One of the chief concerns with travel the to the Galapagos is the impact tourism can have on this fragile ecosystem. As travel to this region has more than quadrupled in the last 20 years, it’s prudent to be concerned. The good news is that while tourism can have a negative ecological impact, it is also possible to have a positive impact.
Experts agree that tourism dollars have helped fund conservation efforts in the Galapagos. And, what is perhaps almost as valuable is the perspective travellers gain after visiting the islands for themselves. It’s hard to understand how small things can have such a huge impact on an ecosystem until you’ve experienced that delicate balance for yourself.
Realistically, the solution is not more or less tourism; the solution is better tourism. As a company that is focused on responsible business, this is a core tenet of how Intrepid operates. No matter where they travel, they always do it ]as sustainably as possible. Intrepid carbon offset all their trips, and, whenever possible, they use local accommodations, eat locally, and travel using shared or local transport.
In the Galapagos, in addition to their regular guidelines for responsible travel, they are careful to follow the regulations set out by the Galapagos Islands National Park. There are 14 rules that all visitors are expected to abide by when they visit. This helps to minimise impact and preserve the animals’ territory, so they can continue to thrive, and so travellers in the years to come can enjoy the incredible and unique flora and fauna.
Here are six ways Intrepid Travel maximises the benefits and minimises the negative impact travel can have when they visit the Galapagos Islands.
Small groups Less Impact
In comparison to the large cruise ships that can carry more than 100 passengers, Intrepid’s trips have 16 passengers or fewer. This both reduces their travellers’ impact on the land as well as increases how much time they get to spend with their guide. In turn, this means the local leader has more opportunities to interact with the full group, is able to better convey the issues the islands are facing and can help ensure no one steps off the path or gets too close to the animals.
The least talked about inhabitants of the Galapagos Islands – the people – are an important resource when it comes to protecting the islands. Having seen firsthand the impact that unsustainable activities can have on the islands and the benefits that sustainable tourism has on both the local economy and the environment means they are the best people to be charged with the islands’ tourism activities. That’s why Intrepid’s local leaders on Galapagos trips are all galapaguenos (island locals).
Dianne Muldoon, Intrepid Travel’s Brand & Product Manager for Sailing and Galapagos trips said this about our local leaders:
What truly makes for an unforgettable experience is the passion and knowledge of our leaders. They are so proud to call the Galapagos Islands home and thankful that they can show it off to the world. More importantly, they want to educate travellers on what can be done to protect the islands and wildlife, so they can take these learnings back to their home countries.
Go By Boat
Many of Intrepid’s trips to the Galapagos Islands are small ship sailing trips. In addition to being the best way to get around the islands, travelling by boat is highly regulated in the Galapagos Islands. There are a limited number of boats that can visit the islands at one time, they can only dock at designated ports and they must adhere to certain eco-friendly standards. All of Intrepid’s boats adhere to these standards: they use biodegradable soap on-board, they change the sheets only twice per week to conserve water and they have a water tank on board, so guests can refill water bottles instead of purchasing disposable plastic water bottles.
Intrepid also offers land-based tours, which are less strictly regulated by the national park, but they do their best to lessen their impact wherever we can. They still carry water tanks so guests can refill their water bottles, they encourage travellers to reuse towels to conserve water and they only go to small, locally run accommodation and restaurants to ensure tourism dollars are going toward the local economy instead of large corporations.
Intrepid Carbon Offsets all their Trips
In addition to following the national park’s regulations, Intrepid is proud to ensure that all their trips are carbon-offset. Intrepid Travel has actually been a carbon-neutral travel company since 2010. They’ve calculated their emissions from offices and trips and offset them by purchasing carbon credits and helping to fund initiatives like reforestation projects and wind farm projects around the world. Since 2010, they’ve offset over 290,000 tons of CO2 emissions!
Intrepid Encourages Their Travellers to make Sustainable Choices
As a travel company, Intrepid recognises that they bear most of the responsibility for how sustainable their trips are. But when it comes to sustainability, every little bit counts, so they encourage their travellers to follow certain guidelines to minimise their impact. These guidelines include refilling reusable water bottles, using biodegradable sunscreen, reusing towels to conserve water, and avoiding souvenirs that are made from animal products.
And, of course, Intrepid insists their travellers strictly abide by the national park’s rules, such as keeping a safe distance from the animals, not leaving any garbage behind, wiping your feet before re-entering the boat so as to reduce the risk of transporting invasive species, and not bringing seeds or nuts along on the trip (yes, believe it or not, your granola bar really could be a threat to the environment).
Tourist dollars help fund conservation projects
Each tourist that visits the park must pay an entrance fee – international tourists pay $100 and Ecuadorian tourists pay $6. There’s no doubt that money from international tourists have helped conservation efforts in the national park. Over 40% of this fee is funnelled into various projects in the park. Some projects that have benefitted from this funding include the eradication of invasive species like goats and dogs on certain islands and the repopulation of giant tortoises throughout the park.
Tourism to the Galapagos undeniably has both positive and negative effects on the environment, but by choosing to travel responsibly, travellers can mitigate damage and help protect the ecosystem for years to come. This attitude of preservation has already helped the Galapagos: many invasive species have been eradicated and several species have been brought back from the brink of extinction. In fact, over 95% of the original biodiversity has been maintained.
While many travellers have an attitude of “see it before it’s gone” when it comes to the Galapagos Islands, Intrepid has adopted a more optimistic outlook. It is unlikely that tourism can or will ever be banned outright, so we must learn to work with this living, breathing ecosystem and do our best to protect it for the travellers that come after us and the animals that call this place home.
Intrepid Travel operates sustainably in over 100 countries around the world.