New York, NY (June 3, 2005)—This week, Ecuador announced the lifting of a ban on the fishing of lucrative sea cucumbers from the Galapagos Islands, a move that some environmentalists argue will have serious repercussions. Lindblad Expeditions, the leading expedition travel company in the Galapagos with two full-time ships there, believes that tourism, when carried out properly, can address the longer-term social and environmental issues of a place like Galapagos. The company has operated in the region since Lars-Eric Lindblad helped to establish the first Galapagos National Park rules in the 1960s, providing the guiding framework for the way in which tourists visit the islands. Today, Lindblad Expeditions accounts for more than 15% of the total number of US citizens that visit the pristine archipelago each year, contributing millions of dollars from tourism through a fund that supports the environmental and social development of the islands.
Lindblad’s efforts to support conservation and provide opportunities for local community development come primarily from the Galapagos Conservation Fund (GCF), founded by Sven Lindblad, Lars’ son and president of Lindblad Expeditions. Called a pioneering model by local scientists, authorities and other operators, the GCF raises fundsfrom guests on board Lindblad ships, and a local, independent board decides which projects to fund defined by the Galapagos National Park, the Charles Darwin Foundation and other local leaders. Projects supported by the GCF include patrolling for illegal fishing, supporting micro-enterprise for local fishermen and their families, providing environmental education for local students and teachers as well as a number of other projects aimed at the long term preservation and restoration of the islands. The company also operates programs called Teachers on Board, and Kids on Board, where local students and teachers are able to experience first-hand, the unique and extraordinary qualities of the Galapagos Islands through guided hikes and lectures by local naturalists, marine biologists and underwater specialists.
“The guests that we bring here year-round represent more than tourists to a threatened environment,” said Lindblad. “They are a genuine constituency of people who are eager to participate in and care about the long term preservation and social development of the Galapagos. If every operator in the Galapagos had similar programs, then tourism could be a major contributor to the long-term stewardship of these islands,” Lindblad added.
The lifting of the sea cucumber fishing ban means that the Galapagos reserve management authority will permit fishermen from the islands to capture up to three million sea cucumbers in 60 days from June 12, ending a prohibition on fishing of sea cucumbers, sought after for their supposed aphrodisiac effects and fed by massive consumer demand in Asia. The ecological extinction of the sea cucumber is likely to tax the entire marine environment. The sea cucumber is to the seas what the earthworm is to the land: a basic recycler of nutrients that energizes the ecosystem.
“We must partner with local fishermen and other stakeholders to create low-impact employment opportunities for residents in the future that balance the needs of the people and the conservation of biodiversity,” said Graham Watkins, executive director of the Charles Darwin Foundation, which operates the Charles Darwin Research Station in Galapagos. “As the largest economic beneficiary of the Galapagos Marine Reserve,ecotourism can, and must, play a pivotal role in increasing benefits to the local community, and thereby helping to reduce fishing pressures in the long-term.”
Fishing, a primary income source for a small portion of the more than 20,000 residents of the Galapagos, has been a topic addressed by the GCF, offering micro-enterprise grants to encourage fishermen to start other businesses including an outboard motor oil recycling program that offers fishermen cash for their oil to discourage dumping in the reserve, considered one of the most important biological reserves in the world.
The islands, located 625 miles (1,000 km) west of Ecuador’s coast, are facing growing tensions between fishermen seeking to make a living and conservation efforts like those of the GCF and other groups working to protect the region’s unique biodiversity.
About Lindblad Expeditions
Lindblad Expeditions was founded in 1979 and operates a fleet of six ships in regions such as Galapagos, Antarctica, Alaska and Baja California, to name a few, with a focus on responsible tourism. The company has been the recipient of many environmental awards including the UN Environmental Programme Global 500 Award.
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