By Shelley Seale
The chain of islands in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Ecuador is famous for its inspiration of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and natural selection. Here on the Galapagos Islands, animals have evolved and adapted to survive in ways found nowhere else on earth.
I recently had the incredible opportunity to go on a 7-day Galapagos wildlife cruise with Ecoventura, one of the most eco-friendly and sustainable tourism companies in the Ecuadorian archipelago. We set off from San Cristobal, on a path that crossed the equator six times and visited 7 islands during the week. Hiking, snorkeling, and kayaking were all part of the activities to view the islands and their unique ecosystems and wildlife.
One of the most unusual aspects of Galapagos wildlife is how unafraid they are, how completely unperturbed they are by people. Because they are protected and mostly have no natural predators, they really fear little and see no threat from humans in modern times. They do not flee — there is no searching and waiting to spot wildlife.
It is right there in front of you, and you can walk right up to them. Our Ecoventura guides, both named Pepe, were clear about the rules not to touch or interact with the animals. But you literally can walk right up to them — iguanas, birds in their nests with babies, sea lions who will swim right up to the boat and want to play.
One thing I really liked about the Ecoventura line, besides the wonderful guides and staff, was their dedication to making the least footprint possible on this ecosystem. The boat we were on, The Eric, had solar panels and wind turbines to supplement the power.
Ecoventura was the first company to earn and maintain the ecological certification, SmartVoyager, and the first Galapagos cruise ship company to offset carbon emissions and to install alternative energy sources.
This is so important in the Galapagos Islands. Darwin’s enchanted isles are one of our planet’s most precious and unique ecosystems, home to an extraordinary profusion of exotic flora and fauna.
The Islands retain a staggering 95% of their endemic species, a feat unparalleled on any other archipelago in the world. In 1959, a hundred years after the publication of The Origin of Species, Ecuador declared 97% of the Islands landmass a national park and in 2001, the marine reserve was established.
Keeping Galapagos biologically pristine has been and continues to be, a constant and hard-waged battle. As a result in 2007, three decades after being designated the first World Heritage Site, UNESCO declared Galapagos as a World Heritage Site at risk, citing the introduction of alien species, illegal fishing, unsustainable tourism, illegal migration, and population growth.
Galapagos was later removed from the list in 2010, but many conservationists feel this was done prematurely as the Islands still remain very much at risk.
Ecoventura is committed to providing an authentic experience in small compatible groups, lessening the impact on the wildlife, offering value, and a safe, memorable, mind-expanding voyage. The company began offering tours in the Galapagos in 1991 and started “greening” the operation and equipment in 1999, and later worked toward reducing carbon emissions and ensuring the local community benefits by tourism through educational opportunities and supporting marine conservation.