Legislation for the protection of the Galapagos Islands was first enacted by Ecuador in 1934. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that serious action was undertaken when the International Union for the Conservation of Nature sent a fact-finding mission to the Galapagos Archipelago. In 1959, the Ecuadorian government declared as a national park all the uninhabited islands, and areas on inhabited islands as yet un-claimed by the residents, 96.7% of the total land area. At the same time, in the centenary year of the publication of the “Origin of Species”, the Charles Darwin Foundation was founded with international headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. The research station followed a few years later along with the first park wardens to oversee this newly-created park, and help it take its first steps towards the conservation and protection of its unique flora and fauna.
Since 1968 when the National Park Service first began under the auspices of the Department of Forestry and the Ministry of Agriculture, the Galapagos National Park has grown tremendously in stature, experience and responsibility. With the advent of the tourism industry, starting in the 1970’s and picking up speed in the 1980’s with the opening of a second airport on the island of San Cristobal, the establishment and updating of new rules and regulations have been paramount to conservation efforts. The Charles Darwin Research Station with its staff of experienced researchers and connections to experts worldwide remains an integral and important part of conservation decisions made today.
In 1986 it was formally acknowledged that the terrestrial portion of the Galapagos Archipelago is undeniably connected to the marine environment surrounding it. The Galapagos Marine Reserve was then established, composed of all internal waters and the surrounding waters out to fifteen nautical miles around a baseline. In 1998 this was extended to 40 nautical miles, creating at the time the second largest marine reserve in the world at 138, 000 square kilometers (40, 234 square nm). At the same time it was declared a whale sanctuary and a World heritage Site by UNESCO. The management plans for both the Galapagos National Park and Galapagos Marine Reserves have been up-dated since their inception to integrate and include needed changes to their conservation strategies.
Many Non-Governmental Organizations both international and national, have a presence in the islands and are presently helping raise funds for the conservation of Galapagos. Conservation and government spending can be quantified and contribute to the fast influx of revenue, which in turn spurs on population growth, an increasing concern for all involved. With an annual growth rate of possibly over 8%, the Galapagos Islands growth rate is three times higher than on mainland Ecuador. “Economic growth has resulted in unsustainable population growth, socioeconomic stratification, civil unrest, strained public services and infrastructure, an increase in the number of invasive species, and a number of conflicts with conservation goals and authorities” (Bruce Epler, Charles Darwin Foundation, 2007).
For more than three decades, conservation measures focused on issues involving the Park and Marine areas. Today, conservation initiatives are increasingly involved with the inhabited areas. The new CDF strategy “promotes good management through the provision of integrated information for decision-making, ensuring effective communication, incorporating local people into conservation strategies and helping to build the capacities of local organizations.” It is recognized today that any successful conservation initiative will have to take into consideration all the stakeholders of the Galapagos Archipelago, both human and other, in virtually every decisions made.
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