Galapagos Conservation, Colonization, Destruction & Preservation
The first human inhabitant of the Galapagos Islands was Patrick Watkins, an Irish sailor who arrived to Floreana Island in 1807. He cultivated vegetables which he traded to the whalers for rum to get drunk. He stayed like that for about 8 years until he stole a boat and sailed to the continent.
Jose Villamil organized the first colony in the Galapagos, starting a sort of prison for criminals, but after some years they left the island even though the colony was successful, since the Ecuadorian Government decided to set up a prison colony in the islands and it remain there until the middle of the 20 th century.
In 1869 it was established a colony called "El Progreso" in San Cristobal, which later it will become into the capital of the islands, and that until these days there are the oldest remains of human settlements in the islands.
Europeans and North Americans were interested in the Galapagos soon after William Beebe's book "Galapagos: World End" was published in 1924. This book was the staring point of Eco Tourism which today operates in the islands.
This book was the main reason for the immigration of Europeans to the islands in those years. The biggest group consisted in about 60 Norwegians that were invited by young journalists to occupy Floreana Island in 1927.
Floreana Island became in everything except in the paradise that was promoted. As the colonists realized when the promoters leave the islands, a few of this survivors return back to Norway. But some of them just settled in different islands for a few more years. Few years lateroanother group of Norwegians arrived to Santa Cruz, as well as other new comers from the United States and Canada, all searching for a simpler life. Among them were the 4 Angemeyer brothers from Germany, who settled themselves in Santa Cruz in 1935. The descendents of this family remain in the islands where they own cruise ships and a hotel, one of them wrote an excellent book called "My Father Island".
In 1930 other Europeans arrived, among them from Germany Dr. Friedrich Ritter and his wife as well as the Wittmer family and finally an Austrian woman, who introduced herself as Baroness Wagner together with three lovers. They played and exceptional history of strange deaths during the next decade. The Wittmer family still lives on the islands and their elderly grandmother still lives in Floreana.
The Galapagos Islands Conservation
The year 1935, the one hundred anniversary of Darwin's visit, was something of a turning point in Galapagos history, as the Ecuadorian government decreed parts of the islands as wildlife preserves. Four centuries of human presence had had an adverse effect on its unique fauna.
Three of the 14 races of turtles were gone forever and populations of others were vastly reduced, just a single individual remains of the Pinta race.
The native rice rat, one of the few Galapagos mammals species, was already extinct on many islands. Plants introduced on the settled islands were replacing the unique native species. Goats, livestock, pigs and other animals are defoliating some islands.
In 1959, precisely one hundred years after the publication of Darwin's Origin of the Species, the Charles Darwin Foundation started to operate.
In 1984 the Charles Darwin Research Station was opened. With this the protection of the islands started, they began by gathering turtle eggs for breeding in captivity. With this they saved many turtle species from extinguish. The program was also applied with land iguanas.
In 1999 the MAB Bureau rewarded the Foundation with the Sultan Qaboos Prize for Environmental Preservation for its contributions to the conservation, a better understanding of the unique environment, and a recognition of the challenges that lie ahead.
The Ecuadorian government declared the Galapagos Islands a National Park in1959, but it wasn't until 1968 when the park limits where established on a 95% of the islands. Later the ocean around the islands was declared a Marine Reserve under the management of the Park Service.
Tourism started in 1970 when 1000 tourists visited the islands, since then tourism has grown roughly up to 150 000 tourists per year at the end of 2004. As the number of visitors increases, the impact to the preservation of the islands becomes of greater consideration, with the implementation of strict policies for tour operators.
Seeking for an accurate control of people coming in and out of the islands, in 2008 the government authorize to collect a fee the Transit Control Card, also stoped the migration to the islands.
Today in Galapagos there is a conflict involving the craft and industrial fishermen that try to fish as much as they can as shark fins and sea cucumbers. The Ecuadorian Government is trying to resolve this conflict and we hope they do so.
The preservation of the Galapagos will be a main concern for future generations of scientists that will like to keep studying the evolution of the species.