The Galapagos Islands are a natural wonder unlike any other place on the planet. The islands are a volcanic archipelago teaming with one-of-a-kind animals and plants, thanks to a very remote location more than 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean, and the fact that many species uniquely evolved since it’s difficult to migrate from one island to the next. (Each island has its own distinct landscape—the destination is, after all, the spark that fueled Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution).
Travelers are flocking to the Galapagos Islands largely due to the awe-inspiring animals (think: playful sea lions, century-old giant tortoises, and prehistoric-looking marine iguanas) and easier travel to the remote destination in recent years (there were only a few flights to the islands a week in the 70s, and today there is an average of about six a day). In fact, visitors to the Galapagos surged from only 11,765 in 1975 to a whopping 204,395 in 2013, according to the Galapagos National Park Service.
This tourist boom is impacting the delicate ecosystem by keeping the demand for flights high and causing a bigger carbon impact; requiring more cargo ships to up the odds of oil and other fuel spills—not to mention ocean contamination from boat paint; increasing trash with limited ways to dispose of it; causing degradation to natural environment with more people visiting fragile habitats; draining the already-limited fresh water supply; and increasing the risk of invasive species hitchhiking to the islands on ships and planes carrying tourists. Sadly, the Galapagos Islands were added to the list of World Heritage Sites in danger in 2007.
Even though an influx of travelers is putting this delicate eco-system at risk, there are ways you can use travel to help preserve rather than destroy this double World Heritage site.