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Ecuador's President Declares Galapagos in Crisis

( “Galapagos is in a state of emergency,” states the headline in Ecuador’s newspaper, El Comercio. It was referring to a decision made yesterday (April 10) by Ecuador’s President, Rafael Correa, who signed an emergency decree stating that Galapagos is in crisis.

President Correa stated that he would consider temporarily suspending tourism permits and enforcing rigorous population restrictions to prevent further environmental harm. “We are pushing for a series of actions to overcome the huge institutional, environmental and social crisis in the islands," President Correa said. He did not give details about possible restrictions. But he ordered the Governor of Galapagos to convene an urgent meeting of the Institute Nacional Galapagos (INGALA). The objective will be to determine the state of conservation and development in the islands, with possible temporary suspension of new tourist and air operations. In a press release, the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) indicated “strong support for yesterday’s declaration by Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa that Galapagos is at risk and is a national conservation priority." (see full text below) News of the decree was widely disseminated in the international news. One headline mistakenly declared, “Tourists may be banned from Galapagos Islands.” The article stated that “Ecuador's famous Galapagos Islands could be off-limits for tourists after the country's President declared them at risk and in the midst of an environmental crisis.” However, no one has advocated a total ban on tourism. President Correa’s pronouncement comes as a high level delegation from the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, led by its Director, Francesco Bandarin, visits Ecuador. Its aim is to study the state of Galapagos and make recommendations next June on whether to list Galapagos as a World Heritage in Danger. Talks between the UN delegation and members of the government are taking place in Quito and Galapagos. President Correa said that Ecuador does not need attention from international organizations, saying, “We are conscious of the high priority and importance of Galapagos for our country.” These events follow in the footsteps of a recent assault on the authority and personnel of the Galapagos National Park, as reported in an IGTOA bulletin. Park Director, Raquel Molina, and several Park Rangers suffered injuries while attempting to stop a kayaking operation on Baltra Island. Air Force personnel arrived at the site and attacked them, causing injuries serious enough to require hospitalization. According to reports, the commander of the Air Force base and Port Captain of Puerto Ayora have been relieved of their duties. The attack on the Director and staff caused an outcry among international organizations (including IGTOA), who urged President Correa to restore authority and stability in the Park. There seems to be a growing consensus that tourism development needs to be contained and regulated. IGTOA will discuss these issues with the Charles Darwin Foundation, Institute Nacional Galapagos (INGALA), and other organizations at its upcoming annual meeting. On our agenda is a motion to call for a moratorium on new tourism development.


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