Photo by Susan Cullumber
30 of the top teachers in the US are making a trek from the Florida Everglades to the Galapagos Islands in order to engage a series of global conservation issues in the Toyota International Teacher Program. I'm traveling alongside the educators to report on the findings and experiences that unfold on the road to Galapagos.
Coming to Quito
After we arrived in Quito late last night, the fact that everyone was obviously weary from travel did little to dampen the brewing anticipation. It would, after all, be only a (brief) night's sleep and a scant 600 miles worth of plane travel from the coast of Ecuador to the Galapagos.
Sure enough, the night passed by in an exhausted, hallucinatory blur, and the next day I found myself sitting in the airport terminal next to Dr. Arturo Keller, the professor of environmental science at UCSB's Bren school. While we were waiting to board, he explained the current state of the Galapagos Islands, and the challenges their invaluable natural wonders face.
A Very Brief History of the Galapagos Islands
Dr. Keller, who specializes in water management, has long studied the Galapagos' problems with resource management and population growth. He's measured and thoughtful, and looking forward to the trip as much as any of the other teachers--this will be his first visit to the islands as well.
We talked briefly about the islands' history: first colonized in the 1930's, the initial population was largely sustainable, he says. In the late 1950's the Galapagos were made a national park, and the 97 percent of the Galapagos that remained unsettled was cut off from development by law. But the population continued to grow. In 1978, the islands were declared a world heritage site. But, as I noted in an earlier look at the Galapagos, a combination of intruding non-native species, the burgeoning number of residents, water management problems, and constant tourism have led to its being moved to the World Heritage Endangered Sites list. According to Keller, a quarantine rule banning outside fruits, vegetables, and animals was a good initiative, but may have come too late. Dr. Keller looks forward to finally seeing the site for himself, and to talking to locals about their perspectives on conservation issues.
"Some Asian poets talk about a disappearing moment in time--Galapagos is like that," John Herzfeld says a little later, as we sit in the half-empty terminal awaiting the delayed flight. Herzfeld is a 7th grade English teacher from Kentucky. He's infused with a sort of quiet, nervous excitement, and he talks about his plan to organize a poetry anthology about Galapagos with Galapagueno students and his own class.
Another teacher on the program, Chris Border, is a math and science instructor from the small Alaskan island Unalaska. He's looking to follow the Galapagos' lead in implementing a successful recycling program catered to the unique needs of isolated islands--no easy feat when home is 800 miles from the mainland as Unalaska is (Galapagos is 600).
While every teacher has a drastically different objective for traveling to the Galapagos--and sitting in the airport, with everyone idly biding time before we board the plane, it's no stretch to imagine each one is mulling theirs over--they all seem unified in their pensive anticipation.