Galapagos: Why live in paradise if you can´t save the Bay?

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View of Puerto Ayora from the Charles Darwin Station © Eddy Silva / WWF

I have been lucky enough to live in the most amazing place on Earth for the last two and a half years – the Galapagos Islands.

Every visitor, colleague and even close relative usually starts a conversation about how lucky I am to live in paradise. My answer is always affirmative, but it comes with a “however”.  In fact, not everything is flawless in the enchanted islands.  As a resident of a world-famous natural heritage site, and one who travels enough to see it with fresh eyes, I have some thoughtful concerns.

Every morning before the sun rises, as I train my eyes along the esplanade in Puerto Ayora to enjoy the ocean view and feel the sea breeze, my perception grows that the bay is becoming crowded and untidy.

The bay in front of Puerto Ayora, known as Academy Bay, comprises a combination of environments such as mangroves, beaches, rocky shores, cliffs and islets that embrace the iconic and endemic wildlife of Galapagos. Sea lions, marine iguanas, zayapas (sally-lightfoot crabs), pelicans, herons, eagle rays, and even sharks all coexist in the harbor.

The Bay is also a haven for a diversity of people and businesses, among them swimmers, snorkelers, kayakers, sail boaters, aquatic taxis, day tour boats, fishers, cruise ships and tourists.

Unfortunately, the Bay also bears discharged solid waste and waste water. Despite the control exerted by the government agencies, short-sighted planning, coastal development and misplaced infrastructure are affecting not only the integrity of the landscape and seascape, but also the health of the ecological systems that support the economy, prosperity, and the very survival of the people in Puerto Ayora.

There is an urgent need to understand the influences and interactions of marine-related activities across the Academy Bay and to plan for sustainable development.

WWF-Ecuador is working to save the health and integrity of Galapagos and Academy Bay. We are working with the community of Puerto Ayora, including tour operators, divers, guides, kayakers, boat captains, fishers and local government agencies, to devote more resources for research, monitoring, policy making, and law enforcement to organize the different uses and activities in the bay.

While assisting the different parts of the community of Puerto Ayora to come together to discuss current and potential future conflicts, I realized the problem of the bay was even more serious than I could possibly imagine. However, this approach also provided many different solutions, endorsed by the community, on how to manage the various human activities.

The efforts to manage the Bay sustainably, led by the Municipality of Santa Cruz with the support of the Galapagos National Park Directorate, Ministry of Tourism, the Navy and the Undersecretary of Ports and Marine Transport, advances inexorably but with some setbacks. A year ago, these institutions developed an action plan and signed an accord to implement the agreed activities. Regrettably, the plan was stalled due to the political turmoil generated by the presidential election campaign.

WWF has mobilized resources to improve governance and communication among the various users of the Bay. We are also supporting the improvement of the leadership capacity of the municipality of Puerto Ayora to ensure the sustainability of bay management. Because of these efforts, the Mayor, Leopoldo Bucheli, has taken a key step to protect the bay with his decision to resume the implementation of the action plan by actively summoning local government agencies and the community.

My job, our job in WWF, is to see that people in Galapagos get to use a healthy ocean. It is the smart thing to do, it is the right thing to do.

I dream of the day when we can take bold steps towards a well-governed and sustainable bay to secure the ecological, social, and economic prosperity of Galapagueños.

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Eddy Silva is the Oceans and Coasts Coordinator, with a challenge of crafting a healthy marine programme in Ecuador taking from the experience WWF has gained in the Galapagos Islands and in the Eastern Tropical Pacific.

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