The Galapagos Islands, off the west coast of Ecuador, are among the most important 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 continues to collapse at an alarming rate.
The COVID-19 pandemic had emphasized that we don’t live in a world disconnected from nature. Rather, our world is a single ecosystem, increasingly and ever more intensively connected. The destruction of forests and other natural life, 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, many heavily depending on the revenue from tourism. 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, business which ensured jobs for 80 percent of its population. In 2020 revenue dropped to around US$50 million, less than half of what it would be in a typical year.
Guardians of conservation
Alice Barlett and her family, like many of the other 33,000 people on the islands, relies heavily on tourism to not only earn money, but to raise awareness about protecting and preserving marine life. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on her work. “Since March, we had many cancellations and refunds. When marine reserve reopened in July, we wanted to start working with the 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,” she said.
But there is hope. UNDP’s Biodiversity Finance Initiative is working with the government of the archipelago and Quito’s San Francisco University on a crowdfunding campaign to support local communities.
Anyone can send a donation to help conservationists continue their work during the pandemic, which will certainly continue well into 2021.
“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,” said Former President of WWF and IUCN, and Former Ecuadorean Minister of Environment Yolanda Kakabadse.
A longterm vision
The campaign will also emphasize a longer-term transformation, greening local business to have less adverse impact on nature and climate, and to become less dependent on tourism. In this way it will be possible for anyone around the world to contribute to saving these amazing islands, not only from current and future threats. The Galapagos Islands also need to counter the negative impact of a changing climate, and from introduced invasive species 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 as a significant economic risk in the coming five to 10 years. Our economic paradigms must be built on sound ecological principles. Darwin would have surely approved!
“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 and support the Galapagos,” said President of the Galapagos Governing Council, Norman Wray.
But the islanders cannot do this alone and need support to get through this pandemic and to transform their businesses into sustainable endeavours.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is a wakeup 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 the “Save Galapagos, Empower its People” crowdfunding campaign is an example of what we can do as a global community,” said UNDP Ecuador Resident Representative, Matilde Mordt.
It is time to show our support to these communities by sharing this campaign or making a personal donation. Even from inside your own house, you can make a positive contribution!