Galápagos Islands: Why a Double World Heritage Site Made Me Re-Value Biodiversity

At the turn of the year I was lucky enough to sail to the Galápagos Islands, after visiting some of the southern Caribbean, then parts of the Central American coast line. It was an adventure I will sincerely cherish, not only because it was amongst these few months that I experienced pure mental clarity, after a long time of feeling stuck. But more importantly because I received an unexpected lesson in the importance of conservation, opening up a new perspective on how I value biodiversity.

Reaching the Galápagos By Boat

To get to the Galápagos from our location in North West Panama, we had to pass through the Panama Canal. [Check out a post about Panama and how it inspired my business approach Here.] This was an experience in itself and a pretty treacherous one, consisting of six stages, including cutting through what is called the ‘isthmus’- a narrow piece of land separating the two bodies of water (Atlantic and Pacific Ocean). The canal allows vessels to pass through various locks at different levels, the Gatun Lake,  then more locks on the descent into the Pacific. Coming out into the Pacific was not  the last stage of the journey of course. We then set sail for a three-day voyage at sea to one of the most bizarre but fascinating archipelagos in the world, particularly for its range of unique plant and animal diversity.

The Huge Range of Biodiversity

It may come as a surprise to discover that it took a visit to the Galápagos to truly appreciate the wealth of biodiversity we have on earth, and for the first time, the real significance of mass conservation projects that aim to protect threatened or endangered ecosystems. Most of us feel it is our duty to protect and conserve the planets inhabits. I am one of those people to a certain extent, yet I have always been a conservation sceptic. The Galápagos islands opened up this perspective of course and helped me understand why such projects exist. Given that the islands are a roughly six hundred miles off the coast of Ecuador, and made up of about eighteen separate volcanic landmasses, it is no surprise that both the marine and terrestrial species are unlike anywhere else in the world. It is because of this remoteness and isolation, that this endemic in biodiversity exists. To add to its uniqueness, there has in fact been little change since prehistoric times. And if you are ever lucky enough to visit, you won’t be surprised by that fact.

The Mass Conservation Efforts

According to the International’s Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 50-80% of the worlds biodiversity is found in handful of countries and the majority of these are developing nations. Look at the website here: IUCN ‘Red List’ of Threatened Species. It is not uncommon for international agreements (like the Convention on Biological Diversity or the Nagoya Protocol) which aim to protect biodiversity through national policy, to be swayed through various political agendas. A number of NGO’s, scientists and economists agree that the decline in species is due to human activity like destructive fishing methods, pollution, deforestation and other human related activity. After all, places like the Galápagos (falling under the republic of Ecuador) are rich in bio resources and are therefore threatened by huge industries like pharmaceuticals, agriculture and even cosmetics. The more species diversity usually means the more of a hotspot an area is for economic activity. Unfortunately biodiversity means natural capital, which is a powerful currency if you are relying on natural resources.

A National Geographic guide to the Galápagos

Charles Darwin Research Station’s website

The Galápagos’ Official UNESCO World Heritage Website

Official Galápagos Conservation Website