Defending life in the Galapagos Islands SDG 14, 15
St. Joseph Parish. Jersey City
Childhood memories of a protagonist
My father came to the Islands around 1928, and lived on one of the islands (Santa Cruz); his job was to fish around the islands. I remember that, as a child, every time he came back from his trip his ship was loaded with fish and other products produced by the islands, my siblings and I would always go out to wait for him and greet him at the dock. My mother would always send us a little jar because my father would catch a sea turtle and take it to the island; he would kill it on the dock and give us its blood to drink; this was part of our nutrition.
We used to have giant tortoises in the house’s backyard; there, we fed them with cactus leaves that my siblings and I collected and leftover food. We played with them, and they also served as subsistence for food. I remember that, back then, there were many of these giant tortoises around the islands, but, over time, they were disappearing or moving away from the village because of the increase in population. We still see the giant tortoises in the middle of the road the cab drivers and the other drivers have to get out of the car and move them away to keep driving.
Since its declaration as a national heritage site in 1978, more control began to be exercised over the islands’ fauna. By then, there were already species in danger of extinction. One of the causes of this situation was the presence of non-native animals, enormously harmful to the islands’ fauna. It seems to be proven that it was the first human inhabitants of the archipelago, the pirates who settled on Floreana Island, introduced pigs, goats, and cats, which ate the baby turtles and the eggs of the freshwater turtles and tortoises. Before 1959, with a small population and the scarcity of food that we suffered, these animals were part of our food, but the situation had changed, and it was necessary to avoid their extinction.
Let’s talk about the Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands are a formation of volcanic islands located at a distance of almost 1,000 kilometers from the coasts of Ecuador; they constitute a natural educational scenario for all humanity.
In 1570 the Galapagos Islands were included in the world maps; they were given the name Insulao de Los Galapagos since the shells of the giant tortoises reminded the first visitors of the saddle. Galapagos comes from the Spanish word for the saddle. It comprises 13 main islands, 14 smaller islands, about 64 islets (small islands), and 136 rocks. Its origin was due to submarine volcanic activity; there are still 13 active volcanoes. As a curiosity, it is the only archipelago on the planet with territory in both the northern and southern hemispheres. The Galapagos Islands cover a total area of 7,880 km2. Isabela Island, the largest island, has an area of 5,727 km2, representing about three-quarters of the archipelago’s total area.
The pirates who settled on Floreana Island invented the first postal system on the island. When the Pirates arrived on the islands, they wanted to communicate with the outside world, so they decided to make a post office that still functions today. It is simply a barrel with a roof where they deposited their letters. All ships passing through Floreana had to pick up the mail, carry it to the city, and deposit it in the post office.
Five hundred years ago, Dominican friar Tomas de Berlanga, Spanish origin and Bishop of Panama, accidentally discovered the Galapagos Islands while traveling from Panama to Peru. The ship he was traveling on was bound for Lima, and was carried adrift by the ocean currents of the Pacific, arriving at the Enchanted Islands on March 10, 1535. The Englishman Charles Darwin, one of the most important visitors in the islands’ history, highlighted the importance of its fauna and environment. After his arrival to the Archipelago in 1835 and thanks to his studies on the wildlife of the place, he was able to write his theory on the “Origin of Species”, about evolution.
Ninety-seven percent of the islands have been designated as National Park, and 133,000 km2 of its waters are protected reserves, making it the largest marine reserve in the world. In addition, these two areas have been declared World Heritage Sites (1978).
The islands and their surroundings are home to a great variety of plants and animals, many endemic to the Galapagos. Highlights include giant tortoises, marine iguanas that are unique in the world, Galapagos penguins, flamingos, hammerhead sharks, cormorants, sea lions, frigate birds, pelicans, blue-footed boobies, red-footed boobies, and unique vegetation including cacti, mangroves, and scales. The Galapagos Islands not only serve as home to plants and animals, but they also serve as home to about 30,000 people living on 5 of the main islands, in addition to receiving about 200,000 tourists a year.
Caring for the Galapagos environment
Since the Charles Darwin Nature Reserve was created in 1959 to protect the environment, the islands have had a good group of hard-working experts looking after the environment. However, one of the biggest problems they encounter, discussed above, stems from the inclusion of non-native fauna in the Galapagos.
Galapagos schools, whether primary or secondary, educate children in the care and protection of the environment. All my nephews, nieces, and their children who live on the islands care for the protection of animals and the environment, Ever since they were born, they have been educated on the importance of this attitude towards nature.
Environmental education is not only present in the schools but also with the migrants and visitors who come to the islands. This education is convenient to admit the “sea lions” because of the confidence that characterizes them, they enter the houses and get on the sofa to sleep peacefully. I remember that, when I was a child, there was a sea lion that came to a small village and went into any house to ask for food; it was so used to people that it was not afraid of anyone; it knew that no one was going to harm it. The animals on the islands are amiable; they know that humans do not harm them, and they trust them; all this is due to the protection, environmental education, and care that is given to them.
When I was a child, we used to go to the beaches all day long. We would bring food, and immediately the little birds would come, especially the Galapagos Finches (or Darwin’s finches as they are known), and they would come up on our heads or perch on our hands looking for food. We would share what we brought with them; they knew we would not hurt them, and the same happens today with the iguanas you can feed them out of your hands. They trust humans and know that they will be treated well.
Several scientific studies predict that the input of plastic pollution into aquatic systems will triple in the next 20 years. The premonition is alarming because it is already estimated that some 8 million tons of plastic waste enter the ocean each year. This means that a truckload of garbage is dumped into the sea every minute. The impact of this pollution is immediate. Turtles, birds, fish, and other marine animals risk dying either because they become entangled in the plastic floating in the sea or because they ingest it when mistaken for food.
Galapagos in Danger
There are 27 species in the Galapagos at risk of serious harm from ingesting plastics or becoming entangled in them. But the most relevant aspect of these results, published in the journal Science of The Total Environment, is the awareness of the severe environmental problem; these studies will be an essential support to accelerate decision-making on the issue of plastics. According to previous studies, the plastic garbage in Galapagos comes mainly from Peru and mainland Ecuador.
Here are some examples: Giant Galapagos tortoise; Dead Lonesome George, Charles Darwin Station, 2008; Green sea turtle; Sea turtle; Waved albatross; Galapagos penguin; Land iguana; Sea lions, Wales, finches, lizard.