Puerto Ayora: Marauding Europeans are nothing new to the Galapagos Islands, which long ago were the haunt of English pirates preying on Spanish galleons laden with Inca gold.
But Ecuador, which owns the archipelago, may soon have to take action against menacing outsiders, realizing foreigners with cameras are every bit as dangerous as those with cutlasses.
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, a leftist who prides himself on putting principle before profit, is mulling whether to restrict tourist licenses to the volcanic outcrops, home to tiny penguins, marine iguanas and venerable giant tortoises.
Victor Carrion, deputy director of the Galapagos National Park, went one step further, saying Ecuador should rethink its strategy for the islands whose finches inspired British naturalist Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.
“We have to revise our tourism model and aim for fewer tourists and higher revenues,” he said. “We have not set a cap on tourists, but I think we should.”
When the Beagle sailed into the Galapagos Archipelago in September 1835, Darwin found an almost pristine “little world within itself.”
Now, four flights packed with tourists touch down in the Galapagos every day. The annual number of travelers has doubled in five years to 145,000 and grows nearly 12% every year.
Internet cafes, trendy hotels and restaurants litter the main port, Puerto Ayora, where scores of tourists in beachwear mingle with blue-footed boobies and gray iguanas, perched on jagged rocks jutting out into the turquoise waters.
Pick-up trucks loaded with tourists roar down highways, while bright red crabs cower at the roadside.
The United Nations earlier this month said Ecuador should step up efforts to protect the Galapagos from growing tourism and immigration. It will decide next month if the Pacific archipelago is officially “in danger.”
The Galapagos, 625 miles (1,000 km) off Ecuador’s coast, are the country’s No. 1 visitor attraction. Tourism earned $486 million (Rs1944 crore) last year and is the fourth largest source of income after oil, bananas and fishing.