How new initiatives are protecting the Galápagos for future generations

My experience at sea saw me spending six nights exploring the eastern islands on board Santa Cruz II, Hurtigruten’s debut Galápagos cruise, which uses a Metropolitan Touring vessel that hosts up to 90 guests.

During shore visits with the ship’s naturalists, we encounter playful sea lions on the Mosquera sand bar and spend time with the land iguanas basking by cactus trees on tiny Santa Fé Island, the only place in the world these iguanas exist. Birding highlights are many: nesting colonies of frigate birds on North Seymour Island, the males with expanded, cherry-red crops, and a Nazca booby with fluffy, snowball-white chicks on Española Island. And sublime snorkelling experiences include the chance to swim for 20 minutes at a time with a giant Galápagos green turtles and whitetip reef sharks. On Santa Cruz, we visit a Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative to learn how the creature’s diversity across different islands informed Darwin’s theories on evolution.

The responsibility to protect these hallowed shores can weigh heavy on visitors. But from the smallest actions and decisions, personal responsibility can count towards making the Galápagos a sustainable destination. “Every tourist must reflect on how to lower their carbon footprint,” says Gustavo Manrique. “Sure, you can eat salmon flown in from Chile, or instead choose local fish, like brujo [scorpion fish]fished in these waters, so money stays local.”

Such simple actions as reusing a water bottle, avoiding single-use plastic and taking non-recyclable waste off the islands when departing should be part of the modern traveller’s toolkit. But what about the bigger picture? For example, how to mitigate air travel’s effect on the climate, which is critical to fragile ecosystems such as those in play on the Galápagos Islands. The reality is we probably need to fly less, yet tourism to the Galápagos is critical to funding its conservation.

Metropolitan Touring is a carbon-neutral operator in the region.“Our core value is to take action against our carbon footprint and finance conservation,” says Carolina Proaño-Castro, executive director of Fundación Futuro, the nonprofit organization that’s helped Metropolitan Touring work towards becoming carbon neutral. All aspects of its Galápagos cruises are examined for carbon efficiency, from using anti-corrosive paint to deter crustacean build-up on ships, thus improving fuel efficiency, to giving guests reusable metal water bottles.
Guests pay a levy calculated at $16 (£13) per tonne of carbon, which funds a tangible conservation initiative: the conservation of a 6,670-acre reserve at Mashpi Lodge in Ecuador’s Chocó-Andino cloud forest area. The levy is also being used to help establish a biological corridor in the Chocó-Andino by buying up more forest to conserve, enabling landowners to follow more sustainable practices.

“Just as Galápagos sharks need a migration corridor to avoid being fished, connectivity is the key to climate change adaptivity all over the world,” says Proaño-Castro.


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