The lockdown and the pandemic have had a paradoxical impact on the Galapagos: native animal species have thrived as a result of limited disturbances, but the halt in tourism has also had a devasting impact on local businesses, according to Michael Eiseman, co-founder of Touring Galapagos.
With few visitors over the past several months, he said that local wildlife and many native animal species have thrived. Thus, Galapagos penguins and flightless cormorants have seen significant population growth over the past year. According to the Galapagos National Park and Charles Darwin Foundation, the increase is thought to be a result of the significant decrease in tourism allowing the nesting areas to be minimally disturbed.
The organizations have recently launched an initiative to further protect and rewild the islands, backed by a $43 million pledge by actor Leonardo Dicaprio. Despite the government’s protective policies many of the ecosystems on the islands are said to be in crises, according to Eiseman, and the new effort will fund projects to reintroduce 13 locally extinct species and the protection of marine resources from human impact.
Eiseman cited a recent study that had found plastic in all marine habitats at the island of San Cristobal, underlining the importance of sustainable and considerate tourism where visitors give extra thought to their means of travel and actions during their visit.
He said that the return of tourism is essential in both keeping the local economy afloat and ensuring that conservation efforts can continue to be funded. Some 85 percent of the local economy depends on tourism.
Touring Galapagos is based in San Cristobal, offering tours, hotel packages and cruises on six smaller vessels.