Photo courtesy of Planet Ware
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.
Nearly all of the Galapagos' current problems can be traced back to its booming tourism. There are the immediate impact problems—for instance, tourists use more water and take more and longer showers, according to Professor Keller of UCSB's Bren School of Environmental Science and Management. We're still chatting in an airport terminal in Quito, waiting for the final flight to the Galapagos Islands.
That lucrative industry attracts hopeful workers, which increases the general ecological impact: water management is now a huge issue, goats and pigs introduced as livestock are now decimating the natural ecosystems, and waste management and recycling programs need updating.
It's the familiar ol' equation: pristine natural habitat + more people = bad news.
But Professor Keller is optimistic. He believes a sustainable equilibrium between tourist access and preservation is within reach.
"We've got this tension between 'how do we protect it?' and 'how do we provide access to people so we can actually pay for the protection?' They're doing still a very good job with the preservation—of course, all of this is stuff that I've read and that's why it's so exciting to be able to go out there and to see and talk to people, and find out what are their perspectives in that respect," he says.
It's two hours later, and our flight is beginning its final approach into San Cristobal Island.
As everyone cranes their necks towards the windows, hoping for a break in the cloud cover as we make our descent, I can't help but think back to something John Herzfeld had said back in the airport.
"Once you get to paradise, it's not paradise anymore."
And when the rocky, brownish brush-covered island appeared—to a distinct lack of oohs and aahs—for more than one reason, I wondered if he was right.
Read Part One of Anticipating Education in Modern Day Galapagos, or start from the beginning of my travel log on the Road to Galapagos.