|1||The Islands and their Names|
|2||The Arrival of Life|
|3||The Altitudinal Zones|
|6||Buccaneers and Privateers|
|8||The Villamil Period|
|9||Briones the Pirate|
|10||Valdizán and Cobos|
|16||The War and After|
|17||The Struggle for Conservation|
|18||Conflict of Interests|
The relations between the settlers and the American military. Limited effects of the American presence. Change from Ecuadorian army to navy administration. Increase in the number of schools. Health services. Hospital projects. Activities of the Franciscans. A new Norwegian colonization project on Santa Cruz and the shipwreck of the Thalassa near Vigo, resulting in the death of the prospective settlers. Decline of the Norwegian colony on Santa Cruz and its final disappearance. Other foreign settlers. Fruit Trading Corporation's projects. The gradual change to civilian administration and the appointment of a civilian governor in 1959. The American colonization project on San Cristóbal and its collapse. The establishment of the Charles Darwin Research Station. Beginnings of Galápagos tourism.
The American presence in the Galápagos had very little effect on the daily life of the average settler. Even on San Cristóbal, which was visited frequently and regularly by a sea-going tug with a cistern barge in tow to fetch fresh water for the base, there was only a limited trade in fruits, especially limes and oranges, which are abundant on that island.
There was also a regular traffic between the base and Academy Bay, where the Americans obtained fresh vegetables. However, there has been a great exaggeration regarding the vast amount of dollars that were supposed to have been earned by the local farmers. Actually, much of the trade was done on the basis of barter, as the Americans were supposed to be getting all their supplies from the Canal Zone, and there seems to have been no budget for buying anything much from the settlers. To get around this, the vegetables were paid for in powdered milk, flour, rice, sugar and canned goods. The farmers on the island divided the orders among themselves, and the profit per farmer was therefore far from high.
A few settlers got work at the base, mostly during the construction period; but the great majority of people working there were brought out from the mainland. In fact, most settlers preferred to fish and farm as they always had done, thus spending more time with their families than would have otherwise been possible. There were however other advantages because of the base. We know of a few people who were hospitalized in the Canal Zone, and the Americans were always willing to give free medical attention and medicines from their well stocked pharmacy.
The person who benefited the most from the American presence was Kristian Stampa, one of the Norwegians from the 1926 colony. He amply deserved this, for he had struggled for years to continue fishing, while his friends in the highlands kept advising him to give up and become a farmer. When the Americans arrived, he was the only Galápagos fisherman with a fair-sized vessel (she was thirty-two feet L.O.A.) with an engine. This earned him an agreement to supply fresh fish and lobster to the base, with additional orders often coming from the Canal Zone as well. Stampa, his persistence and hard work rewarded, prospered. This prosperity also benefited others, as he was always ready to do people favors. Several of his fishermen became boat owners towards the end of the war or shortly after, largely due to Stampa's readiness to help them with the purchase of lumber through his mainland contacts, and to get them discarded pump motors from the base, which the men overhauled and adapted for running their small boats.
However, the greatest and most lasting effect of the American presence, except for the construction of the base itself, was the water pipeline on San Cristóbal. Until the war, very few people lived in Puerto Baquerizo (Wreck Bay) because fresh water had to be carried from the interior on donkeys, in small barrels. Aside from the military garrison, the population in the bay consisted of the García family, the caretaker of the navigation beacon, the plantation storeman, and Captain Levick's ailing widow.
As the sea water stills that the Americans installed on Baltra could not provide sufficient fresh water for the base, a pipeline was built from the small dam that had formerly provided water to the sugar refinery. The pipeline went to Progreso, thence to a reservoir that was built a little above Puerto Baquerizo. From there, the water was carried in another pipe to the end of the pier, where it was loaded in large cistern barges to be towed to the base. The Americans generously allowed the local population to supply themselves from the pipeline, thus starting a minor population boom in Puerto Baquerizo. A number of families moved down from the highlands, though they still kept their farms there. These were of course people who derived most of their income from fishing, and had a boat to look after. Thus, Puerto Baquerizo became the largest settlement in Galápagos, and remained so until the end of the 1960's, when tourism stimulated the growth of Puerto Ayora, in Academy Bay, on Santa Cruz.
The total population of the islands grew a little during the war, mostly on account of births, and the fact that some Ecuadorian Army people became settlers. Thus, after the war, there were a number of fishermen and farmers who were being addressed as “Sergeant” or “Corporal”, because they had once belonged to one of the garrisons. There were even two retired men with commissioned ranks on San Cristóbal.
Despite the negative attitude on the mainland to the sale or lease of the Galápagos to the United States, most Ecuadorian settlers regarded both possibilities as very attractive. Among them existed the hope that the Americans would take over the islands, for they were certain that great improvements would come in the wake of such a take-over. This hope was of course shattered when the last soldiers were flown from the base to the Canal Zone. The foreign settlers, while appreciating the advantages of an American presence, much preferred that the Galápagos remain a neglected corner of the Republic of Ecuador. After all, they had all fled from the stress of civilized living, accepting the loss of most comforts in exchange for a more peaceful existence.
But changes came increasingly without the Americans. In the 1940's much was beginning to happen on the mainland. Road construction was greatly increased, schools began to appear in the more isolated communities, and the national health service gradually spread beyond the urban areas. These improvements also began to reach Galápagos, where new schools were built during the war and after. Even Floreana, at the time with a population of a little over forty people, got its little school at Black Beach, in the 1950's. In the early part of that same decade, dispensaries, headed by a nurse, were set up on each inhabited island.
To increase the available number of teachers and nurses, the government launched a program of scholarships for girls living in remote areas, including the Galápagos. These girls were given the necessary training on the mainland on the condition that they serve the first two years after graduation in their home communities. Many remained of course longer, as Ecuadorians are very attached to their families.
During the army's administration, a health service had begun to take form. While its purpose had mainly been to take care of the health of the soldiers, it also served the civilians who happened to need help. Towards the end of the 1930's, this service consisted of a physician and a dentist, as well as one or two male nurses, all stationed at San Cristóbal. The service was free of charge even to civilians, except for a reasonable fee for materials used in dentures and fillings. Unfortunately, though both the dentist and the physician traveled around the islands whenever there was an opportunity, ships from the mainland, their main means of transportation, came out very irregularly.
This health service was continued by the navy, when they took charge of the administration in 1946. The navy's doctor also had the supervision of the dispensaries during the first few years of their existence. Later, in the early 1960's, a civilian dentist and a physician were sent out, the latter taking over the supervision of the dispensaries. This expanded service proved advantageous to the settlers, as the navy and the civilian health services cooperated with each other at all levels.
It was also in the 1960's that the apostolic prefect, Monsignor Juan de Dios Campuzano, who had already founded a convent school for girls in Puerto Baquerizo, began to talk about building a hospital. Senator Pareja's dream of a hospital in Galápagos also took a step nearer reality in that decade, when Colonel Carlos Morán Vera, head of the coastal health service, came out to look for a building site.
At the time, San Cristóbal was by far the most populated island, as well as the administrative center of the Galápagos. Nobody dreamed of the great increase in population Santa Cruz would experience in the next few years. Thus, Colonel Morán's decision to build the hospital on Santa Cruz surprised everybody. However, the decision was a practical one, taken on San Cristóbal, while standing on the bridge of the Cristóbal Carrier, with Captain Nelson Campuzano and the author. With the chart of the islands spread out on the chart table, Colonel Morán asked questions about distances and the location of settlements, coming to the conclusion that Puerto Ayora, in Academy Bay, was centrally located with regard to the other inhabited places in Galápagos. It was also the inhabited port nearest the airstrip at Baltra. As for San Cristóbal having the largest population, the fact seemed to carry little weight, as the existing medical service was located there, and Monsignor Campuzano would soon be building a hospital at Puerto Baquerizo. As it happened, both hospitals would be built within the next few years, though it did take longer than expected.
The Franciscans had established themselves in Galápagos in 1950. The previous year, two monks, Fathers Castillo and Benavides had visited the inhabited islands, beginning their missionary work. Until then, the Church had sent out priests very sporadically. It was on January 5, 1950, that the Pope authorized the Bishop of Guayaquil to created the Apostolic Prefecture of Galápagos. The first prefect was Monsignor Pedro Pablo Andrade, who with the aid of five other Franciscan monks organized the various missions and had churches built at several locations. This work was completed in seven years.
The policy of the Franciscan missions was largely directed towards helping the settlers to a better life, rather than concentrating only on their spiritual needs. After all, the large majority were already Roman Catholic, and there was no need to convert them. In fact, the Franciscans have always been a pragmatic, down to earth order, and they gained from the very beginning the respect of even the Protestant foreigners, one of whom, Ernest Divine, gave them the Stampa farm in the Santa Cruz highlands, which he had acquired when he bought all the Stampa properties from the latter's widow.
There was also a complete continuity in the projects that were planned by the Franciscans. Of the several that Monsignor Andrade's successor, Monsignor Campuzano had planned in the 1960's, only the school for girls was completed during his prefecture. The hospital and the crafts-school for boys had to wait until Monsignor Hugolino Cerasuolo took over in 1966. Mons. Cerasuolo also started two radio stations, a museum and a fishermen's cooperative. Many years later, he became Archbishop of Loja, in the south of Ecuador.
In the meantime, the Scandinavian community had slowly begun to decline. It had remained fairly stable after the tragic death of Trygve Nuggerud, in 1934, and while some members had left, new ones had also arrived, though in small numbers. During the war, the Swede John Lundberg passed away, and in 1945 the Icelander Walter Finsen died in his sleep. In 1947, Captain Herman Lundh lost his life in an accident. Most of the younger generation—mainly the Lundh and Graffer boys—began increasingly to spend long periods away from the islands. Strongly attached to the Galápagos, they could not quite break away, while seeing little future in remaining there.
In 1948, Kristian Stampa and his family—there were three children by then—left for Norway. Stampa had been away for twenty-two years, he was doing well, and he decided it was time for a visit to the old country. In Norway, he came in contact with a group of would-be settlers, who wanted to start a cannery on Santa Cruz. The project had been organized by Arne Christian Karlsen and Lars Karterud. The former came from a fishing village in the north of Norway, had owned a farm near Oslo, and later a lumber yard in Stavanger. After selling this business, he invested all his capital in this Galápagos venture, thus becoming its main shareholder.
Karterud and Stampa were old friends, as the former had also been one of the original Santa Cruz Norwegians. Unlike Stampa, he had left as soon as the group began to break up, traveling extensively and engaging, among other things, in the spiny lobster fisheries of South Africa.
Several of the Norwegian settlers on Santa Cruz ordered equipment and tools to be brought down on the hundred-ton Thalassa, the former yacht that had been purchased by the colonization group. The project looked indeed promising. Stampa's and Karterud's experience would prevent them from making the same mistakes that had led to the collapse of the 1926 project. Besides, Stampa already had a working arrangement for making all needed purchases in Guayaquil and for selling their production there.
As usual, there were delays. The group was unable to leave in September or October as had been planned. Finally, the Thalassa sailed on November 28, 1948, when the sea had become rough and conditions unfavorable for an easy passage. However, there were several good seamen aboard, including Captain Carsten Willumsen, a man reputed to be competent, who had been a master on several ships.
Soon after leaving port, the Thalassa had to return to have one of her bilge pumps repaired. While this was not the only pump of its kind on board, the members of the group had decided it was best to repair it. One of Stampa's children had been terribly seasick, so Mrs. Stampa and the children made arrangements to travel on a whaling ship, which would take them as far as Curaçao.
There were more delays. It was found that other repairs were needed besides those on the pump. Thus, the Thalassa did not sail until December 17. Despite continuous foul weather, they arrived safely to Vigo, in the north of Spain. Here, they spent Christmas and rested from their exhausting voyage. Looking forward to the better sailing conditions farther south, the travelers sailed again in the night of December 31, in very rough seas. Just outside the harbor, the vessel was thrown by the huge waves onto a reef, where she broke in two. Only one person survived—the ten-year old Arnhild Karlsen, whose father barely managed to get her into a life jacket before a huge wave crashed on top of them, separating them. The girl was washed ashore later, battered and cold, but without serious injuries.
The news of the Thalassa tragedy was a blow to the Santa Cruz settlers—Ecuadorians and Europeans alike. It was not only that Stampa's death was taken as a personal loss by everybody, but the death of all those new colonists caused considerable grief. Everybody had looked forward to welcoming them as new members in their still small community.
Towards the end of 1949, the Ecuadorian government made a decision that would change the appearance of Galápagos settlements for years to come. It had been realized that, while the American base at Salinas could be used by the Ecuadorian Navy, the one on Baltra presented serious problems. The island was then in an isolated position with regard to the inhabited parts of the archipelago, and has always depended entirely on outside sources for all its supplies, including drinking water. For this reason and many others, maintaining a base there was prohibitively expensive for a small nation, especially since there was nothing to justify such a sacrifice. Thus, the token force that had been kept there by the navy would remain all that Ecuador was willing to maintain on the little island.
This left a considerable number of wooden barracks standing empty, deteriorating in the salt air and burning sun. It was decided that it was far better to let the Galápagos settlers make use of all this lumber. With this in mind, it was announced that any family or single settler in Galápagos could apply for a house. The families were given the larger barracks, the single men the smaller ones. The only condition, aside from being a resident of the islands, was that the person or persons receiving a house had to disassemble it and arrange for its transportation.
A great majority of the settlers took advantage of this generous offer, as did the Franciscan mission. A man by the name of Falconí obtained several barracks, so that he could build the first Galápagos hotel on San Cristóbal, which with its four stories became the tallest building of the archipelago. In fact, “Baltra pine” rapidly became the most common building material in the Galápagos, even displacing the traditional mud-plastered twig constructions with roofs of sugar cane straw that were so common in Progreso and elsewhere in the San Cristóbal highlands.
Concrete blocks had already made their first appearance among the settlers in 1946. It was in that year that Sigurd Graffer built a storage building for Kristian Stampa, using this material. He made the blocks in wooden molds, using empty beer cans from Baltra as a core, to save cement. Due to the availability of “Baltra pine”, concrete blocks took some time to become popular, but became increasingly so towards the end of the 1950's.
The European population of Santa Cruz, though now a minority, was still much in evidence and gave the impression of being larger than it actually was. This was because many of the Europeans lived near the anchorage, and since they ordered most of their supplies directly from the mainland, they came aboard every arriving ship to receive their cargoes. The Norwegians however were less in evidence now, most of them living in the highlands.
The Angermeyers and Kübler still lived at Academy Bay, and several more Germans had arrived after the war—Bernhard and Traudi Schreier, in the late 1940's, and the Sievers in the 1960's. All settled in the same area (Traudi is a niece of the Angermeyers). For a short period, the Norwegian colony showed signs of recovery, with the arrival in 1951 of Rasmus Larsen, Kåre Høstland and Arthur Wiig. The three fished together, using a motor boat that Larsen had brought from Norway. However, Høstland and Wiig saw little future in the Galápagos, leaving soon. Both had considerable success in the prawn fisheries of Ecuador and Colombia, and in more recent years, raising salmon in Norway.
Rasmus Larsen eventually left for Canada, in 1955. In the meantime, two Norwegian families arrived, also at Santa Cruz. One of these, the Stenersens, gave up after a few months, while the other—Alvhilde and Bjarne Steffensen with their four children—remained altogether three years. Bjarne left disappointed, as he had expected fishing to be much more profitable than he found it. Only their eldest daughter, Bjørg, who had married one of the Graffer boys, remained for a few more years.
In the 1960's began what would be the definitive decline of the Norwegian population. Early in the decade, the Graffer boys saw the islands for the last time. In 1965, Captain Lundh's widow, Helga, died on Santa Cruz, and their eldest son, Jacob, who had been living on San Cristóbal, left with his wife María Isabel and their children. In the next few years, several more Norwegians left or died, so that by the 1980's there remained only the Guldberg sisters on San Cristóbal and Thorvald Kastdalen on Santa Cruz. But even these are now gone, Karin Guldberg Cobos being the last one to pass away, on January 14, 1996. The only descendants of the Norwegian settlers remaining in the islands are her eldest and youngest son, Dagfin and Tito, and their children, on San Cristóbal. On Santa Cruz, the Kastdalen name survives thanks to Thorvald's two grandchildren, Torbaldo and María.
Europeans other than the Norwegians and the Germans also came to the islands from time to time. In the 1940's the Swiss Roberto Schiess and Adolfo Coray settled on Santa Cruz, the latter with his wife and daughter. Both had lived several years on the mainland and were fluent in Spanish. Schiess later married a Swiss lady. They had three children, who are still living on the island. Another Swiss settler, who had also lived a number of years on the mainland before settling on Santa Cruz, Adolfo Haeni, set up a carpentry shop in Pelican Bay, where he also grew coconuts, figs and grapes. All three men have since died.
Americans usually came to Galápagos only as visitors, mostly on yachts. There had been an American living in the Santa Cruz highlands for several years, in the earlier part of this century. A very few others had come and given up after a brief stay. Worth mentioning are Ainslie and Frances Conway, who lived a few months at James Bay, on Santiago, then for a period on Floreana. Shortly after the war, the Conways made a second attempt at settling in James Bay, but had to leave because of Ainslie's failing health. In fact, it is Ernest (Bud) Divine and his wife Doris who can be described as the first long time American settlers in the Galápagos.
Divine had been stationed on Baltra during the final months of the American base there. As he worked on the tugboat, he had the opportunity to visit both Santa Cruz and San Cristóbal, befriending some of the Europeans on the former island. After his discharge, Divine came out from the Canal Zone on his ketch, the Symbol, bringing along his wife. Both became very friendly with several of the settlers, and were warmly welcomed when they made their second visit, on their way to the Marquesas, in 1949. They never made it to their destination, remaining on Santa Cruz, where they bought the Stampa properties. Years later, the Divines raised horses in the highlands, until Bud's death, in the early 1980's.
A second American, Forrest Nelson, first came to the Galápagos as a yachtsman, in the early 1950's. Later in the decade, he returned, marrying Friedel, Elfriede and Jacob Horneman's daughter. The Nelsons sold their yacht and became settlers in 1960, when they began building the first hotel on Santa Cruz, at Eden, a property they had bought from Sigurd Graffer. Nelson later bought up several fine properties along the shore, between Eden and Pelican Bay. The hotel is now operated by Nelson's son Jack, who took over when Nelson moved to Thailand. Friedel lives now in the north of Norway, with her second husband, Per Vonka, and their three children.
A number of Belgians arrived to Santa Cruz towards the end of the 1950's, few of them remaining long. One of them, Edgar Pots, with his wife and two daughters, stayed several years, and worked for the Charles Darwin Research Station, before moving to the mainland. Another Belgian family, Jacqueline and André De Roy, and their two children, remained on Santa Cruz for good.
After the unfortunate Thalassa venture, there were no further Norwegian colonization projects. However, in 1950, a small group of young Ecuadorians arrived to Santa Cruz. They brought with them two rowboats, with the purpose of fishing, and had plans to start a farm in the highlands as well. All were city boys with no experience in fishing, agriculture or any other form of physical work. They were also very short on capital. Soon, they had sold their boats, most of them returning to the mainland. A very few of them remained a little longer, working for some of the local boat owners. Only one stayed, Arturo Ramírez de Luca, who started a farm in the highlands, and built a house near the seashore. Two other members of the group returned in the early 1960's. These were Gustavo Negrete Plaza and Max Castillo Celi. Negrete did not remain for long, moving eventually to the United States, while Castillo started raising cattle in the Santa Cruz highlands. During this same period, Julio and Jorge Herrería Malta and their wives spent several years on Santa Cruz. Jorge sold his farm to Eric Lundh, Captain Lundh's younger son, in the early 1950's.
Another colonization project was organized on the mainland towards the end of the 1950's. Behind it was Oswaldo Chapi, a former farmer and cattle hunter in the Santa Cruz highlands. By 1959, this group had obtained government lands in the vicinity of Santa Rosa, in the western parts of the Santa Cruz highlands. This was not a tightly organized group like the previous projects, being more of a common interest organization. Each member remained independent and responsible for his own survival. Each member got a two-hundred hectare claim, which he could develop as he wanted—agriculture, cattle raising or whatever.
Several of the foreign settlers also joined the Santa Rosa group, among them Ernest Divine, who raised horses, and Roberto Schiess, who raised cattle. From the 1960's on, cattle was becoming increasingly important on the island, the farmers going more and more over to this activity. In fact, at present, most of the moist region outside the National Park, which owns a relatively small area to the west, is covered with grasses, there being very little left of the original woodland.
It was in 1959 that Fruit Trading Corporation of Esmeraldas set up an increasingly regular ship service between the Galápagos and Guayaquil. The initial reason for this had nothing to do with fruit—the company exported bananas—but was wholly related to cattle. The company had decided to set up a cattle ranch at Iguana Cove, on the southwest side of Isabela.
Apart from the workers Fruit Trading Corporation had in the area, there was an agronomist by the name of Mayorga, who settled at Iguana Cove at about the same time, as well as an American, Dr. Roy Sudbury, who arrived a little later, after attempting to settle inside the main crater of Fernandina. After Mayorga abandoned Iguana Cove, there was an eruption east of this area, which led to the abandonment of the cattle project, though the Fruit Trading Corporation camp never was in any danger. Dr. Sudbury remained until his death, which took place a few years later.
1959 was indeed a year of great expectations in the Galápagos, especially on Santa Cruz. There were persistent rumors that a biological research station would be built on the island, that there was a project to develop tourism to the Galápagos, and that a large American company was about to become established in the archipelago. For a change, there was a considerable amount of truth behind such rumors. Fruit Trading Corp. was considering several projects besides the cattle ranch at Iguana Cove. There was the exploitation of the salt mine at James Bay, on Santiago, and the possibility of a few hotels being built on the islands.
Folke Anderson, the Swedish managing director of Fruit Trading Corporation, discussed his Galápagos projects with the naturalist and traveler Rolf Blomberg, who had visited the Galápagos several times since 1934. He also sought advice from the Hon. Ivan Bohman, Consul General of Sweden in Guayaquil. Both recommended that he contact the author, which he did towards the end of January 1959. This resulted in the former making two trips to the Galápagos, followed by reports and meetings at Timbre, one of Anderson's plantations in Esmeraldas.
Among other things, it was proposed that a large yacht be used instead of the two or three hotels originally planned by Anderson. The argument against these was that, should the project fail, it was easy to take the yacht elsewhere and sell it, while the hotels would become a total loss. It was agreed that the most practical way to handle tourism would be to fly the visitors from the mainland, then meet them with the yacht at Baltra, to take them around the islands.
On his second trip, towards the end of April, the author made a report on the salt mine at James Bay. Anderson was already negotiating with the owners, the heirs of don Darío Egas Sánchez, who held a claim to the whole west side of the island. Unfortunately, no agreement was reached.
In February of 1960, the author was appointed agent for the Fruit Trading Corporation in the Galápagos. The ship service between Guayaquil and the islands was thus continued on a regular basis, mainly by means of the Cristóbal Carrier. An attempt was made to send out the ship at twenty-day intervals, but this proved too unprofitable. However, a regular monthly service was maintained, with schedules set up for six months at a time. The sailing dates were rigorously kept, except on two occasions, when unexpected and extensive repairs had to be made on the ship. For Galápagos, this was an extraordinary record, especially if we consider that this happened over a period of six years.
With tourism in mind, a daughter company was organized later in the year—Compañía Ecuatoriana de Turismo Galápagos S. A (CETUGA). Unfortunately, tourism never went beyond carrying a few visitors around on the Cristóbal Carrier, which got most of her income from the regular cargo and passengers provided by the islands. The projects discussed with Anderson in Esmeraldas in 1959 never became a reality. A disease wiped out the company's three plantations—as well as many others—and all available funds had to be diverted into converting the plantations into cattle ranches with adequate port facilities and everything else, besides the cattle.
There are of course those who have complained about the Cristóbal Carrier and her lack of comforts. This seems incredible when coming from people who had traveled between the mainland and Galápagos in earlier years, for compared to previous ships, the Carrier was pure luxury, with her clean toilets that actually worked, hot and cold fresh water in the showers, clean bedding, and abundant good food. The cuisine was not fancy—just varied, good Ecuadorian home cooking, which is considered by many foreigners to be excellent. The crew and officers were always friendly and helpful. All this continued until after CETUGA folded up and the José Ricaurte Agency took over the Guayaquil end of the operation. Shortly after this, the author resigned, in March 1965, to take charge of a fishing operation in the Gulf of Guayaquil. The ship continued sailing to the Galápagos for another year or two, while a regular air service became established.
The year of 1959 was also one of other important beginnings. A civilian administration was established, headed by a civilian governor, who had a small police force to back him. This administration had actually been slowly taking shape since the early 1950's, with the establishment of dispensaries on all the inhabited islands. Not long after this, a teniente político was appointed, first on Isabela, later on Santa Cruz. This civilian official is in charge of the civil registry and performs weddings. In small communities and in the countryside, he often has police duties as well. He may be roughly described as both a sheriff and a justice of the peace.
The first officials of this kind were don Bolívar Gil (a grandson of don Antonio Gil) on Isabela, and don Miguel Suárez Checa on Santa Cruz. Both were boat owners and fishermen. The first civilian governor, who took possession in 1959, was don Bolívar Naveda, a Quito journalist who had visited the islands some years earlier, writing a book about them.
The large American company that was to establish itself on the Galápagos turned out to be a colonization project similar to the Norwegian ones. This group had been organized by Donald Harrsch, an unemployed tugboat master in Seattle. He had become increasingly aware of the negative sides of modern society, and decided to get together a group of people with similar ideas, to start a new and better society elsewhere. There is no question that Harrsch was an idealist with the best of intentions and a sincere belief in his dream. That he failed through a combination of bad luck, limited capital and overly optimistic expectations was not entirely his fault. These were the same factors that had caused the collapse of other such projects and, unfortunately for Captain Harrsch, there had been no records available for him to learn from their errors.
Harrsch was definitely not a pot-smoking hippie, though he may have been something of a dreamer, yearning for a society where human values would take precedence over gain; where everybody worked to create a better life not only for him- or herself, but also for the group as a whole. An advertisement in a newspaper brought together the first few members of the group, as well as the first contributions of two thousand five hundred dollars, which was the share paid by each family. Even by 1958 values, and considering the purposes of the project, this was a modest amount to pay for membership. The first meetings were held in the basement of the Harrsch home, but the group grew fast, making it soon necessary to rent an office and legalize the project. It was registered under the rather fanciful name of Filiate Science Antrorse Island Development Company.
Donald Harrsch had long since decided on the Galápagos as the site for his social experiment. He reckoned that catching spiny lobster, fishing tuna, and growing coffee would provide a good economic foundation for his colony. He also counted on being able to produce most of the food needed by the settlers. As future possibilities he contemplated cattle raising and tourism. It must be said that all these projects were within the feasible in the Galápagos.
A sociologist at the University of Washington, Dr. Stuart C. Dodd, became interested in the Harrsch venture, providing him with much free advice, though he seems never to have considered joining the group. Eighty-three families joined up, and though the initial plans had considered one hundred as a goal, no further recruiting was carried out.
At this stage, it became necessary for Captain Harrsch to visit Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands, to make preliminary arrangements and to find a site for the colony. He, Clarence Elliot (one of the future settlers) and the latter's son visited Quito, Guayaquil and San Cristóbal, signing an agreement with don Lorenzo Tous Jr. to buy the properties held by Sociedad Nacional de Galápagos on the island. The plantation, which was now producing a considerable amount of coffee, was to be purchased for one hundred and ten thousand dollars. The freezer plant at Puerto Baquerizo and all its annexes—several dwellings, a mechanical workshop, storage facilities, fuel tanks and a dock—would go to the Americans for two hundred thousand dollars. The freezer plant, which had stood idle for several years, would be overhauled and handed over in working condition. The Americans paid a deposit of thirty thousand dollars to close the deal. This last amount was later returned to them by don Lorenzo, when the group gave up.
Strictly speaking, the Sociedad Nacional de Galápagos could not legally enter into this agreement with the Americans. As we have previously seen, the plantation itself could not be sold to foreign citizens and/or enterprises. At this stage, the properties in Puerto Baquerizo were in a similar situation, as existing laws did not allow foreigners to own property less than fifty kilometers from the seashore or from international borders. In practice, this restriction had seldom been observed, but it could have left the Americans wide open to confiscation.
During the 1960 elections there were those who were convinced that don Lorenzo ran for senator just to use this position to obtain some sort of dispensation for the Americans from the National Congress, allowing them to hold properties despite existing restrictions. However this may be, don Lorenzo lost the election to the popular incumbent, don Manuel Pareja Concha, something he never forgave the islanders. This was unfair of him, as he was hardly known outside San Cristóbal and, despite this, lost by a surprisingly narrow margin.
Island Development then purchased two ships—the Alert, a thirty-year old tuna clipper, one hundred-foot length over all, which cost them US$ 13,500.00 cash, and the Western Trader, a hundred and thirty-foot freezer vessel, which cost US$ 32,000, also cash. The Alert sailed from Seattle with seven families, consisting of eleven minors and nineteen adults. Donald Harrsch sailed as her master. The Alert arrived to San Cristóbal on March 16, 1960.
Captain Harrsch had counted on taking back twenty tons of lobster tails, which he expected would produce a net profit of forty thousand dollars when sold in Seattle. We cannot say whether a fishing permit had been secured or not, but it would have made little difference. The Alert had arrived while the fishing season was still on, making it difficult to secure a local crew who knew where to find the lobsters. Besides, the most experienced lobster fishermen were already fully engaged on the Villamil, a freezer vessel operated by don Miguel Seminario Gómez, a gentleman from Guayaquil, who was running an efficient and successful all year operation.
To make matters impossible for the Americans, the refrigeration equipment on the Alert broke down. The alternative of buying and/or catching lobsters for the next voyage of the Alert was considered, but proved impossible as the freezer plant had not been overhauled as promised and needed extensive repairs. Thus, after a short visit to Santa Cruz, the Alert set course for Seattle, leaving behind the first small group of hopeful settlers on San Cristóbal, where they worked with great enthusiasm, repairing the dwellings near the plant, installing cooking facilities and a large, airy mess hall above the latter, plus a number of other improvements.
The Western Trader was supposed to sail from San Diego a week after the Alert had left Seattle. Instead, news kept arriving about constant delays in obtaining the visas for the settlers who were to travel on the Trader. These delays had no reasonable explanation, as the settlers who already were on the islands had been in exactly the same situation and had had no difficulty getting their visas. These constant delays have been attributed to the 1960 elections, during which part of the left wing politicians on the mainland claimed that Island Development was an instrument of “American imperialism” and had been created for the express purpose of taking Galápagos away from Ecuador, “in the same manner as was done with Texas, when it was taken from Mexico”. There were however others of the same political hue, who saw the American settlers in a wholly different light. These interpreted their colonization project as a rejection of the American capitalist system, applauding this attempt at establishing a cooperativist society on the islands.
Whatever the reasons, these delays caused serious problems for the Americans, and contributed in a considerable measure to their eventual failure. Trusting that they would obtain their visas within a reasonable time, as had their companions on the Alert, those on the Trader had quit their jobs and, in many cases, sold their homes and other assets. Unknowingly, they had burnt their bridges before crossing them.
Thus, seventy-eight human beings found themselves confined—men, women and children—within the limited space of a small ship, which originally provided comfortable accommodations for a very small crew. Here, the weeks became months, and frictions and antagonisms built up tensions that would survive for as long as these people were together. The situation also increased the company's expenses far beyond what had been allowed for, since Island Development had to provide for all these members, who had been urged to settle their affairs and make ready to travel.
Three cases of hepatitis caused panic aboard the Trader. The sick had to be hospitalized, while everyone else aboard got gamma globulin shots. Then, at long last, the visas arrived, and the group made ready to begin the long awaited voyage to the promised land. But a new problem appeared unexpectedly. The Ecuadorian authorities demanded a heavy import duty on all equipment, machinery and even personal effects. This was at least as surprising as the delay of the visas. Prospective immigrants were always allowed to bring their personal belongings and household goods into the country without paying duty. As for machinery and equipment, it was then quite usual to request and get a dispensation from the government so as to pay no duty for their importation, if they were to be used in agriculture, industry or fishing. This was a routine formality in Ecuador at the time. Obviously, some official (or officials) who did not know their job or felt ill-will towards the Americans was behind the problem, which even then could have been solved, had Island Development's lawyers in Ecuador looked after their clients' interests. In any case, much useful equipment was left behind.
Then, twenty-eight members of the group had to be left behind as well. The harbor officials in San Diego, who had been watching for months how all these people lived aboard the ship, suddenly decided that the Western Trader was too small for them. Still, bureaucratic stupidity notwithstanding, the organizers of Island Development had their share of blame, as they should have investigated, months earlier, how many passengers would be allowed aboard the ship.
The master of the Western Trader was Captain Lloyd Van Kirk, a former naval officer. Though recognized even by his detractors as a competent seaman, he enjoyed little if any popularity with the settlers, who seem to have resented his attempts at maintaining some semblance of order on the ship. The voyage to Galápagos took seventeen days, which is a good time for a ship like the Trader, especially if one considers that she was towing a clumsy, square-bowed landing barge that was to be used for lobster fishing.
The tensions accumulated during the long sojourn in San Diego became unbearable during the voyage. Despite this, many of those coming on the Trader were more than willing to repeat this unpleasant voyage, returning to the United States on the ship, rather than remaining in the Galápagos. The desolate lowlands of Puerto Baquerizo simply scared them away. Some even went so far that they did not even go ashore, fearing that if they did, their places on the Trader would be taken by those who had arrived on the Alert. Most of them listened with considerable suspicion to the latter's descriptions of the fertile highlands.
A few of the braver ones did however move ashore with the intention of staying, while a few others took the risk of landing to wash their clothes and take fresh water baths, always making sure to leave behind some family member to watch that their places on the ship were not taken. They need not have worried. Those who had landed with the intention of staying did so, while those from the Alert still believed in the project. Thus, there were a number of free places available on the Trader when she sailed.
Unfortunately for those who had remained aboard, they would soon regret their decision. Outside the coast of Guatemala, the ship lost its screw, and they were left helplessly adrift, until a tugboat could be contacted to tow them to Salina Cruz, in Mexico, where the ship remained tied to a dock for several months. Neither the Alert nor the Western Trader ever returned to the Galápagos as planned.
Bad luck, plus the usual errors—errors largely caused by a lack of knowledge of conditions in the islands and in Ecuador—led to the final collapse of Island Development. The shareholders, who most likely would have committed the same mistakes and got the same results, voted to have Captain Donald Harrsch replaced by Alex Reuss as president of the company. Reuss was soon replaced in his turn by Galen Kaufman, one of the shareholders living on San Cristóbal.
Kaufman was a sensible, intelligent person who had all the qualities needed to save the project. Unfortunately, he was elected a few months too late to do much good. Funds were by then low and those remaining on the island had largely lost their faith in the project. As early as October of 1960, a small group of settlers had already left for the mainland, to continue on their way to the United States. The following month, another group left. Soon after, two families moved over to Santa Cruz. Of these, Roger McGough and his family remained two or three years. So did Eddy Niles, who joined them a little later. All these Santa Cruz Americans made a modest living from fishing, during the time they remained on the island.
The few who remained on San Cristóbal after Kaufman was elected president of the company, were just continuing the enjoyment of what they had come to regard as a lengthy and exotic vacation. These four or five families had not sold their homes as so many others, and had joined the project with the thought that, should it fail, it would still be an interesting experience that was worth the investment in time and money.
Despite the language barrier, the Americans made many friends on San Cristóbal. The local population had a friendly attitude towards Americans, developed from contacts with visiting yachtsmen, the crews of California tuna clippers, and the U. S. military from the base at Baltra. The Island Development people, on their part, showed great interest in the local people and were prompt to join in such community projects as the annual cleaning of the water pipeline and the reservoir. Everybody was sad to see the American settlers leave.
Looking back, it can be seen that there was a certain loss of interest among the Americans for their project at an earlier stage than what was apparent at the time. The first group—those who arrived on the Alert—worked very hard to get the houses ready, to improve the path to the village, and do all the other tasks that were necessary to better conditions for themselves and those who were later to arrive on the Western Trader. Then, they appeared to run out of purpose and energy, probably discouraged by the unexpected difficulties that appeared one after another.
The lobster shipment that the Alert did not get, the freezer plant that was not working—and was impractical because of its enormous, single, two hundred-ton chamber—the delays and other problems of the Western Trader, and the failing economy that resulted from it all must have appeared to most of the members as the inevitable death of their project. We have mentioned the few who made a new attempt by moving to Santa Cruz. Another optimist who did not easily give up was Donald Harrsch himself, if one is to believe the rumors that reached Galápagos. After he was deposed as president of the company he had founded, it is said that he tried to organize a new group of idealistic people, with whom he wanted to start a colony in the upper Amazon.
The exploitation of the salt mine at James Bay finally started in 1963, while President Carlos Julio Arosemena Monroy was still in power. The heirs of don Darío Egas Sánchez obtained a contract to supply salt to the state monopoly, at a price that made it profitable to reopen the mine on the west side of Santiago. This mine is located at the bottom of an extinct crater, in a low mountain that hugs the south side of the lava flow that divides James Bay in two parts. This low mountain is about two kilometers from the shore and more or less three from the best landing beach, in the south of the bay.
The salt is at the bottom of a shallow lake, forming strata that are separated from one another by thin layers of compacted mud, the result of the silt washing down the rather steep inner side of the crater during rainy periods. In “Niño ” years, when the rains prevent salt from forming in the salt pans of the inhabited islands, the fishermen would travel to James Bay, to supply themselves with salt from this crater.
At such times, the water level in the crater may be two or more meters high because of the rains, and the men had to dive, breaking up the layers with crowbars. The resulting chunks of salt were piled up on a small raft, to be taken later to the shore to drain. The next operation was to fill the salt in jute sacks, which were carried up the almost vertical crater side, with the warm season sun burning mercilessly from above into the windless crater. While carrying the salt up the steep slope, the men could not use shoes, as they needed their toes to help them up the slippery, hard-packed dirt, which was wet with the brine from their loads and the sweat from their bodies. This hard work and the irritated eyes that smarted from the brine made this job extremely unpleasant.
The outside slope of the volcano is much gentler on the side where the trail went down to the foot of the hill. However, carrying the heavy sacks all the way to the shore in the heat was still hard work. Then, before the salt could be used, it had to be pounded into small fragments, so that it would dissolve fast enough to prevent the fish from decaying in the warm weather of the fishing season. It is not surprising that the people of Isabela, who had an abundance of mangroves, would prefer to use their wood to cook the brine from their flooded salt pans, producing the most beautiful salt that can be imagined, consisting of tiny, perfect crystals of a lovely pink coloration.
James Bay salt is of a very high quality, its reputation being very good even on the mainland. According to don Darío Weisson, who was superintendent of the mine, it has a 98% content of sodium chloride. His grandfather, don Darío Egas, had obtained a concession on the lands west of an imaginary line extending from Buccaneer Cove to Cape Nepean—i.e. the west coast of the island. This happened in 1922. However, it was not until 1926 that he could get a contract with the state monopoly profitable enough to make it worthwhile to work the mine. The salt pans at Salinas, on the Santa Elena Peninsula had flooded, drastically reducing salt production on the mainland.
Don Darío Egas had a winch installed on the southeastern side of the crater rim, at the point where the mountain is most accessible from the surrounding terrain, making it possible to carry the salt down to the shore with carts. From 1926 until 1928, the year the Salinas production returned to normal, the Egas mine produced thirty-two thousand hundredweight bags of salt. Then the government, having again an abundant supply on the mainland, rescinded the contract. James Bay was abandoned, but the remains of the winch still stand on the rim of the crater.
It was with great difficulty that the children and grandchildren of don Darío Egas managed to obtain a new contract with the government. They finally succeeded under the presidency of Dr. Arosemena. In 1963, don Darío Weisson Egas, whom we mentioned above, came out to begin work in James Bay. He set up a bunkhouse for the workers and a small prefabricated bungalow for the staff and an office. Later, he had a house built of concrete blocks above the landing beach. This was to be the residence of a port captain, who was to be sent over by the Ecuadorian Navy. This house was never finished, and still stands there, roofless and abandoned, like the winch at the crater rim, a silent warning to those who expect to do long-term business with the government.
With a motor grader, a road was built from the landing beach to the camp and then inland to the crater. The section inside the crater required however a considerable amount of explosives, due to the very hard rock that was found under the soft surface. Another road was built behind Sugar Loaf Mountain to a small bight that it had been hoped would make a good landing, but it proved too exposed.
Water was of course a constant problem. It was brought each month on the Cristóbal Carrier, a small concrete reservoir was built at the main spring, on the western slopes of Sugar Loaf Mountain, and a still was improvised from galvanized piping and fifty-gallon fuel drums. This last piece of equipment was operated sporadically with the help of the abundant heartwood from long dead trees that lay scattered all over the landscape.
A seemingly abundant supply of fresh water was discovered in a most unexpected place. While taking a sample core in the middle of the salt lake, don Darío Weisson was shocked to see a spout of water issuing from the hole. The water was completely fresh. However, it was in a very wrong place, so he hastened to have the hole plugged with concrete. But it also made him consider the possibility of finding water somewhere along the shore of the lake. After several attempts, brackish water was found. Its quality was rather poor, but it could be used for cooking and washing.
The project remained, for as long as it lasted, completely dependent on outside supplies, except for some goat meat and fish. Most food was brought from Guayaquil, and a little from the other islands. No attempt was made to grow anything in the moist highlands, something don Darío Egas also had failed to do, in the 1920's.
Unfortunately, after Dr. Arosemena fell to a military coup, the junta that took over, presided by Admiral Ramón Castro Jijón, demonopolized salt, causing the mainland price to collapse. This happened shortly before the first shipment from Santiago was ready. The company continued however to send salt to the mainland, while waiting for some machinery that had been ordered from Germany, to be used in the production of iodized table salt. This would have been the first such salt produced in Ecuador, where the lack of iodine is a problem in many inland areas. The machinery was delayed, and negotiations to refinance the company's debt with the Banco Nacional de Fomento (Ecuador's development bank) were drawn out over such a long time that the company had to close down. The western part of Santiago was taken over by the bank, which in turn handed it over to the government later, and it became, like the rest of the island, a part of the National Park.
Around the middle of the 1960's, Galápagos tourism looked like wishful thinking. A few tourists had arrived on the Cristóbal Carrier, as did a few scientists, the latter often making the tour of the islands before or after their stay at the Charles Darwin Research Station, which had been attracting researchers since 1960, before it had any facilities to speak of. These passengers however were too few to make much difference to the income of the Cristóbal Carrier. It was often said at the time that it would still be some ten to twenty years before anything could be done with tourism.
As it happened, we were all wrong. In the final years of the decade, things started to happen. Tour operators like Metropolitan Touring invested in luxury yachts, TAME—the air service operated by the Ecuadorian Air Force—began regular flights to the Galápagos, local fishermen began to modify their boats for charter trips around the islands, and small hotels and restaurants appeared here and there. The pioneers like Forrest Nelson on Santa Cruz and the Wittmers on Floreana finally saw their hotels becoming good, steady sources of income.
In two or three years, tourism suddenly became an environmental problem of some importance. Fortunately, the National Park had become a reality, and the Charles Darwin Research Station was already in place to give advice and help. These two organizations also trained tourist guides and the park had a numbers of wardens. The tourist operators—most of them—were prompt to cooperate, realizing that conservation is essential to maintaining the islands as a tourist attraction.
Unfortunately, as we shall see in the next two chapters, the conservation of Galápagos nature is an endless job, and those doing it will never be able to relax, as there will ever be those willing to imperil and even destroy what is beautiful and unique in order to make a short term profit.
State of the flora and fauna and the observations of Dr. Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt. Founding of the Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galápagos Islands and the building of the research station. The official inauguration of the station and the Galápagos International Scientific Project. The production of tortoises hatched in captivity is initiated under director Dr. Roger Perry. Establishment of the National Park. Installation of the marine laboratory. Creation of the Marine Reserve. The National Park's many problems.
Towards the end of the 1950's considerable changes could be noticed in the Galápagos environment, both on the inhabited islands as well as on a number of the uninhabited ones. Even visiting scientists who came to the islands for the first time were alarmed at some of the changes, which had been for some time sadly obvious to those long-time residents who were aware of what happened around them. A complete picture of the situation would require considerable space, so only a few examples will be mentioned here.
Most tortoise populations had been brought close to extinction, a few having disappeared entirely. Considering the merciless exploitation these reptiles had been subjected to since the days of the whalers and other hunters, it is indeed amazing that there were any left. More so if one considers the continuing destruction of eggs and young by introduced animals such as rats, dogs and pigs.
Large colonies of land iguanas had been partly or totally destroyed, more often than not by humans, some as early as the turn of the century or possibly before. Marine iguanas had disappeared from the shore settlements, except for two or three much reduced populations that still survived on the outskirts of Puerto Ayora, on Santa Cruz. Doves and hawks, once so numerous around this settlement, had nearly disappeared from the island as a whole.
Plant life had suffered greatly from human activity, especially because of land clearing and, on Floreana and San Cristóbal, from the introduction of the aggressive guava, which had practically taken over the highlands on both these islands. Goats, pigs, cattle and donkeys had caused even greater destruction than humans and over much more extensive areas. That the guava had spread so successfully on Floreana and San Cristóbal can most likely be explained by the more open woodland that had resulted from early agricultural activity and even more from the destruction of the formerly dense undergrowth by the foraging and movements of cattle and pigs.
It may be of interest to mention the case of Santa Cruz. Colonization, except for a very few and minor attempts, had taken place here much later than on the other inhabited islands. The population of Santa Cruz remained also very small until fairly late, increasing significantly only after the 1970's. Feral animals, except for donkeys, were introduced in the second half of the 1920's. This island is relatively large and had a very dense vegetation in most parts, including much of the lowlands. Despite this, the deterioration of the vegetation was surprisingly fast. This has an explanation. As wild dogs were a rather late introduction, there were no predators to limit the number of introduced animals. There were no mortal diseases affecting them, and few of the small number of inhabitants engaged in regular hunting.
As late as in the 1940's the highland settlers who hunted regularly maintained hunting trails, as this much reduced the work of cutting their way through the dense undergrowth that existed in most parts. However, the cattle and pigs were already beginning to change this situation, as their increasing numbers moved through the vegetation, making more animal trails, and feeding on the plant life. In addition, several dry years in the 1940's and the natural increase in numbers caused the goats and donkeys to move up towards the highlands.
At the beginning of 1947, while camping at Conway Bay, in the northwest of Santa Cruz, Kristian Stampa was much surprised to find goat droppings in that area. He had lived on the island since 1926 and never before found evidence of goats in the northern parts of the lowlands. However, in the next decade, sightings of goats and donkeys became increasingly common even in the highlands, sometimes as high up as the open grasslands.
The members of the California Academy of Sciences Expedition of 1905-06 could not penetrate the higher parts of Santa Cruz on account of the dense undergrowth (Slevin, 1931). In 1953 the author and two friends, accompanied by a donkey carrying equipment and supplies, went on a three-day excursion into the southeast part of the highlands of Santa Cruz. The forest had by then become so open, that the machetes were only used for cutting an occasional blaze to help find the way back. The following year, a shorter hike was made into the southwest parts of the highlands. Conditions here were found to be similar.
Still, Galápagos remained surprisingly pristine in 1954, when Dr. Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt, a young ethologist from the Max-Planck Institute, visited the Galápagos. He detected enough evidence of damage to cause him concern. He also realized that the presence of man and introduced animals made certain that the destruction would continue at an increasing pace. Eibl-Eibesfeldt sent a report on his observations to the Ecuadorian Government and to the Union for the Protection of Nature—which was later renamed International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). He also made other contacts to obtain support for a research station in the Galápagos, thus resurrecting the project that had been cut short by the war. Among his contacts was Dr. Robert I. Bowman of San Francisco, who had spent several months in the islands (1952-53), gathering material for his outstanding paper on the Galápagos finches (Bowman, 1961). Dr. Bowman would later play an important role in the formation of the Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galápagos Islands (CDFG), in which he served as Secretary for the Americas during its early years. Other key persons behind the Foundation were Sir Julian Huxley and Prof. Misaël Acosta-Solís.
This time there was a much wider and more effective support for a research station than there had been before the war. Things got rapidly under way. Jean Delacour and S. Dillon Ripley went to Quito on behalf of the International Council for Bird Preservation to obtain approval for establishing a research station in the Galápagos. It was most fortunate that the Assistant Secretary of the IUNC, Mme. Marguerite Caram, also became involved with the project at such an early date. She contributed enormously to the coordination of the different efforts in favor of the research station (Corley Smith, 1990). Mme. Caram also obtained aid from UNESCO, which contributed with crucial financial support during the early, difficult years of the Station.
With the backing of UNESCO and Life Magazine, a five-month expedition was sent to the Galápagos, consisting of Dr. Eibl-Eibesfeldt, Dr. Bowman, Alfred Eisenstaedt (photographer), and Rudolf Freund (artist). A survey of the animal life and recommendations for the construction of the research station were the goals of this mission. Two settlers who are thoroughly familiar with Galápagos, Karl Angermeyer and Miguel Castro, accompanied the group around the islands (Eibl-Eibesfeldt, 1959; Bowman, 1961).
While it still remained urgent to protect the insular environment from destruction, it was found that most animal species survived in sufficient numbers to offer considerable hope. A site for the research station was chosen at the beautiful lagoon of Tortuga Bay. It was an excellent location, provided a road could be built from the village of Puerto Ayora, to the east of it. The road was essential because the entrance to the lagoon is dangerous when the seas outside it get rough, huge breakers blocking the channel. Eibl-Eibesfeldt presented a concise and very accurate report on the state of the Galápagos fauna (Eibl-Eibesfeldt, 1959).
In 1958 the 15th International Congress of Zoology met in London to celebrate the centenary of the publication of Darwin's and Wallace's theories of evolution. Both Eibl-Eibesfeldt and Bowman presented reports and proposals (Corley Smith, 1990). The Congress gave unanimous support to the Galápagos project, and K. Curry-Lindahl, who headed the section on conservation, became later actively engaged in the resulting Charles Darwin Foundation. The same year, Prof. Jean Dorst of the Muséum National d'Historie Naturelle of Paris was sent by UNESCO to negotiate the first agreement with Ecuador (Corley Smith, 1990).
The support from UNESCO became vital for the construction and operation of the research station. Another important supporter in the early stages, both with economic aid and advice, was the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). An organization committee of supporters was established, with Sir Julian Huxley as its chairman. Among the dedicated members of this committee was Prof. Victor Van Straelen, who was a key person in the formation of the Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galápagos Islands, which was created as an international, independent organization on July 23, 1959. Van Straelen, who had organized the Congo National Park and had been engaged many years in conservation, became the Foundation's first president.
These auspicious beginnings did not hide the difficulties that lay ahead. A good general picture of the state of the Galápagos fauna had been given by Eibl-Eibesfeldt's report, but the actual work of conservation demanded more detailed information. Gathering such data in turn demanded certain facilities—a laboratory, dwellings, office space, means of transportation. With limited funds, priorities had to be worked out. This as well required considerable data. The feeling that time and opportunity were slipping away too fast would accompany everyone involved with the research station during the following years.
In the meantime, the government of Dr. Camilo Ponce Enríquez had issued its Emergency Law-Decree No 17 on July 4, 1959, to mark the century of the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species. The decree declares all of Galápagos a national park and reserve, with the exception of those lands already occupied by settlers.
Until February 1960 few in the Galápagos believed the Charles Darwin Research Station would become a reality—at least not in the foreseeable future. Projects of every sort had in the past aroused hopes and then turned to nothing. But it was in that month that the Cristóbal Carrier brought out a young Swiss ornithologist, Dr. Raymond Lévêque, who had recently been studying the avifauna of the Camargue. He was to be the first director of a research station that still had to be built. He knew nothing about local conditions; he knew nothing about construction. However, Lévêque had the good sense to ask around and gather all sorts of information that could be useful.
He found out what termites and dry rot do to timber in the tropics. He also discovered that the ubiquitous volcanic rock, while free for the taking and a most durable material, requires so much labor and cement that it ends up being quite expensive. Concrete blocks turned out to be the best and cheapest construction material. Unfortunately, the building site chosen by Eibl-Eibesfeldt became impractical. The recently created Galápagos Public Works had run out of funds before the road to Tortuga Bay could be built. Lévêque found a good site just east of the Puerto Ayora settlement, on a claim that had been taken by the Lundh family in 1950; but this turned out to be no problem.
Conservation gained some early support in the Galápagos. Soon after Lévêque's arrival, Captain Julio Hernández, at the time master of the Cristóbal Carrier, and the author agreed to drop the visits to the albatross nesting sites on Hood, one of the major tourist attractions on the ship's schedule, fearing that human visitors might disturb the birds enough to make them abandon their nests. A number of Ecuadorian officials and naval officers were also becoming increasingly aware of the need for conservation. When the salt mine at James Bay reopened, don Darío Weisson, the superintendent, ordered his workers to refrain from hunting or disturbing the wild animals on the island, except for goats and pigs. Captain Hernández had earlier prohibited his crew to hunt doves here and on Hood Island.
From the very beginning, Lévêque was much concerned about the introduced animals and the damage they were causing. However, there were too many of them and they were found in too many places for him to do anything much with the limited means at his disposal. But he succeeded elsewhere, beginning the construction program with a building for the laboratory. He had engaged the services of an American, Forrest Nelson, who at once built a road from the village to the construction site. Nelson hired Sigurd Graffer as his construction foreman. The United Nations Andean Mission was also very helpful at this stage, with personnel and the presence of Rene Champiot, a very capable person who was sent from Riobamba. Unfortunately, there was a conflict of interests with Nelson, since the latter was at the same time constructing his own hotel, and could not devote all his time to the CDRS.
A new station manager was engaged. The Belgian Edgar Pots became a most fortunate addition to the tiny staff that the Station had at that time. Experienced, resourceful and practical, Pots pushed ahead with the building program. It was undoubtedly an advantage that Pots had worked under difficult conditions before, as a plantation manager in what had been the Belgian Congo.
Unfortunately, Lévêque's health began to fail, forcing him to resign in 1962. Overworked and frustrated at not being able to solve the many problems that he considered urgent, he left with a feeling of great disappointment. However, considering the circumstances, he could not have done better with what he had. Despite all the time he had had to sacrifice from his scientific work, he had managed to gather a great amount of information that was important in estimating the survival chances of many endangered species. He also initiated a ringing program, using rings provided by the British Trust for Ornithology, marking a considerable number of sea birds. Tortoise marking was begun under him on Santa Cruz, and he left the beginnings of an herbarium.
Lévêque was succeeded by a French zoologist, Dr. André Brosset. The latter continued the survey of animal populations. Like his predecessor, he was forced to charter local boats, which limited his mobility. Chartered boats, while reasonable in those days, did cost enough to strain his budget, which was also insufficient for the hiring of extra help for his field work. Still, he somehow managed to add the Galápagos mammals to his program. His estimate of the fur seal population as consisting of about five hundred animals confirmed Lévêque's claim that this once nearly extinct subspecies was well on its way to recovery. The construction program was continued, and a much needed meteorological station was set up at the CDRS.
By 1962 a number of scientists were already working in connection with the Station, using its still limited facilities. Several research programs went on, making the CDRS a scientific center long before its official inauguration. It was that year that Dr. Herndon Dowling, Curator of Reptiles at the New York Zoological Park, collected tortoises on the islands for captive breeding. Dowling doubted that the Galápagos tortoises had any chance of surviving in the wild. It was also in that year that a new and better system for marking tortoises was introduced on the advice of Prof. C. C. Carpenter, consisting of a combination of notches cut into the edges of the carapaces.
In January 1963 a new director arrived. Dr. David Snow, a British ornithologist from the Edward Grey Institute at Oxford, which was directed at that time by Dr. David Lack. The latter was the author of The Galápagos Finches and Darwin's Finches. Snow had also worked at the research station that the New York Zoological Society operated on Trinidad.
On Snow's arrival, the construction work at the CDRS was well advanced, and many of the facilities were finished when he left. The number of visiting scientists continued growing. A seismograph, financed by the U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, was installed on a cliff inland from the Station. Bird ringing was continued, and the surveying of tortoises was extended to other islands apart from Santa Cruz. Snow's report on the Galápagos tortoises (1964) included some unexpected good news. Evidence had been found by J. P. Lundh that the San Cristóbal tortoise, believed to have probably been extinct, indicated that this race had reproduced as late as the 1950's (Snow, 1964; Dorst, 1964). A few years later, Miguel Castro, Conservation Officer of the CDRS, located and marked more than sixty of these reptiles in a remote area of San Cristóbal. Snow also reported that a very few tortoises were still surviving on Hood. He recommended that top priority be given to the elimination of goats on Hood and Barrington.
It was during Snow's administration that the Charles Darwin Research Station was officially inaugurated, on January 20, 1964. High ranking officials came from Quito, including two of the four member of the Military Junta. The ambassadors of the countries that supported the CDFG were present, along with the representatives of UNESCO, Ecuadorian universities, and members of the Foundation, including its President, Prof. Victor Van Straelen.
The inauguration was even more impressive because it was made to coincide with the Galápagos International Scientific Project (GISP), which was directed by Drs. Robert I. Bowman, Robert L. Usinger, Mrs. James K. Kermeen and Dr. Nathan Cohen. It was funded by the University of California and the National Science Foundation (Bowman & Cohen, 1964). Sixty-six scientists of different nationalities participated. The California Maritime Academy provided their ship, the Golden Bear, for transporting the expedition during the ship's annual cruise. In the Galápagos, the U. S. S. Pine Island and her helicopters helped with inter-island travel, as did the patrol boat that the Ecuadorian Navy usually kept at San Cristóbal, and a number of chartered local boats. The scientists also held several symposia in Guayaquil.
On February 14, 1964, the basic agreement between Ecuador and the CDFG was signed in Quito by don Armando Pesantes García, Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Prof. Victor Van Straelen. The agreement was for twenty-five years and renewable for five-year periods. It gives the Foundation the right to operate and own the Station, and to further conservation and scientific investigation in the Galápagos (Corley Smith, 1990). On February 29, shortly after his return to Belgium, Prof. Van Straelen died. Though he was deprived of seeing the project he had done so much for blossom fully, he had at least the pleasure of seeing it off to a very auspicious start.
On March 12 of the same year, the Military Junta, headed by Admiral Ramón Castro Jijón, issued Decree No. 523, in which the CDRS is given powers to determine natural reserves, to decide which plant or animal species need protection, to exterminate animals harmful to the environment, etc. It also prohibits the unauthorized settlement of lands for agriculture, the clearing and use of fire in protected areas, the use of insecticides, the removal of native animals from one island to another, and the introduction of animals from the mainland.
Before leaving, Dr. Snow had begun a project to eliminate rats on Duncan, a program for the elimination of goats on Barrington, and for the elimination of wild pigs on Santa Cruz. The Duncan program was of considerable importance, since the rats had prevented the tortoises on the island from producing young for several decades. Also, he was able to employ a conservation officer for the CDRS, with funds provided by the New York Zoological Society. Miguel Castro, who had then several years behind him working with visiting scientists, was appointed for this position.
The Station's ship, the Beagle II, a 55-foot Looe lugger, sailed from England in December 1963, arriving in the Galápagos in April of the following year. Though late for the inauguration, her arrival was of great importance to the Station, as she provided the much needed independent transportation so necessary for research work. Karl Angermeyer was appointed master of the Beagle II, a wise choice, as he was an excellent seaman with considerable experience with sail and had lived in the Galápagos since 1937, mostly engaged in fishing among the islands. In September 1966, Bernhard Schreier took over as skipper, remaining in charge until the ship was dismantled and sunk, about a year later. The old lugger had a relatively deep draft that made it difficult to maintain her hull by beaching her in the islands. To send her twice a year to Guayaquil to have her bottom cleaned and painted was too expensive for the CDRS. Besides, she was constantly needed in the islands.
However, as long as she was seaworthy, the Beagle II made it possible for Dr. Roger Perry, Snow's successor, to carry out a program of intensive exploration and research. Perry had graduated in Zoology from Christ's College, Cambridge. Among other activities, he had studied plant life in the Colombian Andes (1957 and 1958). Later, he had been four years with the BBC's Natural History Unit, then traveled through the forests of the Upper Amazon. As a UNESCO wildlife conservation specialist, he was appointed director of the CDRS, a position he held from 1964 to 1970.
With most of the construction work finished and an independent means of transportation, Roger Perry was able to devote more time to scientific work than his predecessors. Under him, the CDRS expanded its conservation activities. He already had the able assistance of Miguel Castro, the conservation officer. When the Station manager, Edgar Pots, resigned, leaving for the mainland, he was replaced by Rolf-Dieter Sievers, a young German settler, who became much involved in field work. Later, a resident ecologist, Dr. Tjitte de Vries, was employed. Both the latter and the ornithologist Dr. Michael Harris made significant contributions during this period.
During Perry's first year in the Galápagos, H. R. H. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, visited the islands. With him came the Hon. G. T. Corley Smith, then British Ambassador in Quito. Corley Smith had also participated in the inauguration of the CDRS, and would become very much engaged in the Foundation's activities, serving for ten years as its Secretary General and twelve as editor of its magazine, Noticias de Galápagos.
Prince Philip's party also included Aubrey Buxton of Anglia Television. He later sent out a camera team—Alan and Joan Root—who filmed The Enchanted Isles, a documentary for the Survival Series. Prince Philip spoke the commentary for this outstanding film. The Prince became later patron of the CDFG. The premiere of the Enchanted Isles was used by Aubrey Buxton and Sir Robert Adeane to raise £10,000 towards getting a replacement for the Beagle II. For this same purpose, Mrs. Vincent Astor also made a generous contribution from a fund created by her late husband. In the 1920's and 1930's Commodore Vincent Astor had taken several expeditions to the Galápagos on his yacht, the Nourmahal.
From the very beginning, Dr. Roger Perry saw the need for educating the local people in conservation and making them aware of the value of the environment around them. With the cooperation of the Galápagos school supervisor, don Lucio Saltos Gómez, a program of natural history was introduced, along with courses of biology and nature conservation for local officials and teachers. This, as expected, led to an increased awareness of the need to protect the unique Galápagos environment. The program was later expanded to the mainland under Peter Kramer, Perry's successor, who also was able to offer scholarships to university students, so they could work at the Station and in the field alongside experienced visiting scientists. Under a later director, Friedemann Köster, the education program was further expanded, as increased personnel at the CDRS and better funding became available from the Ecuadorian Government.
It had been found that ten of the original fifteen races of tortoises known from the Galápagos were still surviving. Most were however found in such small numbers that they needed active help if they were to survive. The damage caused by dogs, rats and pigs, species that are also a threat to other endemic animals besides the tortoises, was confirmed beyond doubt. As early as in 1965, Roger Perry initiated an experiment that would become one of the Station's most important programs and one of its greatest successes. A small tortoise population still survived on Duncan, one of the lesser islands. They had been breeding for years without success, due to the introduced black rat which destroyed their eggs and young. Perry had the few recent nests that could be found dug up and the eggs brought to the Station.
Nothing was known about how to hatch the eggs or how to raise the resulting young, if any. Under the supervision of Perry and the devoted care of Miguel Castro and Anders Rambech, one of the earliest Norwegian settlers, the experiment succeeded. This encouraged Perry to extend the program to include other races that had little or no chance of successfully reproducing in the wild. In May of 1969, Rolf Sievers, the station manager, designed and built a house for the incubation and rearing of tortoises, with financial support from the San Diego Zoological Society. It was inaugurated in January 1970. The first twenty tortoises hatched at the Station had come from Duncan eggs, collected in 1965. Towards the end of 1970, the resulting young reptiles were released on their island of origin. Two years later 52 more and an adult female were released on Duncan. All thrived in the wild (The female had been donated by the New York Zoological Society and had been collected on Duncan in 1928).
Until 1965 nothing had been done about establishing the National Park. It was in that year that the Ecuadorian Government made a request to the British Overseas Development Program to arrange for a mission to the islands that would make recommendations on the organization of a national park and the development of tourism (Corley Smith, 1990). The same year, two experts were sent out for this purpose—Ian Grimwood, an expert on national parks, and David Snow, former director of the CDRS. Their report was presented to President Clemente Yerovi Indaburu the following year. The proposals in this report would be followed, from the control of tourism to the establishment of a marine reserve. Thus, in 1968, the Galápagos National Park Service (GNPS) took its first cautious steps into the world. It was placed under the Forestry Service of the Ministry of Agriculture. At first, the Park had no facilities, and had to use those of the CDRS. The first officials of the Park were don Juan Black and don José Villa, who arrived in time to see the expansion of tourism beginning in the Galápagos.
The small groups that had arrived on the Cristóbal Carrier, during the first half of the decade, had constituted no problem to the environment. Aside from the visiting scientists, these travelers had been mostly ecologically aware nature lovers, who went out of their way to avoid littering, disturbing nesting birds or anything else that could have the remotest negative effect on the environment. These visitors lived on the ship and were accompanied by the conservationist ship's agent, who had taken it upon himself to be their host and guide. But now tourism was on its way to become big business. Fortunately, the largest operator was Lars Lindblad, an enthusiastic conservationist, who had also pioneered, in 1966, tourism to the Antarctic. Another large, early operator was Metropolitan Tours, also holding positive views on conservation.
On the basis of Emergency Law-Decree No. 17, mentioned earlier, and from the logic that increased colonization would be detrimental to a national park and conservation in general, many of us had taken for granted in those early years that the establishment of the National Park would stop further colonization of the Galápagos, limiting population growth to that resulting from the natural increase of the already existing population. However, nothing was done to stop or even slow down the arrival of new settlers, and the increase in tourism led inevitably to a rapid increase in population through immigration from the mainland, especially on Santa Cruz. This produced a series of problems, including encroachment on Park lands. In time, even more serious problems would result, as we shall see later.
It took several years before anything was done about the marine reserve that had been proposed by Snow and Grimwood. Luckily, good cooperation existed between the CDRS, the GNPS and the National Institute of Fisheries. This had prevented significant damage to the internal waters of the islands. The originally proposed one thousand meters wide protected zone along the shores of the archipelago was extended to include the whole of the internal waters of the Galápagos, once the reserve was established.
On June 22, 1966, the Foundation lost its Secretary for the Americas, Dr. E. Yale Dawson. Dawson, who had succeeded Bowman in this capacity, and was at the time Curator of Cryptogams at the U. S. National Museum of Natural History. He lost his life while collecting algae in the Red Sea. Among his many activities, Dawson was also engaged in the production of a Galápagos flora. This magnificent volume would be published in 1971, under the direction of Ira L. Wiggins and Duncan M. Porter. In November of the following year, the Foundation suffered another great loss with the death of Prof. Jacques Laruelle, who had recently resigned as Secretary General, a position he had held since 1963 (Dorst, 1967).
Fernandina, the island that had produced such a spectacular eruption in the 1820's, had undoubtedly been active a number of times since, but its remoteness in relation to the inhabited parts of the archipelago brought little attention to the fact. However, in later years it has received considerable attention, and seems to have increased its volcanic activity. In June of 1968, Roger Perry visited the main crater, after a great eruption on the island. The bottom of the enormous caldera had collapsed, the lake in it having shifted to one of the sides. On previous visits, Perry had found the bottom to be eight hundred meters below the rim. Now it was eleven hundred meters below—a subsidence of three hundred meters. The walls of the caldera were still unstable, the rocks rolling down in great quantity, so that the dust made visibility so limited that Perry and his companions could not assess all the changes produced by the cataclysm (Perry, 1972). The island's considerable volcanic activity would continue attracting scientists in the following years.
In 1970 the Law for the Protection of Wild Animals and Fisheries Resources came into effect. It forbids the capture and commerce with rare species of the national fauna, the use of insecticides, herbicides and fungicides that may affect the endemic flora and fauna, and prohibits all activities that may damage natural reserves and national parks.
It was also this same year that Peter Kramer took over from Roger Perry, holding the position as director of the CDRS until 1973. Kramer had been in the Galápagos earlier, as a member of a German expedition, in 1962-63. Thanks to the efforts of Snow and Perry, he found a local population with a greater awareness of the importance of conservation. It was during his administration that the CDRS established an information center in Quito, thanks to support from the Frankfort Zoological Society. This center was headed by don Juan Black, formerly of the GNPS. Black also wrote a book, Galápagos, Archipiélago del Ecuador, the first natural history of the islands in Spanish. The book, printed in 5,000 copies, filled a great need. One thousand copies were distributed free to educational institutions in Ecuador.
On May 28 of 1971 the Ministry of Agriculture issued the necessary regulations for the enforcement of the 1970 law for the protection of the fauna, naming a National Commission for the Protection of the Wild Fauna and Fisheries Resources. The Forestry Service was assigned the duty to carry out these regulations. The same year, President José María Velasco Ibarra signed Decree No. 1,306 by which areas of outstanding beauty or scientific interest are to be declared of national utility, and shall be made into reserves or national parks. In them is to be forbidden all exploitation of cattle, forests or mining, hunting, fishing and colonization. They may be used only for tourism and scientific research. A fee was also established for entering reserves and national parks, in order to help towards their maintenance. A Committee for National Parks was established.
The year 1971 was also important in other respects for the islands. From April through July, the University of Oregon Galápagos Expedition visited the islands. The scientists worked on the geology, seismology and plant ecology of the Galápagos (Noticias de Galápagos No. 21). This was only one of the seventeen scientific missions that came to the islands that year, a great increase over earlier activities of this sort. Unfortunately, increased scientific activity has also brought its problems, as all scientists are not equally careful and responsible. In some cases, animal populations have been disturbed, and there has been some carelessness with campfires and littering. The introduction of fire ants on Santiago has been another negative result of this activity.
In the meantime, the GNPS had been expanding. A park superintendent, don Jaime Torres, was appointed in 1972, and independent buildings for the GNPS were built near the CDRS. Conservation work was expanded, and patrolling of the park increased. Barrington was finally freed of its destructive wild goat population, while recently introduced goats were eliminated on Jervis. Goat hunting on Hood and Pinta, which had been neglected due to the islands' size and the lack of funds was started.
In 1971 and 1972 Japanese ships increased their activities in Galápagos waters. Japanese long-line fishermen had been operating in the area for about a decade, but now their activities were being extended to the exploitation of the green turtle. These reptiles were captured by local fishermen and frozen aboard the Japanese ships. Since the turtles were taken by the thousands, this new activity became a source of considerable concern. Director Peter Kramer of the CDRS made the government aware of the problem, and an indefinite ban was imposed, until more research could be done on the species.
The research on green turtles was initiated by Peter Pritchard, Miguel Cifuentes and Judy Webb, and continued later by Derek Green. With the support of the National Geographic Society, and helped by successive teams of volunteers, Green devoted nearly eight years to this project. Among other things, hatching success was estimated, about three thousand adult turtles were tagged and about 12,000 hatchlings were notched to provide identification for a long-term population study (Noticias de Galápagos Nos. 25 and 28).
On January 17, 1973, a ceremony was held on San Cristóbal, declaring Galápagos a full province of Ecuador. This ceremony was presided over by General Guillermo Rodríguez Lara, head of the governing military junta. General Rodríguez and his entourage visited the CDRS and were much impressed by what they saw and were told. When the islands were declared a province, it had already been stressed that the local officials had the duty to help protect the flora and fauna, in cooperation with the competent institutions, and give the necessary aid towards the defense and conservation of said flora and fauna.
The same year a committee was set up to create a master plan for the protection and use of the Galápagos National Park. In this group were represented the recently organized Department of National Parks and Wildlife, the National Planning Board, FAO and UNESCO, this last one represented by Peter Kramer. The resulting Master Plan, while following the outlines given by the Grimwood-Snow proposals, went into more detail. The 1969 boundaries of the park were confirmed, and a two-mile marine zone added. The park was divided into areas, according to their use and the degree and type of visitors allowed in each. It was also decided that tourists had to be accompanied by special guides, trained by the CDRS and the GNPS (Corley Smith, 1990).
The CDRS itself had been a tourist attraction from the very beginning. The author, with the blessing of Raymond Lévêque, who agreed that it was good public relations for the CDRS, had been taking tourists to the Station ever since the first building work began. Since most of the early visitors were conservationists, they had great interest in what was being done. In later years, the tortoise rearing center became an even greater attraction, as would the Van Straelen Hall, an exhibition and lecture building, erected thanks to the generosity of Mrs. Anne Byron Ward, and inaugurated in 1973.
During the Kramer administration, the CDRS library, the herbarium and the zoological specimen collection were expanded, and a new house for the director was built. A new vessel, the Beagle III arrived from England. In December of 1973, Dr. Peter Kramer resigned to work at the University of Essen.
Attempts at protecting plant life from extinction in the more endangered areas had been made early. Dr. Tjitte de Vries had established the first study quadrants on several islands, at different altitudes above sea level. These quadrants, protected from introduced herbivores, allowed the long-term study of the effects of these animals on the surrounding, unprotected vegetation, providing at the same time seeds for the future spread of plant species at the time these destructive animals could be eliminated. This project was further expanded and improved on by Dr. Ole Hamann in 1971-72, and continued by other botanists in the following years (Dr. Hamann was until recently Vice-president for Europe of the Charles Darwin Foundation.)
Dr. Craig MacFarland, from the University of Wisconsin, took over as Director from 1974 to 1978. Like Kramer, he had already worked in the Galápagos, where he had carried out research on the tortoises. He had written several papers together with J. Villa and B. Toro on this work, contributing considerably to the knowledge of the existing populations and how they can be helped to survive. MacFarland expanded and improved the Station's captive breeding program. The San Diego Zoological Society contributed to this program with a male Hood tortoise, thus adding to the limited genetic pool of this almost extinct race.
The 1970's had slowly brought some new problems. Aside from a limited use of insecticides inside dwellings, such poisons had been unknown in the Galápagos. From the 1970's on, long-lived insecticides began to be used increasingly in agriculture, and appeared more and more in the environment. The population increase and a greater and more frequent contact with the mainland brought new insects and plant diseases. The population increase and the larger numbers of tourists are also causing a serious waste problem. While the larger tourist operators showed concern for the environment, this was not always the case with the smaller local operators, many of whom were outright irresponsible, as were many visiting yachtsmen.
Despite these and other problems, progress was still being made on the conservation front. In 1975, the oldest of the young tortoises of the Santiago and Hood races that had been raised at the CDRS were taken to their islands of origin, where they did well in their natural environment (Noticias de Galápagos No. 23). The San Cristóbal tortoises were also doing well, after the local people had eliminated a considerable number of wild dogs, reducing markedly the predation on small tortoises.
As early as in the 1950's many of us on Santa Cruz had worried about the possibility that a wild dog population could develop on that island. Several people who owned dogs and had trained these for hunting allowed them complete freedom. However, it took some years and a considerable increase in the human population before it happened. The production of young tortoises in the period 1971-75 in the tortoise reserve on Santa Cruz was nearly destroyed by wild dogs (Corley Smith, 1990). The wild dogs had also spread to the lowlands, where they almost destroyed the small population of land iguanas still surviving there. A similar disaster took place at Cartago Bay, Isabela, where dogs had spread from the south, killing most of the land iguanas that remained near the bay (Noticias de Galápagos No. 25).
At the time all this was happening, Dagmar Werner of Basel University was doing research on land iguanas, with support from the National Geographic Society. She promptly abandoned her work to devote all her efforts to the rescue of these two iguana populations (Corley Smith, 1990). Provisional pens were erected at the CDRS, where the rescued iguanas were placed, and a captive breeding program was started. The program was so successful, that it rapidly led to overcrowding. Heidi and Howard Snell, two scientists with the U.S. Peace Corps, took over the iguana project, allowing Dr. Dagmar Werner to return to her research. The Snells were engaged in the iguana project for several years. Unfortunately, it took some time to bring the wild dogs under control, so that further space problems kept developing at the CDRS, as the young iguanas born there could not be returned to their places of origin (Noticias de Galápagos No. 26).
The fact that the great majority of scientists visiting the Galápagos had been—and still were—zoologists had led to much greater attention being given to the protection of animal species, especially birds and the larger reptiles. Despite this, some progress was made on the botanical front. Lévêque, an ornithologist, had started the Station herbarium, which was expanded by his zoologist successors. Snow had shown a special interest in the genus Scalesia, while Perry was thoroughly familiar with the Galápagos flora in general.
Still, there had been no extensive botanical work published since Alban Stewart's two on the Galápagos flora (Stewart, 1911 and 1915). After this, small papers and monographs had appeared on the subject, except for Svenson's work on the plants of Floreana, Santa Cruz and Santiago (1935) and the brief botany by Prof. Acosta-Solís (1937). Dawson's papers on the Galápagos cacti (1962 and 1965) had brought increased order to their classification, completing in many ways the earlier work on the subject by Howell (1933). During the GISP, the subject received more attention, and a number of papers began appearing under various authorships besides Dawson's. All this work culminated in the superb Flora of the Galápagos Islands, edited and co-authored by Wiggins and Porter, with the collaboration of 28 contributors, a work that was published by Stanford University Press in 1971. Since then, a number of botanists have been working in the Galápagos.
In February of 1976 don Eduardo Andrade, Superintendent of the GNPS, was succeeded in this capacity by don Miguel Cifuentes, who had worked on the sea turtle project. By then, the GNPS had almost completed its facilities and its personnel had been increased to thirty-three persons. Its wardens had also gained much greater mobility thanks to four patrol boats that had been obtained largely with aid from the Frankfurt Zoological Society (Noticias de Galápagos No. 24).
A report on the tourist impact on the Galápagos environment was sent to the WWF, which had funded the corresponding research. The authors were Dr. M. P. Harris and Dr. Tjitte de Vries, and it was based on studies made from 1971 to 1975. It was a great advantage that Dr. Harris had already done extensive work on sea bird populations before tourism increased significantly. He had also done research on tourism impact in the period of 1970-71, with support from tour operator and conservationist Lars Lindblad. A number of other people, both Ecuadorian and foreign, had contributed to the WWF project. No conclusive evidence was found that tourism had had any negative effects, which no doubt can be attributed to existing regulations and the trained guides (Noticias de Galápagos No. 24).
MacFarland was succeeded as director of the CDRS by Hendrik Hoeck, who remained in charge from 1978 to 1980. A Colombian, he was familiar with South America, had worked in Africa, but had never been to the Galápagos before. However, he had a great advantage in the vast amount of data that had accumulated at the Station in previous years. All this information gave a clear picture of what had been solved and the numerous problems that still remained. All this was taken up in a seminar of experts held in Quito, which resulted in a report entitled Twenty Years of Conservation in the Galápagos (Corley Smith, 1990).
It had been early realized that the elimination of introduced animals, wherever they existed, required much time and effort, which in turn cost money that was not available in large enough amounts to complete the task. For this reason, pigs and goats had been largely left to themselves on rugged and large Santiago (570 kms2). Progress was made elsewhere. Goats were eliminated on Hood by 1978, and on Marchena the following year. Pinta became the next target for intensive goat hunting. There were an estimated twenty thousand goats on this relatively small island, and they were about to destroy Pinta's vegetation and with it all its terrestrial ecosystems.
The problem of controlling the increasing wild dog populations on Isabela and Santa Cruz had once more become urgent. Attempts at eliminating dogs on Isabela had been made with little success earlier. Dr. Arturo Farfán, medical officer at San Cristóbal, had in 1960 initiated a campaign to eliminate the dogs, fearing what might happen should rabies ever reach the islands. Since Isabela had by far the largest dog population, his project was started there. However, the lack of adequate funding and Dr. Farfán's transfer to the mainland made this a short-lived project. The following year, Governor Enrique Vallejo launched a new campaign against the dogs on Isabela, with the intention of protecting the wild cattle, which he saw as a valuable resource. This project also had little effect for lack of funding.
Hans Kruuk, an expert on canines, and Howard Snell, a herpetologist, made a three-month study of the wild dogs, finding that there had been a considerable increase in the dog population of southwest Isabela, which endangered the marine iguanas, the flightless cormorants, penguins and fur seals in that area. There was also the danger that dogs might cross the Perry Isthmus, reaching that extensive part of the island that had until then remained free from most introduced animals. Both on Isabela and Santa Cruz, swift action had become necessary. Fortunately, in a matter of two years, these dog populations were practically eliminated (Noticias de Galápagos Nos. 29, 31, 32). Though there still remained a distinct possibility that tame dogs could become wild—as had happened before—the captive bred iguanas were released in their areas of origin.
In the past, research had been carried out on a number of Galápagos birds, especially the finches and several sea birds. Among the latter, increasing attention was being given to the dark-rumped petrel (Pterodroma phaeopygia). This species spends most of its life in the relative safety of the open sea, coming ashore only to nest in the moist highlands, where it digs burrows in the soft ground. Unfortunately, these nests are raided by rats, pigs and dogs, while human activity and the trampling by cattle have caused much damage to some nesting areas. Research by Dr. M. P. Harris, Robert Tompkins, Ruth Baker and Fiona Bass showed that this species was in rapid decline (Corley Smith, 1990). The research on the dark-rumped petrel led eventually to a protection program. Under Malcolm Coulter, at the time ornithologist at the CDRS, Felipe and Justina Cruz maintained poison bait around a nesting colony in the Floreana highlands, keeping the black rats away from the burrows. This resulted in 72 of about hundred eggs producing young (Noticias de Galápagos No. 39). This experiment led to an expanded program that later gave good results on Santa Cruz as well.
Dr. Friedemann Köster, a German scientist familiar with South America, was Director from 1981 to 1983. The Station's staff was enlarged to include a botanist, a marine biologist, a herpetologist, an entomologist, an ornithologist, an officer in charge of feral mammal control, a human ecologist, and a coordinator of education. The environmental education in the Galápagos schools was reorganized and new texts were introduced (Corley Smith, 1990).
The land iguana breeding and protection program was continued with uninterrupted success. The work of Dagmar Werner, Howard and Heidi Snell, don Miguel Cifuentes of the GNPS and Robert Reynolds of the CDRS contributed enormously to this success. However, the control of the fire ants (Wasmannia auropunctata), launched by the Station's entomologist, Yael Lubin, was less successful (Corley Smith, 1990). These pests had been introduced to Santa Cruz in the early 1930's, spreading many years later to some of the other islands. Difficult to control at best, it was realized that the fire ants could only be kept in check to a limited degree.
The wardens of the GNPS had led a strenuous struggle to control a number of introduced plant species on Santa Cruz—quinine, balsa, avocado and guava. The results had been disappointing compared to their efforts. Attempts were made to use plant poisons and controlled burning (Lawesson, 1986). It was realized that fast growing native species would be needed to replace the eliminated introduced plants, and the CDRS botanist Luong Tan Tuoc made an inventory of the plant species found on the island at the time. He was disappointed to find that introduced plants had spread at an alarming rate on Santa Cruz. The project resulted in the establishment of nurseries for growing Galápagos plants.
The marine laboratory recommended by Snow was finally set up. Gary Robinson, the CDRS marine biologist, continued the underwater research begun earlier by Gerard Wellington. Detailed plans for a marine park were drafted. Robinson and doña Priscila Martínez of the National Institute of Fisheries studied the extent of the black coral populations and their rate of reproduction. These corals were being used for making souvenirs, and had besides suffered considerably from the effects of the 1982-83 “Niño ” year.
We have mentioned elsewhere the exceptionally severe “Niño” year of 1982-83, and its disastrous effects on the Galápagos environment. About half the cormorant population died out, as well as three-quarters of the penguins. Great numbers of marine iguanas perished, while sea lions and fur seals lost most of their young, along with a third of the adults. For some scientists this extraordinary rainy period was of considerable interest, providing as it did unusual material for the study of fluctuations in the animal populations of the islands (Noticias de Galápagos Nos. 38 and 39). While a year like this one had never been recorded, it is of course likely to have happened in the distant past.
Dr. Ole Hamann, the distinguished Danish botanist, had the opportunity to study the effects of this unusual rainy period on the Galápagos vegetation. Having worked in the islands since 1971, he is thoroughly familiar with the island flora and in a position to compare normal conditions against the effects of these excessive rains.
Dr. Peter Grant, who had been leading a group that was doing a long-term study of the finches, also had the opportunity to observe the effects of a climate completely out of balance. The abundant rains and the resulting increase in vegetation and insect life led to an extraordinary increase in land bird populations, including the various finch species. The following severe drought reduced these populations drastically, leaving only the stronger, hardier individuals. The Foundation published a volume of 30 articles on the 1982-83 “Niño” year. It was edited by Gary Robinson and Dr. Eugenia del Pino, then Vice-president for Ecuador of the CDFG. Published in Quito, half the articles are in Spanish, half in English.
After ending his duties as Director, Friedemann Köster remained in the Galápagos to join the CDRS ornithologist Sylvia Harcourt and Dieter and Maria Plage in the production of a series of five one-hour films for the Anglia Television Survival Series (Noticias de Galápagos No. 39). This project took them three years.
From 1984 to 1988, Dr. Günther Reck held the position of Director of the CDRS. He was already familiar with the Galápagos, where he had worked as a guide. Later, he had been with the National Institute of Fisheries, which kept him in constant contact with the CDRS and the University of Guayaquil, in connection with studies on the protection of marine resources in the Galápagos. This background was most useful to him, as discussions were finally initiated on the creation of a marine reserve.
In 1986 President León Febres-Cordero signed the decree creating the marine reserve. It went far beyond what had been recommended in the Grimwood-Snow report and in later proposals. According to the decree, the Galápagos Marine Reserve not only includes the interior waters of the archipelago, but also a 15 nautical mile zone, measured from the outer limits of the islands. This totals about 80,000 kms2. To make this reserve a reality, all the official bodies with jurisdiction over the various activities within these limits had to be coordinated. For this purpose, a commission was set up, headed by the Minister of Agriculture, under whose jurisdiction the GNPS is.
It took some time to work out an administrative program for the Reserve. This was done with advice from the Great Barrier Reef National Park of Australia, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the last two in the U.S.A (Corley Smith, 1990). The importance of the Marine Reserve is considerable, as several great currents of the Eastern Pacific meet at the Galápagos, creating an unusual marine environment. Also, a great number of species depend for their survival on the marine life in these waters—sea birds, seals, sea lions, marine iguanas.
It is surprisingly lucky that frequent bush fires did not take place during the drought that followed the 1982-83 rainy period. However, a fire did break out in the CDRS administration building, destroying most of the records and other material in the office. Fortunately, the fire was contained, preventing it from spreading through the tinder dry vegetation to the other buildings.
However, in February of 1985, the greatest bush fire on record in the Galápagos broke out on the southern slopes of Santo Tomás Volcano (Sierra Negra), on Isabela. It is believed that it was started by farmers who were burning vegetation that had been cut down while clearing land. Under the existing conditions, it did not take long for the flames to spread, destroying 175 kms2 of what had been largely wilderness (Noticias de Galápagos No 42). The fire lasted until July, receiving considerable attention in the foreign press.
The settlers, armed forces personnel sent out from the mainland, and fire fighters from Canada and the U. S. fought hard to control the fire, working under most difficult conditions. A fire break was cut around the burning area, a huge strip about forty kilometers long. What finally remained of the fire, much of it still smoldering under the vegetable mold, was extinguished by the first cool season drizzles. While such large endemic species as the local tortoise race remained out of danger, much insect and plant life—part of it probably unknown to science—was destroyed.
The captive breeding of tortoises and land iguanas had continued with increasing success, as experience was gained and improved procedures were developed. Now, the breeding was carried to its ultimate refinement. The CDRS and the GNPS set up experiments with advice from Heidi and Howard Snell, hatching tortoise eggs at different temperatures and humidity levels. It was realized that incubation temperatures will determine the sex of the resulting tortoises. This discovery led to the production of a greater proportion of females, thus speeding up the repopulation program (Noticias de Galápagos No. 45; Corley Smith, 1990)
In 1987 seventy botanists from eleven different countries met at the CDRS. They had all worked in the Galápagos during the previous quarter of a century. In 1988 a similar workshop was held by sixty herpetologists. By the same year, over four hundred Ecuadorian students had received training at the CDRS.
In 1988 more than a thousand captive-bred tortoises had been released on their islands of origin. Hood, where only a very few old tortoises had been surviving at the time when Dr. Snow discovered their presence, now had a population of more than two hundred young captive-bred animals. The land iguana program was also successful, with a survival rate of hatchlings up to six times above that observed in the wild (Noticias de Galápagos No. 47).
Introduced animals still remained a serious problem in some parts. However, wild goats had been eliminated from all the smaller islands where they had been found, including Hood. Pinta was nearly free from goats, and its vegetation was well on its way to recovery. Santiago, large and rugged, still remained a great challenge, though the wild pigs had been greatly reduced by the GNPS hunters. Black rats had been kept in check at the nesting sites of the dark-rumped petrel in the Floreana highlands, and had been considerably reduced on Duncan.
Jonas E. Lawesson, the staff botanist of the CDRS, became engaged in a timber growing project (Noticias de Galápagos No. 45). The settlers who had lived on the islands up to the 1970's had used mostly imported timber for construction, and had depended largely on dead trees and trees felled while clearing land as their main source of firewood. The growing population, especially on Santa Cruz, where it had increased greatly, made unprecedented demands on the available timber. Not only was the demand for firewood much greater, but native timber was being used increasingly for construction. Experiments were therefore started, together with the local farmers, planting fast-growing trees that could be used as substitutes for the slower-growing Galápagos species. A reforestation program for partially denuded woodland areas on San Cristóbal was also launched (Lawesson & Estupiñan, 1987).
In 1988 Dr. Reck was succeeded by Dr. Daniel Evans as Director of the CDRS. Dr. Evans had graduated in ecology from the University of California, Davis, and is a specialist in introduced animal control, with considerable international experience. He had worked, among other places, in the Dominican Republic and the Comoro Islands, with a two-year period in Ecuador (Noticias de Galápagos No. 47).
In the 1980's tourism expanded far beyond expectations. Between 1984 and 1988 the annual number of visitors increased from less than twenty thousand to over forty thousand (Corley Smith, 1990). It became necessary to increase the personnel of the GNPS, but this proved difficult under existing conditions. The cost of living had increased enormously in Galápagos, where even fruits and vegetables were now imported from the mainland. Prices were based on U. S. dollars rather than on the increasingly devalued national currency. Government employees such as the park rangers were paid salaries that were based on mainland conditions, which placed them at great disadvantage in the Galápagos. The result was that the GNPS was losing personnel to tourism, as these well-trained people began to work as guides. In fact, there were other serious problems too, which were about to endanger much of what had been won.
The islands are declared part of Humanity's Heritage. Problems caused by the increase in tourism and colonization—wastes, contamination, introduction of diseases and small animals such as insects and geckos. Illegal fishing of sea cucumbers, lobsters and sharks. Illegal camps in restricted areas and the danger of introducing animals, destroying the environment. The illegal killing of tortoises, the introduction of goats to places where they were not found before and acts of violence by the illegal fishermen and their protectors from the mainland, including some politicians. New laws and controls, which are not applied.
The Ecuadorian Government, the local officials and a considerable number of settlers have for many years shown remarkable good will towards the GNPS and the CDRS. The Government has supported the cause of conservation with laws that go further than what had been hoped for, especially where the Marine Reserve is concerned. This very positive attitude could also be seen when the National Institute of Galápagos (Instituto Nacional de Galápagos—INGALA) was created in 1980. While the purpose of this organization is to improve the living conditions for the islanders and to find ways to better use exportable resources, it was also to regulate tourism and cooperate in the protection of nature. It is obvious that the people governing until a few years ago were aware of the importance of conservation. After all, the destruction of the islands' ecology is equivalent to killing Galápagos tourism, a source of fifty to sixty million dollars a year of much needed foreign currency.
The islands had by then become, as we have seen, an international center of scientific research. On July 29, 1980 a ceremony was held declaring the islands a part of the World Heritage. The event was presided over by General Fernando Dobronski, Minister for Education of Ecuador, and Amadou-Mahtar M'Bow, the Director General of UNESCO.
Throughout the years that followed the construction of the Research Station, the fame of the Galápagos has only increased, due to the activities of the many journalists who kept visiting the islands, as well as the several TV programs filmed by various foreigners like the British we have mentioned in the previous chapter, and the Swedish photographer and writer Sven Gilsäter, who has visited the islands several times since the 1960's. The Galápagos have also received many distinguished foreign visitors like the Duke of Edinburgh, the King and Queen of Spain, the King and Queen of Sweden, the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, and many others. All these have admired the work and accomplishments of the GNPS and the CDRS, and have been impressed by the positive attitude of the Ecuadorian Government and its officials in Galápagos.
This Ecuadorian attitude was given further expression when the agreement between Ecuador and the Charles Darwin Foundation was up for its most recent renewal. The first agreement had been signed for a period of twenty-five years, to be subsequently renewed for five-year periods. This was done until 1991. However, the agreement signed on October 28 of that year allows the Foundation to own and operate the CDRS for twenty-five years instead of the usual five.
But all was not well. The increased traffic with the mainland has brought in a number of new plant diseases as well as small animals like insects and geckos, the effect of which on the environment is still little known. Around 1989, a black fly (Simulium bipunctatum) was introduced to the San Cristóbal highlands (Abedrabbo, 1992), becoming a serious nuisance on account of its bite. A gecko (Lepidodactylus lugubris) had been introduced on Santa Cruz some time earlier (Hoogmoed, 1989). Another gecko (Phyllodactylus reissi), first discovered near the landing at Puerto Ayora (Academy Bay) in 1975, seems to be gradually taking over the habitat of the species native to this island (P. galapagoensis), which is smaller in size (Hoogmoed, 1989).
The introduction of small animals like geckos and insects is not of course a new phenomenon, as cargoes began to be unloaded in the Galápagos from the time the first colony was established on Floreana in 1832; but the traffic between the mainland and the islands is so much greater today, and the importation of fruits and vegetables provides much better hiding-places for small animals than did the crates, lumber and split bamboo in the past. Fortunately, the establishment of new species ashore is no easy matter. The environment has to be favorable, which is not often the case in the dry Galápagos lowlands. Furthermore, males and females have to arrive in such a manner that they can meet and mate (Lundh, 1998), unless a gravid female capable of producing several young at one time is involved.
Dr. George Baur collected four geckos on San Cristóbal in the 1890's, which must have been introduced. The California Academy's expedition of 1905-06 collected, on the same island, a total of 21 specimens of Phyllodactylus tuberculosus, a mainland gecko that seems to have been well established on the island at the time. The author collected and observed geckos in the area near the landing at Puerto Baquerizo (Wreck Bay) in the early 1960's (Lundh, 1998), which probably belong to the mainland species Gonatodes caudiusculus, which has been later reported from both here and Progreso, inland (Hoogmoed, personal communication of July 9, 1991).
Of the eighteen ant species he reports from Galápagos, Wheeler (1919) describes six as “relatively recent introductions”, while Hebard (1920) lists nine species of cockroaches, only one of them endemic (Anisopygia snodgrassii). He considers the other eight species as introduced from the mainland in cargoes brought out to the islands. The German roach (Blatella germanica) is reported by Hebard (1920) only from Hood. This small roach had become very common in the inhabited parts of Santa Cruz by the middle of the 1940's and was believed by the settlers of that island to have been imported from Panama via the American base at Baltra.
The red ant (Wasmannia auropunctata) was first introduced on Santa Cruz in the early 1930's and was carried from here to several of the other islands. It was unknown in the Galápagos in 1932, but had established itself in a small area at the beginning of the inland trail from Puerto Ayora by 1935, having been noticed earlier in some shrubbery near the landing. This ant was found in great abundance on Cocos Island by the Hopkins-Stanford Galápagos Expedition (1898-99), which stopped at that island (Snodgrass & Heller, 1902). It is likely that this insect was introduced to Santa Cruz from Cocos, as a number of expeditions in the 1930's stopped there before coming to the Galápagos (Lundh, 1998).
In 1992, Dr. Chantal M. Blanton took over as director of the Research Station. She holds a Ph. D. from the Institute of Ecology at the University of Georgia. One of her concerns has been the introduction of small animals and seeds to the Galápagos and she succeeded in obtaining the support of the Ecuadorian authorities on the mainland, who promised to set up a stricter control. This will of course improve the situation considerably. However, because of their size, insects, geckos and seeds cannot be stopped entirely from entering the Galápagos, and will always be a problem for conservation.
Introduced plant and animal diseases are also a reason for concern. Towards the end of 1995, there was an outbreak of Marek's disease among San Cristóbal poultry, wiping out much of the local chicken population. This outbreak seemed to cease at the beginning of the following year, and it was thought that it had run out. However, in October 1996 it reappeared, this time in the Santa Cruz highlands, causing considerable losses. The possibility of the disease spreading to the native bird species is a cause for concern, though there have not as yet been any clear indications that this has happened.
We have mentioned the problems caused by increased population and the growth of tourism. The steadily increasing quantity of solid waste produced by both has made it necessary to consider new ways to handle this problem, which is already serious. Another persistent problem is the sloppiness of some boat owners, who throw over the side all sorts of waste, which often ends along the shore, polluting the beauty of the landscape. Worse than this is the fact that sea turtles swallow plastic bags, sea lions are cut up by discarded food containers and even choked to death by motor belts and old ropes that have been thrown overboard. Strange to say, most of these boat owners make their living from the tourists who come to enjoy the pristine beauty of the islands and the Galápagos animal life.
There are however also some good news. The tortoise rearing still continues with success, and the cultivation of trees for timber is well under way. To the project of raising island tree species was added, in 1990, another for the production of trees that are known not to spread out of control, and will in time produce useful lumber. This project was set up by the CDRS, the GNPS and the Provincial Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. Seedlings have been produced from teak, walnut, “amarillo lagarto” (Centrolobium patinense), mahogany, “madera negra” (Tabebuia sp.), etc. The seedlings have already been transplanted to five private properties and seem to be doing well (Prado & Kolbe, 1992).
Considerable progress is being made in the eradication program. In May 1996 a hunting party was sent to Volcán Alcedo, the huge mountain just north of the Perry Isthmus. Until a few years ago, the only introduced animals there were the donkeys descended from those left behind by the tortoise hunters. In relatively recent years, goats have managed to cross the barren, desolate isthmus to establish themselves on the slopes of the volcano. Their numbers increased rapidly in a few years. This party was the first attempt made to control the spread of goats in the area, and an outstanding job was done. Over 12,200 goats and 366 donkeys were killed in twelve days. While the goats and donkeys have not been eliminated, the destruction to the vegetation will be much reduced.
Hunting has continued regularly on Alcedo since then, and a hut with facilities for collecting rain water has been erected on the rim of the crater. It has space for 15 hunters, and will greatly help in this work. The construction was finished in February 1997, thanks to a donation of £ 25,000 from the British Foreign Office. It must have been a very tough job to carry up all the materials the long and difficult way up to the crater, though fifty men were employed in this effort. Also, the same month, two plots of land—300 m2 and 500 m2— were fenced in to protect some of the more threatened vegetation.
Wild pigs have been nearly eliminated on Santiago, and the dry season that is expected after the 1997-98 Niño-year is likely to be a help in making great inroads in the goat population of that island. Unfortunately, goats have also become established on the slopes of Volcán Darwin, in the northern end of Isabela, and their numbers have been rapidly increasing.
This Niño-year was extremely strong, in many ways more severe than that of 1982-83. However, the effects on the fauna do not seem to have been so generally destructive. The penguins, one of the causes for great concern, seem to have fared fairly well, while marine iguanas suffered high mortality as did the sea lions in many places.
Unfortunately, there was in recent years a trend on the part of the government to see the GNPS and the islands as a source of income requiring little or no maintenance and investment. While the GNPS and tourism to the Galápagos doubled their respective incomes in the period of 1992-96, the CDRS no longer gets support for the visitors site, which receives about 40 thousand visitors per year. Though the GNPS has competent personnel and clear goals, too little of the park's income is reinvested, thus making it difficult to carry out much of the work that should be done.
There has been great concern recently because of a disease that has affected some of the tortoises in the Santa Cruz Reserve, in the western part of the highlands. The disease was detected in 1996, and it was found that most of the affected animals were old males. By the end of the year eight tortoises had died and nine were ill, all limited to a relatively small part of the reserve, which was placed under strict control by the GNPS. The dead animals were burnt, and samples of pool water, droppings and blood were being examined at the CDRS, the Puerto Ayora hospital and the University of Florida. Both the possibility of plant poisons and of a contagious disease are being considered.
However, the really bad news has been originating from the Marine Reserve. This enormous area of nearly 80 thousand kms2 looks good on paper and offered great hopes, but to administrate, control and effectively patrol such an area is a huge and expensive task; but no funds had been made available for the purpose. As could be expected, sooner or later, someone would take advantage of this situation, and many did.
Illegal fishing has been going on for years. As early as in the 1960's, several Japanese fishing vessels were caught by the patrol boat stationed at San Cristóbal, but this vessel made no regular cruises around the islands, and it is likely that these two-three Japanese ships were only a fraction of the total; but we cannot know this for certain. These fishing vessels, we understand, were using long-lines, a method that has since been banned but is still in use.
In the previous chapter we mentioned the enormous amount of turtles that were purchased by the Japanese vessels, and how the government banned this activity indefinitely. This ban seems to have been respected until fairly recently, but the 1990's brought with them new interests, people from the mainland, obviously well connected, whose greed has led to the plunder of marine resources, and whose methods to get their way, law or no law, are in many ways reminiscent of gangsterism.
In 1992 the effects of certain forms of exploitation were becoming obvious. Uncontrolled shark fishing led to a very noticeable reduction in the shark populations along the Galápagos shores. This activity produces shark fins for export to the Far East, and is extremely wasteful, as most of the shark meat and the skins are discarded. The black coral souvenir industry has so reduced this resource, that black coral is now being imported from the mainland. Spiny lobsters are also very much reduced in numbers, having been exported since 1960.
The sea cucumber, a new resource for export to the Far East, was discovered on the mainland and began to be exploited without thought for its future. This holothurian enjoys great demand in the Far East, where it has a reputation as an aphrodisiac, perhaps because of its shape. The unusual preoccupation that men in that part of the world have about their potency has been very bad for a number of threatened species such as the rhinoceros, the tiger, etc. This same market resulted in sea cucumbers being exploited to near extinction in the Solomon, the Cook and Fiji Islands. Once practically eliminated from that part of the world, sea cucumbers began to be caught on both sides of the Pacific. This activity was started in Ecuador, on the mainland, in 1988. By 1991, this resource had been depleted along the whole coast (Sitwell, 1993). This led to an illegal fishery in the Galápagos in 1992.
The Government of Ecuador had by then banned all exploitation of sea cucumbers in Ecuadorian waters. Considerable pressure was then exerted by some mainland interests to have this changed. Strange to say, the National Council for the Development of Fisheries joined in these efforts, though this organization should have stood for sustainable exploitation of marine resources, not for their plunder. While the ban was on, sea cucumbers were being captured at the rate of 130,000 to 150,000 per day, which will more or less wipe out these holothurians by the end of the decade (Sitwell, 1993).
Some areas in Melanesia that were exploited half a century ago have not recovered at all. This is easy to understand if one considers the manner in which sea cucumbers reproduce. The sperm and eggs of these animals are released into the surrounding waters, successful fertilization thus depending on a relatively high population density. It is obvious that the exploitation as it has been practiced so far, and is still being practiced, will rapidly destroy this resource.
Seen from an ecological point of view, the extinction of sea cucumber populations is a tragedy. These animals carry out an important function in the muddy bottoms where they live, a function similar to that of earthworms on land, passing the mud throughout their digestive tracts to make use of the organic waste found in it. While this waste cleaning by the adults is important, the sea cucumber larvae may be even more so, forming as they do a considerable part of the zooplankton which feeds a large number of fish and crustaceans, which in their turn serve as food for larger species. It is obvious that the disappearance of sea cucumber larvae from the environment will have an unfavorable effect on the food chain. That this may harm commercially valuable species is also likely.
The plan for the administration of the Marine Reserve was approved by the Government of Ecuador in 1992. As had been intended from the beginning, the reserve was divided into areas, some of them open to commercial fishing. Unfortunately, sea cucumbers happen to be most abundant in areas that are closed to all forms of fishing. Furthermore, the cucumber fishermen have been setting up camps in areas of the National Park that are closed to visitors. These camps are likely to help the introduction of insects, rats, seeds, etc. into the most pristine and untouched areas of Galápagos, such as Fernandina and the Elizabeth Bay area of Isabela.
The sea cucumbers are cooked before being dried, a process that requires a large quantity of firewood. Thus, the formerly untouched mangroves of Elizabeth Bay is one of the places that has suffered the most from this activity. The destruction of the mangroves signifies the destruction of a very limited Galápagos ecosystem, which is the habitat of some rare endemic species, like the mangrove finch (Camarhynchus heliobates), a bird known only from the eastern coast of Fernandina and some very limited areas of Isabela. Besides this, there is the constant danger of fires spreading from the camps to the adjacent areas, which can happen easily and with serious consequences in the dry lowlands.
This merciless exploitation is equally merciless to its human participants—those who do the actual work. As can be seen from the above, sea cucumber fishing has no future in it, as one area after another is rapidly depleted. The divers, who do all the work, live in miserable conditions, spend most of their time away from their families, and earn very little compared to the efforts and sacrifice their occupation demands. In a very few years, they will be without work and with their health impaired. At the same time, they will have left behind them a seriously damaged marine ecology that will no doubt have a highly unfavorable effect on a number of species that could have been used as the basis for a more sustainable, rational exploitation.
The ban on sea cucumber and shark fishing has had no noticeable effect. Japanese illegal use of monofilament nets has continued as before. These nets have very small meshes, which catch a large quantity of fish that are so small that they are discarded. This enormous waste destroys fish that, if left to grow, could have commercial value or could at least serve as food for commercially valuable species. Shark fishing not only affects sharks, but also sea lions—a protected species—which are killed and their flesh used as bait. This practice is common among local as well as foreign fishermen.
The lobster fisheries have been exploited to such an extent that they will soon be depleted. The lack of control and the irresponsible attitude of those involved in lobster fishing are to blame for this. Laws and regulations are constantly broken. Lobster under the legal size as well as females with eggs are caught and frozen. No respect is shown for those periods when lobster fishing is banned.
The traditional fishing activity of the Galápagos settlers is based on catching groupers, mainly for salting and drying. Though many local fishermen abandoned this activity to devote themselves to taking tourists around the islands, the supply of groupers has continued declining through the years. Many years ago, we noticed that the percentage of large groupers was already declining. This could be noticed in several places as early as in the 1940's. It was also in that decade that the Galápagos fishing fleet became increasingly motorized, its range growing rapidly to include the whole archipelago. In the last few years there has been clear evidence of overexploitation, despite the modest size of the local fishing fleet. More than three quarters of the groupers caught are below sexual maturity, a clear indication that things are headed in a very wrong direction. This notwithstanding, in 1994, a plant for the processing and freezing of fish for export was set up on San Cristóbal.
The CDRS and the GNPS have been opposed to sports fishing, but the authorities have allowed it in the Galápagos as well as on the mainland. The fact that sports fishing in the Galápagos is supposed to be of the “catch and release” type does not help matters from the point of view of conservation. It is very difficult to ensure that existing rules are respected, for as so often happens these rules were made without providing the necessary controls to enforce them. This “catch and release” fishing has another serious weakness—not enough is known about the survival rate of the released fish. There is also a question of how many of these fish are actually released. The Galápagos Newsletter of the 1996 autumn (published by the Galápagos Conservation Trust) carried a photograph of marlin steaks being sold on San Cristóbal, which causes some doubts about whether all the fishes caught for sport are actually released. Furthermore, some of the more popular sports fish are also in a critical situation—since 1970 the breeding population of swordfish has been reduced by 80% on a worldwide basis, and blue-fin tuna is now considered by the experts as an endangered species.
The greatest attraction for those tourists interested in diving is of course the marine life. Much enthusiasm has been shown for the fish, which in most parts of the Galápagos have been unusually tame. Unfortunately, this has been changing. While fishing from tourist vessels is forbidden by law, many boat owners not only allow tourists to fish from their boats and dive with spear guns, but also let their crews catch fish, with the result that fish is becoming both scarce and wild in many places. This lack of foresight on the part of some boat owners is incredible, as they are helping to destroy a valuable tourist attraction.
Unfortunately, some of the people who should be doing everything possible to protect marine species and their environment do things that defy common sense. The National Institute of Fisheries, which in previous years had cooperated so well with the CDRS and the GNPS, carried out some sort of study in April and May of 1996, during which all of 4,500 kgs of fish were killed with spear guns in a matter of three weeks. The quantity of fish and the methods used for their capture must have had a serious impact on the surviving fish in the areas where the catches were made.
A great number of fishing vessels, both foreign and Ecuadorian, have been operating inside and outside the Marine Reserve. Their numbers have increased in recent years, and the organizations in charge of conservation seem to have very little knowledge about their permits and the conditions on which such permits have been granted. Some of these vessels are rather large and have been using long-lines, despite the fact that these are forbidden. The latter has caused great concern among conservationists, as long-lines are notorious for catching sea birds, which dive, catch the bait, are hooked and drown. Among these sea birds, the Galápagos albatross stands out as a very vulnerable species on account of its limited numbers. This albatross (Diomedea irrorata) is a protected species.
The bans on the capture of sea cucumbers and sharks led to a series of problems from the very beginning, in 1992. Fishermen who were engaged in these illegal activities, instigated by mainland exporters, carried out a number of actions that were gross violations of law and order. The gate of the CDRS was occupied, access being blocked for a shorter period. When the Darwin Foundation held its annual meeting in October of 1993, some of these people blocked the CDRS gate and burnt an effigy of don Alfredo Carrasco, the Secretary General of the Foundation. In June 1994 threats were made to block all Galápagos airports and sites visited by tourists.
The authorities, which should have taken a strong stand from the very beginning, capitulated ignominiously before the threats and the vice-president of Ecuador, don Alberto Dahik, ordered the National Council for Fisheries Development to “solve the problem” with other groups that would act as observers. It is significant that neither the GNPS nor the CDRS were invited, despite the fact that both institutions are the best sources of information and those in charge of conservation work in the islands. It is obvious that all of it was a farce, and that the decisions in the matter had been more or less made beforehand.
In a matter of only three days, the Council reached a decision that was made into a decree that is totally in disagreement with previous decrees and laws, none of which had been previously voided or modified by the corresponding legal procedures. Fishing seasons and quotas were established for the capture of lobster, sea cucumbers and sharks, these fishing seasons and the size of the allowed catches being set arbitrarily. The control of the established seasons and catches was left to the same officials who had been incapable of stopping illegal fishing at the time when a complete ban had existed for all these species, though one should think that it is far easier to control a total ban than to keep track of quotas and fishing periods.
To give the decree an even more scientifically valid appearance, reserves were also established, where fishing was to be totally forbidden. These “reserves” have barely a cosmetic value, as they were not only arbitrarily chosen, but are also of such limited extent that they are of little value, even if they should be respected. These maneuvers to give a legal appearance to activities that are in conflict with already existing Ecuadorian legislation are not the only problem. An attempt has also been made to place the National Park under the control of politicians and special interest groups. The law proposed to gain this absurdity was fortunately vetoed by President Sixto Durán Ballén on September 1, 1995.
The same month, from the 3rd to the 5th, two politicians and a group of illegal fishermen, once more instigated by mainland interests, carried out actions that led to the damage and stealing of government property, and the occupation of municipal property such as airports and public roads. The administration building of the National Park on Santa Cruz was taken, as well as its facilities on Isabela. Siege was laid to the Research Station, blocking access to the personnel, who like those working for the National Park were threatened physically and verbally. On Isabela, the CDRS Land Rover was taken, forcing Arnaldo Tupiza, an employee of the CDRS, to use a motorcycle to travel from the highlands to Puerto Villamil. On the way to the shore, he collided with a truck, and was killed by the impact.
The leaders of these actions also threatened to set fire to parts of the National Park and to take tourists as hostages if the government did not enter negotiations to accept their demands. These threats were repeated through the Galápagos radio stations, on national television and in a letter to the President of the Republic. The matter ended with the authorities' second capitulation in less than a year to the demands of people who had used all sorts of illegal tactics to be allowed to continue illegal fishing even in supposedly restricted areas.
The majority of the islanders are against what these people—mostly outsiders and recent arrivals—stand for. Groups have been formed to oppose these people, notably the Committee for Peace and Well-being (Comité de Paz y Bienestar), which disapproves of the methods and attitudes of these outsiders, supports conservation and wishes to preserve what is attractive to tourism. Their point of view is that a controlled ecotourism is the only source of income in Galápagos which, if sensibly operated, can last indefinitely.
Unfortunately, some of the threats against the National Park have been carried out. In April of 1994 a bush fire was started on Isabela, inside the limits of the National Park. The fire spread over an area of six thousand four hundred hectares in eleven days. There is every reason to believe that this fire was no accident. Also, tortoises have been killed as a reprisal against the GNPS and the CDRS. The repeated threat of introducing animals into protected areas has also been carried out. Newly introduced goats were found on Pinta, where considerable economic resources and more than twenty years of effort had been employed to eliminate the more than forty thousand goats that had been about to destroy the island's vegetation. Goats have also been found in the north of Isabela, a place where there had never been any of these animals, which could only have been brought there by humans.
It is obvious that the people behind all this, besides being unscrupulous and greedy, also have good connections and considerable influence on the mainland. In one case, when naval personnel and National Park wardens discovered several illegal camps on Isabela and Fernandina, they confiscated the fishermen's equipment and catches. The fishermen acted aggressively and attempted to board the GNPS patrol boat, besides threatening both the naval and the Park personnel. Despite this behavior, all confiscated equipment and the catches had to be returned to them on orders from the mainland.
This attitude on the part of higher officials on the mainland sets a deplorable precedent, greatly undermining the principle of authority and causing discouragement and frustration among local officials who fulfill their duties only to see their work undermined by superiors, who for the sake of friendship or other reasons, give their protection to those who break the laws rather than see to it that these laws are respected
Certain recent developments are rather interesting. In April 1996, the Colombian Jorge Castrillón Henao was arrested in Panama. He was accused, among other things, of exporting drugs to the United States and Europe from the Galápagos Islands. Shortly after this, Interpol carried out an anti-drug operation in Guayaquil, and several people were arrested, among them one Francisco Puig Plaza. Puig happens to be the owner of the freezing plant on San Cristóbal and one of the sports fishing vessels operating in the Galápagos. Puig was later released on some obscure technicality, to the great frustration of the police, who insist he is guilty.
Apparently, the drugs were not shipped from the Galápagos, but from Guayaquil. Arriving in hidden compartments on tourist buses from Colombia, the drugs were then placed inside frozen fish shipments that were to be sent to United Seafood in Miami. The Director General of Fisheries, Byron Moya, who seems to be implicated in this and/or similar operations, took flight and, as far as we know, has not yet been located (Galápagos Newsletter, Galápagos Conservation Trust. London, Autumn 1996). This is apparently another case of the local political mudslinging that has become so usual during recent years. The same Byron Moya is, in 2006, subsecretary of fisheries, which should be evidence enough for his innocence
We do not know the extent of corruption affecting the administration of the islands and their natural resources; but much points in the direction of bribing and personal interests. One parliamentarian, Fanny Uribe, was found, in 1994, to be hiding a considerable quantity of dried sea cucumbers in her residence, a fact that she denied, but the personnel from the National Park who discovered the fact had the support of a video that had been taken during the operation, and which is in the hands of the local TV station.
Uribe is not the only parliamentarian with personal interests in the continuation of illegal fishing. Eduardo Véliz, who was one of the greatest agitators during the Galápagos troubles, going to the extreme of threatening to take tourists hostage, and arousing his supporters to attack conservationists, has been revealed to be totally corrupt. He was nearly lynched in the Galápagos when information became uncovered about his connections and interests, and had to be saved by the Police and the Navy whom he had given so much trouble in the past. After the fall of the short-lived Bucaram government, he was kicked out of Congress along with a few other deputies, and his arrest was ordered on several criminal charges. His whereabouts are unknown.
The interim government that took over after the National Congress ousted Bucaram and his friends on charges of corruption, nepotism and incompetence, carried out a general clean-up, and while illegal fishing has continued, the local authorities, notably the Ecuadorian Navy and the Galápagos National Park Service have been doing an excellent job. In March of 1997, Park personnel raided a camp on the western coast of Isabela. While the fishermen escaped, having heard the noise made by the patrol launch, some 5,000 dried sea cucumbers were taken, along with the processing equipment. The camp was cleaned up and all garbage removed. The following day, another camp was located in the northwest of Fernandina. Here, 22,000 dried sea cucumbers were taken, and the same clean-up routine repeated.
On March 3, a mainland fishing vessel, the Magdalena from Guayaquil, was boarded near the west coast of Isabela with a total of 40,000 dried sea cucumbers. She had neither clearance papers nor a fishing permit. This is the first vessel captured of those that transport sea cucumbers to the mainland. The port captain on Santa Cruz, Lt. William Recalde jailed the six crew member. Unfortunately, the Magdalena case led to some illegal maneuvering on the part of her owners, their lawyer and a local judge.
The owners claimed that they had been completely unaware that their vessel was being used for illegal activities. This was the excuse used by Second Civil Judge Alberto Avellán to suspend the auction of the Magdalena. However, the police discovered that the judge's decision had been written on the PC of the Notary Public of Santa Cruz, together with the owners' lawyer, Luz María Pico Díaz. Pico Díaz had earlier been removed from her position as criminal judge in Guayaquil by the Supreme Court on account of “improprieties.”
Violence has also been associated with the war on illegal fishing. When one of the Park's patrol boats approached a camp on the west side of Isabela, she was received with gunfire. The approximately twenty men working at the illegal camp turned out to be armed. One of the Park's men, Julio López, was wounded, being flown later to the Navy's hospital on San Cristóbal in a helicopter, from where he was taken to Guayaquil. López recovered, and the reinforcements sent by the Park and the Navy cleaned up the camp, confiscating the production of cucumbers and shark-fins.
A peaceful demonstration was carried out by about 300 people on Santa Cruz, to protest against the violence, several representatives of institutions and local officials being present. The illegal fishing has not been stopped, but the authorities are now carrying out frequent operations to curb this activity. A recent capture, on June 7, 1998 produced 20,000 dried sea cucumbers and 15 sacks of shark fins aboard the Niño Dios.
There are a number of groups engaged in defending conservation in the Galápagos, aside from the Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galápagos and the Galápagos National Park Service. The Comisión Permanente para las Islas Galápagos in Quito has been doing a great job, as have the Friends of the Galápagos organizations in Europe.
Dr. Chantal M. Blanton was succeeded as director of the CDRS by Dr. Robert Bensted-Smith, who had been a naturalist guide in the Galápagos in the early 1980's, later a guide on special nature tours in Latin America. Bensted-Smith is a graduate in natural sciences from Cambridge and has worked in research in East Africa, has held several positions directly related with conservation in both Kenya and Zanzibar, and is member of several organizations engaged in the protection of nature. Apparently, our hopes that this new director would be luckier than his predecessor seem about to be fulfilled. §
§ The current (2014) director is Swen Lorenz.
But first he had to face some very sad losses to the cause of Galápagos conservation. On October 7, 1997, G. T. Corley Smith, former British Ambassador in Quito, who was Secretary General of the Darwin Foundation and Editor of Noticias de Galápagos for many years, passed away in England. The following year, on April 20, the President of the Darwin Foundation, Engineer Jorge Anhalzer and Fabricio Valverde, head of the Technical Department of the GNPS died in a plane crash near Bogotá, while returning from the Foundation's meeting in Brussels.
However, things were far from settled. The Marine Reserve had been turned into a fiction on paper. There was also the danger that conservation on land would be the next to suffer the consequences of the inability or lack of will that the authorities in Ecuador had been showing in recent years in applying existing laws. It would have been very easy for such a precedent as that set regarding the Marine Reserve to be extended further. Once the battle for conservation was lost on land, the tourist attractions offered by the Galápagos would be utterly lost. With all economically valuable marine resources gone, there would only be left some cattle in the highlands that in the long run would further destroy what little was left of the environment.
All this would have been very sad, especially if we consider all the effort, the good will and the contributions given to the cause of conservation by so many institutions and people since 1960, and how much the Government of Ecuador has helped with laws, funds and a great understanding for what was being done, an understanding that now seemed to have vanished. That all this could end in nothing was bad enough. That Ecuador should become discredited in the eyes of the world would have been far worse, as neither Ecuador nor the majority of Ecuadorians deserve something like this to happen.
The local people in Galápagos had been exerting increasing pressure in favor of conservation and the Marine Reserve. Even the local fishermen were involved in this effort to obtain legislation that would prevent the depredation of Galápagos and the senseless exploitation of the Marine Reserve. This was an effort of settlers, conservationists, scientists, a number of politicians and tourist boat owners, as well as the Darwin Foundation, the Station, the National Park and the World Wide Fund for Nature in Ecuador. Against them were the powerful fishing interests on the mainland, who had even stooped to bribe officials and parliamentarians, who continued a furious opposition to the protection of local resources. They were not at all willing to give up their hopes that the Marine Reserve should become a free-for-all area that could be exploited to depletion.
The forces of conservation seem finally to have won. In April 1997, interim President Fabián Alarcón and Foreign Minister José Ayala signed an emergency decree on Galápagos, increasing the powers of the Minister of the Environment and the Director of the National Park. Supervisory bodies at national and local level were created to uphold the law inside the Marine Reserve. Limitations were established for the introduction of motorized vehicles, and obtaining residency in the islands was prohibited until a new law could be worked out for migration to Galápagos.
The interim government also cleaned up the administration at all levels, and one of the newly appointed ministers was that for the Environment, doña Flor de María Valverde, a highly respected academic from the University of Guayaquil, whose advisor on Galápagos was former CDRS Director, Dr. Günther Reck, who is presently Dean of Environmental Sciences at the University of San Francisco de Quito.
In November 1997, a demonstration was held in Quito in favor of the Marine Reserve, the participants including such people from Galápagos as fishermen, persons working in tourism and conservation. It was a clear protest against those opposed to conservation. The Sub secretary of Fisheries, pressed by his patrons in the private mainland fishing interests, resigned from the Presidential Commission that was drafting the special law for the Galápagos, rabidly attacking the proposal that was to be sent to Congress.
Since May 1997, the various Galápagos interest groups have presented a united front in the defense of the Marine Reserve, through the initiative of the National Park, and the Darwin Foundation, with support from USAID, GEF and the WWF. This group (Grupo Núcleo) has gained consensus among the settlers, and its proposals have been taken into account by the Presidential Commission.
The new law establishes a boundary around the islands that extends 40 nautical miles offshore, inside which only tourism and local artisanal fishing is allowed, thus providing protection to most of the ecologically important shallow areas and banks, and protecting marine mammals, sea birds and other species. The Marine Reserve has been established as a protected area under the Galápagos National Park Service with the cooperation of the local authorities and the Ecuadorian Navy.
The distribution of visitor fees has been revised, so that the Park now receives 40% of the income, the local municipal and other authorities another 40%, which is earmarked for projects related to conservation and tourism. The remaining 20% is to be divided in equal parts among the quarantine program, the Marine Reserve, the national protected areas and the Ecuadorian Navy.
Regulations are provided for the transportation of introduced species, their eradication on farmlands, quarantine inspections, and the studies of environmental impact, as well as environmental education and the promotion of the participation of local residents in conservation activities. The regulations on residence in the islands are however too liberal, as they allow the unlimited possibility of return to the islands of descendants of present day settlers even if they have never lived in Galápagos. Nor have the incentives to colonization been removed, which with the lack of control continues bringing in a great number of new settlers, despite the legal restrictions.
The tourism sector is worried about the part of the law that requires them to hire permanent local residents as guides in preference to outsiders, regardless of the latter's qualifications. There is also some concern about the possibility offered for the increase of the number of tourist boats. Still, this new law would have been an excellent foundation for the future conservation of the Galápagos, if the mainland authorities had shown more interest in applying the existing laws and punishing severely the acts of vandalism and other unacceptable practices of the fishermen, when they want increased quotas once they have reached the established limits.
The active participation of the local population has been greatly stimulated by the recent developments, and will hopefully be more so in the near future. Two important projects lead in that direction. One is the opening of Resource Centers on the three most populated islands—Santa Cruz, Isabela and San Cristóbal. These centers will provide educational activities both on an informal and a formal level, and will have libraries and other educational resources. Funding and advice will be provided by the British Council. The other activity is a fisheries monitoring project started by the Darwin Station with the cooperation of the local fishermen. The latter are keeping records of their catches, including such data as species, locations, type of boat and method of fishing.
In September 1998, one of the parasitic cones of Cerro Azul, the great volcano in the southwest of Isabela, began to erupt. This particular cone is on the southeast side of the mountain, and its eruption caused some concern for a part of the local tortoise population, as the flowing lava continued and spread down the slopes. Frequent monitoring was undertaken, and when the flow approached the nearest tortoise population, a rescue operation was organized by the National Park and the Ecuadorian Army, thanks to the good cooperation between the Ministries of Defense and the Environment. According to El País of Madrid (06.10.98), eleven tortoises had been transported to the tortoise breeding center at Puerto Villamil. Only one tortoise was found to have been killed by the lava. The remaining tortoises in the endangered area were being forced to move closer to the shore, to make their removal easier.
We hope that the recent acts of vandalism perpetrated by local fishermen (mostly new settlers) against the National Park Service and the Darwin Foundation are severely punished, and that the Ecuadorian authorities take the situation more seriously, so that the new regulations may be carried out in full, and remain a reality for the future. It would be sad to see all the great effort and money that have been invested in conservation wasted because the authorities were unable to apply the law to a handful of criminals. What is worse, it would be infinitely more sad to see the Galápagos environment further destroyed by the ignorance and greed of man, as whatever is lost cannot be replaced—ever.
A final note: The more recent news from Galápagos have seriously shaken our careful optimism. The oil spill that took place recently is nothing compared to the attitude of certain outsiders who are fishing in the islands. The new laws have not been applied by the Ecuadorian authorities. A great number of new fishermen have arrived since these laws were passed, most of them of the same criminal frame of mind as the troublemakers we have mentioned earlier. With this increase in the number of fishermen, the already too high quotas for spiny lobster and sea cucumbers that the government had previously established were filled in record time.
Once this happened, considerable increases in the quotas was obtained by the fishermen by resorting to terrorism—the destruction of government property, destruction of the private belongings of people employed in conservation, kidnapping of protected tortoises, harassment of tourists, threats against people who speak up against them, etc. That this situation is incredible in itself is one thing, but that the authorities are reluctant to act and carry out their duties is even more astonishing. The police on Isabela even went so far as to refuse to arrest some of those involved in acts of terrorism. The cravenness and ineptitude of the authorities is however only a part of the problem.
There are those officials who have personal interests in the illegal fisheries. Some again seem to have been bribed into inactivity, while the mainland government turns a blind eye on the situation, despite the constant reports and requests for help from the officials of the National Park Service, who see their work being undermined by lawbreakers who appear to be able to get away with all their lawlessness. In the meantime, bribing, threats, short-sighted profits and corruption, coupled with governmental ineptitude are rapidly destroying the marine resources of Galápagos, undermining the principle of authority and damaging most of the work that has been carried out by a dedicated National Park Service personnel and the Charles Darwin Research Station.
The great majority of Galápagos settlers, most of them a law-abiding lot, view the situation with alarm and consternation, as they intend to stay in the islands and therefore see the necessity of a reasonable and sustainable exploitation of existing resources, so that these may last during their lifetimes and continue being available to their children. It would not be surprising that all this violence and the lack of a forceful intervention by the authorities will, in a near future, lead to a violent reaction from this peaceful part of the population, exploding into the wanton destruction of the fishing boats belonging to these protégés of the mainland fisheries mafia in Manta. One cannot but wonder what the reaction of the Ecuadorian authorities will be if this happens. In any case, the situation in Galápagos is bound to cause considerable damage to the credibility of the Ecuadorian government and its officials, something that those of us who have lived in Ecuador and know the people find painfully regrettable.
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