Major economic activities

Overfishing of the seas in various parts of the world, especially in Asia, has converted what used to be a subsistential activity on Galapagos into ruthless exploitation. There are mainly three types of fishery: 1) Big international vessels, mostly Asian and South American, involved in illegal high-tech fishing both inside and outside the protected waters. 2) Modern Ecuadorian vessels and legal international vessels (mostly Asian). It is doubted whether these respect the rules for fishery in the protected waters. 3) Immigration connected to an interest from Ecuadorian fishing companies and middlemen buyers of extractable resources that can be sold on the international marked (mostly Asian). Traditional fishermen from Galapagos are used as laborhand and are lent money to buy vessels and equipment. Traditional fisheries are abandoned in favour of the possibilities of short-termed export-directed fishing that will be economically beneficial for a short while. Since 1994 many poor fishermen have arrived from the continent after the rumours of gaining easy and fast money have spread. Although the New Law ensures that new immigrants can't stay for a long time, many still come for a couple of months to make as much money as they can before they have to leave.
Overuse and outfishing of certain species are followed up by overuse and outfishing of other species that can make the same use. Recently, penises from sea-lions are a resource that has become popular on the Asian market.
A major issue on the islands has been the sea-cucumber (Sp. Pepinos de mar) harvesting that is allowed for a certain time of the year. Sea cucumbers are considered a delicacy in Asian cuisine, and one of fourteen species on Galapagos is used commercially and threatened with extinction. Pepineros often set up illegal camps onshore to process the pepinos. The possible introduction of exotic flora and fauna is one of the problems with these camps. The sea-cucumber “gold rush” has brought with it a host of economic and social ills, where what used to be an uncontrolled migration of fishermen from the continent outcompeted the local fishermen who were left to watch as the waters around Galapagos were stripped of this source of high income. It was also rumoured that people from other occupations took up sea-cucumber fishing during the short time of year it was legal to harvest it, since the economical benefits were too great to be outpassed. Even the mayor on one of the islands applied to the Park to become a legal pepinero, one of my acquaintances in the Park told me.

According to some investigations, the relatively young geological age of the islands makes less than 3 percent of the total land area usable for agriculture. All of this area is already in use (MacFarland & Cifuentes 1996). However, many farmers claim that there is plenty of untapped agricultural land on the islands, and oppose the strict regulations of the National Park. The best agricultural land is located in the interiors of the islands where rainfall tends to be more abundant. The garua from May to December is often long awaited, especially in dry years where crops often are lost and it is difficult to provide enough water for the husbandry.
For the earliest colonists, agriculture was the dominant sector of the local economy. It was hard and experimental work to clear new land and plant the seeds to new crops, and crossings of different breeds of cattle were tried out to find the breeds best suited for the particular climate and environment of Galapagos. Those who succeeded have managed to control a high portion of available land, and are today mostly engaged in cattle ranching for mainland markets. Additionally there are more numerous small farms that produce a variety of crops for household consumption and a little intra and inter community commerce (Guerrero 1997:26).
Small hamlets of some 500 people have grown around the main agricultural centres in the highlands of Santa Cruz, where they have their own fiestas and councils. There is no possibility for farmers to open virgin land since agriculture is regulated within the rural and urban zone of the National Park zoning system. This means that the only way to expand holdings is to buy land from other landowners. Thus poor small-scale farmers and their descendants have few opportunities to improve their situation much, while the landowners of the large farms often engage in more lucrative tourist-related activities in Puerto Ayora, leaving their farms to be managed by contratados, people contracted to run the farms.
The introduction of exotic trees and pasture grasses has become a problem both for farmers and conservationists. For instance, on Santa Cruz, elephant grass, an African forage grass that was introduced by farmers for their cattle has grown to such an extent that cattle don't manage to consume it at all, and is considered one of the most threatening alien species (Schofield 1989). A number of introduced animals have also either been left to their own devices when farms have been abandoned, or managed to escape and survive in various parts of the islands, becoming a threat to endemic species. Farmers enjoy hunting these animals, such as goats, cattle and donkeys for leisure, and the most popular game-animal is the wild pig which, stunningly, has evolved the characteristic long tusks of its ancestors in just a few generations (Kastdalen 1982) and are considered quite dangerous. Day trips into the interiors of the inhabited islands are becoming more popular. Personally I was intrigued by the overgrown abandoned farms of Norwegians that were found in the highlands of Santa Cruz, where old books and tools still lie scattered around, and strange endemic birds have become the new tenants of the empty houses. On some islands there are also pirate caves close to some farms. Few tourists seem to be interested in these remains of past humans on the islands, connecting all their activities with ecological destruction. Instead visitors pay a nice sum and are guided to farms where giant tortoises grass next to cattle. The presence of endemic animals on people's farms has made it possible for the owners to earn a few easy bucks from tourism.

On Galapagos, tourism started out with luxurious yachts owned by millionaires who visited the islands mainly to see the exotic Robinson Crusoes that lived there. Later, after the establishment of the National Park, some incidental and uncontrolled tourism took place on a relatively small scale. It wasn't until the 1970's after major exposure in international media, that tourism on Galapagos started taking off, with as many as 4500 people visiting the islands in 1970, now entering by air, landing on the airstrip at Baltra that was constructed by US troops during World War II. Due to a number of factors, including the Darwin legend and the above-mentioned increase of interest in conservation, tourism developed at a speed that took everyone by surprise (Hickman 1991:131). In 1998, more than 64 000 tourists visited the Galapagos Islands, spending more than 74 million US dollars. (Informe de Galapagos 1988-99)
Apart from some pollution and small problems like erosion on paths, there is little direct impact on the environment that can be attributed to tourism. But in a deeper sense, tourism has severe indirect impacts on the ecology of the islands. Many landowners are for instance attracted to the more lucrative tourism- related activity in Puerto Ayora, and decide to give up their farms and ranches. New immigrants are needed to run these farms in the owner's absence, and arrive from the mainland on their own, or are contacted by the landowners. This leads to pressure for more land. Authorities hope that the New Law will effectively end this practice. The introduction of exotic species, increase in population, extraction of resources for exportation and local consummation, are all described as indirect results of the growing tourism to Galapagos, in one way or the other (Mac Farland & Cifuentes 1996).
All visitors to the National Park are required to be accompanied by a formally trained and approved naturalist guide. The standard deal is for a 5-10 days’ boat cruise around the islands for 7-20 people, visiting certain visitor sites that are special areas of the sonification system of the National Park set aside for regulated tourism. The combined efforts of the crew (captain, cook and deckhand), the boat (carrying capacity, engine-type, and velocity), the group (of passengers, often a peculiar mix of Westerns, Japanese and Israelis), the weather, the wildlife and the guide, make up the contents of the cruise. Normally the tourists stay a day or so in Puerto Ayora, which is spent partly at the Station looking at Lonesome George, and partly at the local pubs and discos where they get acquainted with each other and with locals.
The guide plays a particularly important role in this setting. The guide functions as the practical link between nature and culture: the wildlife and the tourists. His or her knowledge about the endemic animals and the ecology and protection of the Galapagos is highly valued. An ideal guide doesn't come on too heavy with the female passengers (for this reason some prefer a female guide, although they are reportedly too strict), explains what there is to know about the wildlife at any given visitor site, takes his passengers away from other boats' passengers and shows them special sites that are still within the boundaries of the visitor sites, makes sure the animals are not touched at the same time that he lets his passengers get as close as possible to them (which is to say right up to their faces), and provides entertainment in form of singing and story-telling in the evenings (with the rest of the crew).
Although the formal training of the naturalist guides of Galapagos is very brief (some 10 weeks), and the most important requirement for becoming a guide is that they speak two languages, they are mostly well respected people on the islands (not least because of their high wages), and are in many ways considered a sort of human link between ecology and the human settlements, between the Station and the town, and between the tourists and the locals. There has been some dispute as to whether the locals should be given priorities in the education of new guides, but others are worried that the level of expertise will drop, and that competition is ultimately healthy, even for the locals aspiring to become guides. After some years of dispute the guides have finally gathered themselves under the auspices of one organisation, the Guide Association of Galapagos. This must be said to be a relatively engaged association, providing various services to the local community such as offering free cruises for the best students of the local schools, giving speeches upon request, and so forth. "People come to us, not the Park", a former president of the Association told me, "The Park only prohibits things and blame the fishermen and people that throw things, without educating them. In this way they achieve nothing. Still they want the outside world to think that the Park and the Station are doing all the conservation work and that the locals are villains."
People on Galapagos have an ambivalent attitude to tourism. On the one hand, it's the source of income to touristic entrepreneurs, divided into small and big business of Galapageños, continental or foreign enterprises competing for numbers of tourists or "dolares", and on the other hand tourism is blamed for the drastic changes that have found place on the islands the last couple of decades, at the same time that many people feel that tourists and the endemic animals are more taken care of than the people on the islands (due to economic motives). People express a wish to participate more in the decision-making in connection with tourism on the islands. One of Guerrero's acquaintances said that this was important because "it has to do with the carrying capacity of our community... we live here and we have the right to participate before everything is totally changed without our is necessary for the sustainability of the community" (Guerrero 1997:131, my emphasis).
One of the issues has been to promote tourism with a local base, to ensure that not all the benefits from tourism goes to wealthy boat-owners on the mainland who take most of the profit away from the islands. Tourism with a local base is a GNPS concept that should be compatible with the concept of sustainable development. It is hoped that improved infrastructure and the possibility of opening new tourist-sites within the National Park that are accessible from the populated centres, will make tourists stay on the islands instead of only visiting them from boats. A key concern in this respect is that the towns are not transformed into several-storey high hotels dominating the sea-side, and that the cost of living does not rise to unacceptable levels for the locals as a result of the "dollarization" of the economy that goes along with tourism.

Avdeling for forskningsdokumentasjon, Universitetsbiblioteket i Bergen, 30.03.2001