Tuesday, January 29, 2013
The Last Paradise
Using photography as a conservation tool, Ralph Lee Hopkins tells the story of the Galápagos Islands
As a geologist, I always dreamed of visiting the Galápagos Islands, an archipelago of active volcanoes rising from the Pacific Ocean 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, a living laboratory for science and evolution made famous by Charles Darwin. As a photographer traveling with Lindblad Expeditions onboard the National Geographic fleet of expedition ships, I've witnessed the impacts and challenges facing the islands. The increasing number of tourists each year, new arrivals of invasive species, unregulated development and a growing local population are among the serious and ongoing threats to the environment, and to the very survival of the rich biodiversity.
Will The Galápagos Always Be At Risk?
On many levels, the islands are better off today than centuries ago, when whalers and pirates frequented the area, pillaging the wildlife for food and leaving behind goats, pigs and other introduced animals that decimated native species. By the time Darwin arrived in 1835, the impact of man was already being felt. In fact, it wasn't until 1959 that Galápagos National Park was established, along with the Charles Darwin Foundation. And it took several more years until the Darwin Research Station was founded (1964) and the national park began its operation (1968).
Over the years, a great deal of research has gone into understanding the Galápagos ecosystem and how to manage and conserve its resources. Recent efforts by Galápagos National Park, together with the Darwin Research Station and conservation organizations, have led to a number of major conservation success stories, including the eradication of goats and pigs on some of the larger islands. The Galápagos Marine Reserve, one of the largest marine-protected areas in the world, encircles the islands with a mission of protecting resources from over-exploitation and illegal fishing. And plans are underway to build a much needed quarantine port in an effort to control unwanted arrivals and any possible infestations.
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