as a base from which they attacked the Spanish. Cowley first crudely charted the islands in 1684.
Whalers & scientists
In 1790, Alessandro Malaspina led the first scientific visit to the islands from Spain. Soon after began the arrival of the whalers. In 1793, the whaler James Colnett arrived from Britain in HMS Rattler. Thus began the heyday of whaling, the period which certainly had the most biological impact on the islands. There were so many whales that Colnett reported seeing lines of them passing from dawn to dusk. At about this time a post office barrel was established on Floreana Island, in which sailors would leave mail to be collected by ships that were homeward bound.
In 1813, Captain David Porter was sent from the United States in the warship Essex to destroy the British whaling fleet, which he duly did. In 1905–6, an expedition from the California Academy of Sciences collected the skins of 6,000 land birds and 266 tortoises, among other prizes.
An unkempt and fearsome Irishman called Patrick Watkins was marooned on Floreana in 1807 for several years. In 1859, oil was discovered in the United States and the whaling industry declined. In 1832, the Galápagos Islands were annexed by Ecuador and colonised. Official Spanish names were given. Attempts were made to harvest the lichen Roccella babingtonii, which was used as a dye in the textile industry. A small settlement established on Floreana quickly became a penal colony, as did another on San Cristóbal, and stories of subsequent tyranny, slavery and murder on the islands abounded.
Darwin, FitzRoy & the Beagle
In 1835, a young naturalist named Charles Darwin arrived as the naturalist on HMS Beagle, captained by Robert FitzRoy. FitzRoy mapped the coastline of the Galápagos with such accuracy that his charts were used by all ships until World War II; Darwin's findings inspired his thoughts on evolution.
Later scientists and europeans
During the 20th century, settlers and scientists converged on the islands from all corners of the globe. In 1924, Norwegian immigrants landed on Floreana, then on Santa Cruz where they set up a fish-canning plant.
The growth of towns
Over the years five islands were settled by various nations. Then, in 1959, the Government of Ecuador declared all areas without a human population to be a national park. In the same year, the Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galápagos Islands was set up in Brussels. This led directly to the establishment of the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz (Ecuador), officially inaugurated in 1964. In 1968, the Ecuador government sent out the first two park wardens and so began the administration of the national park.
Large-scale tourism started in 1970 with the arrival of a 58-passenger vessel. The human population has continued to swell and, with tourism, places increasing pressures on natural resources. Today towns such as Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz are busy centres of commerce and trade, a far cry from the natural beauty beyond. Over 60 vessels are carrying tourists.
The need for conservation
Since man discovered the 'Enchanted Islands', humans have exploited the wildlife and damaged the ecology. Pirates killed tortoises and left behind rats, which crept ashore when they careened their ships. Later the whalers took a greater toll of tortoises for food and oil, reducing several subspecies to virtual extinction. Hunters nearly exterminated the fur seals by the 1930s. The islands were regarded as a resource for the taking. Not even the great whales were safe.
Settlers cleared the vegetation for cultivation and pasture, and brought goats, donkeys and cattle that rapidly stripped the plants on which the reptiles depended. Putting goats ashore to breed was probably even more destructive than the hunting had been. Introduced cats, dogs and pigs turned feral and caused havoc with the native fauna, especially ground-nesting birds such as the dark-rumped petrel. These feral animals still threaten the penguins and cormorants today.
Islands are extremely vulnerable to organisms introduced from elsewhere. The native creatures are specialised and unused to predators, so they cannot compete with aggressive intruders. Even scientists contributed to the decimation, with their passion for 'collecting' ; they removed some of the last remaining tortoises from islands where they later became extinct. Fortunately the adverse effect of humans has now been recognised and attempts are being made to reverse this situation.
The Galapagos National Park
In 1934, the Ecuadorian government passed the first laws protecting fauna in the archipelago; making it necessary to get permits to land and collect specimens. The idea to set aside certain islands as a reserve was put forward in 1936, but nothing practical was done until two decades later. Ecuador was a 'developing' country with limited resources, and during World War II it had other priorities. In 1957, a UNESCO fact-finding mission was invited in by Ecuador to assess the status of the wildlife and advise on the creation of reserves.
In 1959, 100 years after the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species, a special body, the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) for the Galápagos Islands, was created. The CDF headquarters was based in Brussels. It was an international foundation, but recognised by the Ecuadorian government. The authorities recognised that the islands possessed a unique flora and fauna of outstanding importance and that there was a great potential for tourism. That same year, the Ecuadorian government declared all areas of the archipelago to be a national park, except those parts already colonised.
In the early 1960s, the first objective of the foundation was to build a research station on one of the islands. In 1964, this was completed at Academy Bay on Santa Cruz. Inevitably it was called the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS). In the early days, the scientists spent much of their time trying to eradicate introduced species. The other roles of the staff were scientific research and education.
In 1968 the Galápagos National Park Service (GNPS) was set up, to administer the day-to-day running of the park, and take over much of the conservation and eradication programmes. The two organisations have worked together ever since. In 1974, a 'master plan' laid down the strategy with zones of different usage, together with the rules and regulations to enforce and protect the zones. The rules for visitors and tourist boats were implemented.
Between 1973 and 1978, the number of tourists rose from 8,000 to 10,000 annually. The steady increase each year reflected the growing global interest in ecotourism. In 1979, UNESCO declared the Galápagos Islands a World Heritage Site. This meant that international aid in the form of funds and expertise would be made available to help protect the islands. Today more than 60,000 visitors come each year.
Repairing the damage
The park service had an early success with the eradication of goats from small but in those days resources and money were limited. The task of controlling goats on islands such as Santiago, which has over 100,000 of them, was daunting for a handful of men equipped with antiquated rifles.
The next task was to captive-breed the endangered tortoises and land iguanas. A breeding programme. By 1985, 151 young tortoises were repatriated to Española, and land iguanas were returned to parts of Santa Cruz where dogs had wiped them out. On the island of Pinta, sadly there remained only one male tortoise, 'Lonesome George'. In the decade that followed, over 1,000 young tortoises were repatriated to their original 'roots'. Several hundred are being raised for the next generation.
Scientists from all over the world came to do research in a variety of subjects ranging from oceanic insects to vulcanology. Visiting scientists tended to do 'pure' research, whilst those resident at the CDRS worked on long-term conservation projects. A team of ornithologists made probably the most detailed long-term observations of the Darwin's finches, and showed that evolution is still going on in a remarkably short timescale.
Tourism and education
The other function of the park service and research station was to educate both locals and visitors about the fragile ecology of the archipelago. Tourist numbers increased annually from 45,000 in the late 1980s to an estimated 60,000 in 1997. The airstrip was extended on Baltra so jets could arrive daily and a new airport was constructed on San Cristóbal. The research staion became an important site for tourists to visit and see the tortoises in the breeding corrals. The approach was to make the Galápagos a 'living laboratory', not a zoo.
An educational visitor centre was built within the research station. Recently the park has opened another 'interpretation centre' on San Cristóbal. The naturalist guides, are all trained by the park with help from station personnel. They not only inform and 'entertain' tour boat passengers but also act as unofficial park wardens, keeping an eye on tourists to make sure the park rules are obeyed. Tourists have to keep close to their guide and walk only on specially designated trails. They must not interfere with the wildlife. Despite the increasing visitor numbers it is a system that works, and most studies assessing the impact on the fauna by tourists conclude that the islands and animals are not seriously affected.
Now conservation features in the Galápagos school curriculum, for that is where the future lies.
Marine conservation
There is no point in protecting the land of Galápagos if the sea is pillaged. The ocean is the lifeblood of the archipelago; the park would cease to exist without the rich up-welled waters, with their plankton, fish, seabirds and mammals. The total coastline of the islands is greater than mainland Ecuador.
Surprisingly, it was not until 1986 that a presidential decree was issued establishing a Galápagos Marine Resources Reserve. This included the entire water surrounding the islands to a distance of 15 nautical miles (about 70,000km2). This was quite a victory for conservation but management of such an area proved difficult for the GNPS on a limited budget.
The late 1980s saw a boom in tourism and numbers of yachts operating. This attracted migrants from poorer parts of Ecuador, not all of them enlightened by the conservation ethic that most Galapagueños had. There was a localised population explosion, for the national park was not giving away any more land to colonists.
The Sea Cucumber Wars
In the early 1990s a market opened in the orient for sea cucumbers (a relative of sea urchins). These ugly invertebrates are thought to be aphrodisiacs and can fetch high prices in Asia. Industrial fishing companies from mainland Ecuador were used to recruit labour to collect the pepinos del mar as they are called in Spanish.
Sea cucumbers need to be processed within hours of collection, so vast illegal camps were set up clandestinely on the beaches of Isabela and the pristine jewel of Galápagos, Fernandina. Eventually Pepino collection was outlawed. However, due to the enormous sums of money involved, the fishermen used the press and campaigned for their rights to collect pepinos. Having over-fished lobsters in previous decades, they wanted an alternative livelihood. The situation degenerated into a war between pepino fishermen and the tourism lobby who were portrayed as misguided 'greens'.
The authorities relented and issued fishing quotas to the pepino-collectors but these were soon exceeded by the million and the disputes continued. On several occasions the Darwin Station and National Park offices were besieged by demonstrators, and the personnel subjected to threats. Tortoises were even killed on Isabela. Now the world's press became interested in the story. UNESCO has threatened to put the archipelago on its list of sites in peril.
Fishing on a local basis has always been a part of the human side of the islands. It was done by locals on small craft and could be called sustainable. At the same time as the sea cucumber dispute, the rapacious international fishing industry was moving closer to the islands' supposedly protected waters. Japanese and Taiwanese long-line fishing boats and tuna boats were coming as close as they dared. Even when caught, they paid a derisory fine and then carried on. It seemed that after years of loving care, the Galápagos was being sold out by the government.
The new law
In 1997 a dramatic change occurred. Concerned local residents from all walks of life, together with mainland organisations, petitioned their local senators and the president. Conflict became consensus over the issue of the marine reserve. In 1998, a new special law for the Galápagos was passed by presidential decree and ratified by Congress.
The law addressed three big issues: immigration restriction, quarantine of introduced organisms, and fisheries. Two main points of legislation resulted. Firstly, the marine reserve became a legally protected area, managed by the Galápagos National Park Service (together with local institutions). Secondly, the marine reserve area was extended (from 15 to 40 nautical miles), around the whole archipelago, with only tourism and local artisanal fishing permitted within this area. This outlawed industrial fishing of all types. Now the Galápagos are second only to the Great Barrier Reef National Park of Australia in terms of the size of marine area protected (130,000km2). This is great news for seabirds, marine mammals, fish and sharks (who were also being killed for their fins).
Revenues from visitor park fees ($100 per person) are now re-allocated between the National Park and the local councils (to use to improve the environment and tourist facilities), with smaller portions going to the quarantine of introduced species, to Ecuador's national reserves and to the navy. The quarantine aspect is crucial, for the biggest threat to the native organisms is introduced pests and plants.

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