Lonely Planet Writer

Scientists working on sustainable tourism plan for Galapagos Islands

If eco-tourism in the famously fragile ecosystem of the Galapagos was to continue at its current growth – the sea turtles, giant tortoises, marine iguanas and unique landscapes of the island would be in serious jeopardy.

Galapagos Islands even at risk from eco-tourists.
Galapagos Islands even at risk from eco-tourists. Image by Ihlow/ullstein bild via Getty Images

That is why scientists are trying to come up with a sustainable future for the islands, that will not put at risk the very things that travellers from all across the world come to see. Researchers from the United States and Ecuador have been working out different computer models for how the Galapagos will cope with increasing interest from tourists. According to their computer models, if the growth in visitors and permanent residents witnessed over the past two decades is allowed to continue – the ecosystem would face a significant threat. Last year, more than 225,000 people visited the islands while the residential population has swelled to 30,000 with workers settling there to take advantage of better wages in ecotourism.

Landleguan - Galapagos - Ecuador.
Landleguan – Galapagos – Ecuador. Image by Michael DeFreitas/McPhoto/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Now, the research team are hoping to calculate exactly how many visitors the Galapagos can cope with while best preserving the natural environment that makes them unique. Professor Steve Walsh of the University of Carolina explained: “the Ecuadorian government and the Galapagos National Park are asking the exact right questions. No one wants a boom and bust situation. We want wise, managed growth within the concept of sustainability.”

The research team have created a number of models that will chart how the islands will develop between now and 2033. They compiled figures from tourism, economic and environmental sources and allowed a computer to predict what would happen in each scenario. The hope is that the computer will then give a sustainable model that will allow “wise stewardship” of special and delicate places. The researchers also believe the models could be put to use in other sensitive environments to manage and predict how much tourism an area could cope with, before suffering damage that could never be undone.