The Galapagos islands -off the west coast of Ecuador – are among the most important remaining bastions of nature on our planet. The diversity of life here – Hammerhead Sharks, Galapagos Penguins and Blue-Footed Boobies among them – prompted Charles Darwin 150 years ago to craft his theory on the origin and evolution of species. It changed the way we look at nature forever.
Today, we at another crossroads for nature, and indeed for all of humanity. Biodiversity loss is still happening and continues to collapse at an alarming rate which underpins much of our economies and livelihoods.
The COVID-19 pandemic emphasized we are not living in a world that is disconnected from nature. Rather, our world is a single global ecosystem, increasingly and ever more intensively connected. The destruction of forests and other ecosystems, coupled with the extensive trade of wildlife, has brought the risk of regular pandemics to our doorsteps.
The same pandemic has frozen a lot of the world’s financing for natural areas, of many heavily depending on tourism revenues. The Galapagos Islands are among the most affected by the near-global lockdown. It is a highly tourism-dependent economy, receiving 250,000 visitors per year which ensured jobs and livelihoods for 80% of its population. Revenue dropped to around $50 million USD in 2020, compared to $110 million USD in a typical year.
Guardians of conservation: livelihoods on the line
Alice Barlett and her family, like many of the other 33,000 inhabitants on the islands, relied heavily on tourism to not only earn money, but to raise awareness around protecting and preserving marine life. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on her work. For Alice, who describes her self as a guardian of conversation, said:
“Since March, we had many cancellations and refunds. When marine reserve reopened in July, we wanted to start working with a few tourists that there were, but all the diving boats and snorkelers had trouble getting insurance to renew our patents in the national park until September. Since then we are working with very few visitors.«Alice Barlett, San Cristobal Island, Galapagos Islands
But there is hope. The Biodiversity Finance Initiative of the United Nations Development Programme is working with the government of the archipelago and San Francisco University on a crowdfunding campaign to support local communities that saw their incomes dry up.
Through an online platform (link here) anyone can send a donation to help continue conservation activities during the pandemic, which will certainly continue well into 2021.
In the campaign launching event, Conservationist Yolanda Kakabadse, Former President of WWF and IUCN, Former Minister of Environment in the Government of Ecuador stated that
“Acting now in protecting the Galapagos and in developing the necessary tools to recover the balance with nature is a must, not a wish but an obligation. The campaign is designing a strategy to support Galapagos and calling the citizens of the world to support.”Yolanda Kakabadse, Former President of WWF and IUCN, Former Minister of Environment in the Government of Ecuador
A long term vision for a greener transition
The campaign will also target a longer-term transformation, greening local business to have less adverse impact on nature and climate into the future and become less dependent on tourism revenues alone. In this way it will be possible for anyone around the world to contribute to saving these amazing islands from not only these current threats, but also others in the future. The Galapagos are not only facing this pandemic, but also need to counter the negative impact of a changing climate, from species that were brought to the island by humans, such as rats and goats.
It can be part of a new transition in the thinking of nature, that our economy, our GDP and our major economic sectors are not part of a man-made world that is separate from nature. They are in fact part of our global ecosystem, and if we damage our nature, we damage our economy too. The World Economic Forum has highlighted Biodiversity Loss to be one of the important risks for our economies in the coming 5-10 years. Our economic paradigms must thus be built on sound ecological principles. Darwin would have surely approved!
Back to the reality on the ground, where the small population of the Galapagos Islands, being just over 33,000, are the guardians of this beautiful nature on behalf of all of us. President of the Galapagos Governing Council, Norman Wray indicated
“the only way to support the conservation is to support people who are the first line of defense of natural heritage. It is a call for collective action that generates will and support for all those in Ecuador and in the world who love, support Galapagos”Norman Wray, President of the Galapagos Governing Council.
But they cannot do this alone and need support to get through this pandemic but also transform their business into sustainable models.
It is time we show our support to these communities by sharing this campaign or making a personal donation. Even if locked inside your own house, you can make a positive contribution!
As UNDP Ecuador Resident Representative, Matilde Mordt said;
“Covid19 pandemic is a wake up call for humanity. We are at the tipping point that requires not only action in environmental terms, but also social safety nets for the most vulnerable people. We need cohesive, collective, immediate action and `Save Galapagos, Empower its People` crowdfunding campaign is an example of what we can do as a global community. “Matilde Mordt, UNDP Ecuador Resident Representative