Changing Views of the Galapagos

  • Diego QuirogaEmail author
Part of the Social and Ecological Interactions in the Galapagos Islands book series (SESGI, volume 1)


Since the first colonists and scientists went there in the 1830s, the Galapagos Islands were seen in two different and dissimilar ways. Some of the early visitors and Ecuadorian colonists viewed the Galapagos as a new frontier, a land to be conquered. They saw the Galapagos as a place where humans had to impose their schemes over nature and had the right to use its products. In 1832, Ecuador claimed possession of the islands and started the process of colonization. Entrepreneurs went to the islands with the hope of extracting guano and a dye from the lichen, cochinilla. As they settled and tried to produce for the continental and the international markets, colonists conceived of the Galapagos as a distant and challenging territory. The local population has grown and currently numbers about 25,000 people. During the last few decades, new extractive economies such as sea cucumber and lobster fishing and shark finning have grown in importance as people have tried to generate monetary resources from these and other extractive industries, despite the opposition of scientists and conservationists. From its humble beginnings in the 1960s, tourism has become the main economic force of the Galapagos. With some 200,000 visitors each year, much of the islands’ economic growth, and even a portion of the resources needed for conservation, comes from this sector. The tourism industry has successfully used aspects of the scientific constructs of the Galapagos and added some of its own to make the Galapagos one of the most important destinations for nature tourism.

Other visitors, starting with Charles Darwin, saw the Galapagos as a natural laboratory for studying nature and understanding the principles by which it works. These two perceptions were to a large extent incommensurable, and there was little point of contact between the different constructs. When the Darwinian view became the accepted paradigm in biology and with the marriage of conservation and science in the early part of the twentieth century, a dominant vision was created that problematized the Galapagos as a place to be saved from the destructive extractive activities that were increasingly being performed by the local population. These two views clashed, generating conflicts and tensions. Recently, however, a new hybrid vision has been emerging from this confrontation, one that assimilates elements of both contrasting views, the result of negotiations among groups and individuals. I will explore the ways in which a new and emergent hybrid system of perceptions and understandings of the Galapagos has been generated from the initial existence of two rather incompatible discourses and world views and which has borrowed from the colonists’ views and from the conservationists’ and scientists’ understandings. New economic opportunities, especially those associated with the growing tourism industry, have generated jobs for more local residents. Fishermen, for example, are now increasingly interested in working for the tourism sector. This new view is becoming a negotiated solution to the conflicts regarding extractive local industries. The amount and intensity of the conflicts over the extraction versus no extraction is being resolved in part because many people are now working directly or indirectly for the tourism sector. However, as this conflict is to some extent being solved, new themes and problems are starting to be defined, one of which is the tension between connectivity and isolation.


Local People Natural Laboratory Tourism Sector Shark Finning Hybrid Discourse 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Biological and Environmental SciencesUniversidad San Francisco de QuitoQuitoEcuador

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