Influx of humans testing Galápagos limits
Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island, Galápagos
Passion is running high among the blue-footed boobies as four dinghy-loads of sunburned tourists reach the uneven, volcanic rock on North Seymour Island. For the next hour the humans surround the most active pairs of birds, cameras whirring as the boobies whistle and prance to woo their mates.
The scene is quintessential Galápagos: birds and animals so unaccustomed to predators that they court and mate and nurse their young within arm’s length of gawking Homo sapiens. But as tourism-driven economic growth attracts more and more people to live on the islands, experts are asking how long the fragile and unique ecosystems will remain intact.
“Fifty years ago, the problems were biological—how to put tortoises back on one island and how to kill goats on another,” says Graham Watkins, executive director of the Charles Darwin Foundation, which operates a research station based on Puerto Ayora, the largest town on the Galápagos’ four inhabited islands. “Now the problems are much more socio-economic, cultural and political. It’s a much more complicated mix of issues.”