Remote, imposing but certainly not unwelcoming, Galapagos Islands are often described as mystical and magical. Nature thrives in these almost otherworldly sanctuaries of isolation and exotic splendour. Every year countless visitors disembark on Galapagos Islands, more than 60 remote islets, to bear witness to the marvels of biodiversity that inspired the theories of Charles Darwin –who stepped off the HMS Beagle in the autumn of 1885– on natural selection and the origin of species.
Island societies have often developed peculiar cultures –and corresponding lifestyles– adapted to geographic isolation as well as space and resources limitations. However, most of these insular societies have been transformed by the global process of cultural homogenisation. The first international workshop on islands sustainability, organised by the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) in March 2010, focused on the threats to ecological and social sustainability caused by the contemporary process of wide geographical opening of insular regions.
The CDF organised the second international workshop on cultural identities and sustainable lifestyles, September 28-30 in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz. CDF invited experts and leaders on island culture, environment and development issues. The overall goal of the workshop, which was sponsored by UNESCO, was for the Galapagos people to learn, compare and analyse various island systems around the world in order to develop a model that could contribute to a sustainable development in Galapagos while preserving cultural values and natural resources. In other words, this second workshop focussed on the ways to establish an island culture and lifestyle that recognise limits to economic growth and expansion in a fragile environment. The Mediterranean Institute for Nature and Anthropos (Med-INA) was represented in the workshop by its member, Stefanos Dodouras, who presented the main lines and outcomes of Med-INA’s programme “Conservation and Management of Greek Landscapes”.
Participants of the workshop were:
- Dr. J. Gabriel Lopez, CDF Executive Director, and Mr. Felipe Cruz, CDF Director of Technical Assistance, who referred to the series of workshops that have been and will be organised in order to develop participatory approaches and try to measure human footprint on Galapagos’ natural environment.
- Dr. Christophe Grenier, Head of CDF Social Sciences, who referred to the geographical part of culture, i.e. the co-existence of different cultures and diverse lifestyles on Galapagos Islands.
- Mr. Fabian Zapata, President of the Galapagos Governing Council, who highlighted the need for community involvement and integrated approaches.
- Mr. Mathias Espinosa, a Galapagos National Park (GNP) naturalist guide from Isabela Island, noted the non-existent land-use planning and economic (development) policies as well as the importance of environmental education.
- Mr. Max Freire, President of the Floreana Island Parish Council, who stated that future actions should be based on consensus building and pose the question of what the future political and economic actions should be.
- Mr. Whitman Cox, a GNP naturalist guide from San Cristobal Island, referred to the tourist industry as a tool both powerful and dangerous.
- Mr Ermanno Zecchetini, originally from Italy but a long-time Isabela resident, stated that other countries may have rich history and unique cultures but the Galapagos case is a different story since it is not about the museums, the cathedrals or the archaeology but rather it is about the last laboratory of nature.
- From Fiji, Mr. Etika Rupeni, coordinator of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Pacific Islands Roundtable for Nature Conservation, outlined the future challenges for insular regions and the need to strengthen “traditional” and local governance.
- Dr. Sandy Kerr, from Scotland’s Orkney Islands, focussed on the fact that islands are open systems where nothing –culture or environment– is fixed whereas traditions and cultures must mean something today if they are to survive.
- From Chile, Dr. Francisca Massardo of the Omora Ethno-Botanic Park in the highly-threatened Cape Horn Archipelago, outlined some of the main threats to insular environments such as aquaculture, tourism and introduction of exotic species and proclaimed that the implementation of genuine alternative development options must respect the local habitats and inhabitants.
- Dr. Stefanos Dodouras of the Mediterranean Institute for Nature and Anthropos (Med-INA) related experiences from the Greek island of Lemnos and the weak feeling and appreciation of insular natural and cultural values.
- Dr. Aroha Te Pareake Mead, Dean at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand and IUCN Commissioner and Dr. Kapua Sproat, law professor at the University of Hawaii, both descendants of ancient indigenous cultures stated that nature and people evolve together. Both panellists referred to the fact that joint visions that are needed in order to appreciate insular (natural and cultural) heritage but such a process takes time, trial and error.
CDF is committed to furthering understanding among the inhabitants of Galapagos and to strengthening conservation awareness in support of sustainable local development. In its formal agreement with the Government of Ecuador, CDF is charged with the responsibility of providing technical and scientific advice for decision-making and of helping to improve institutional and individual capabilities for Galapagos conservation and management. As such, CDF is planning to organised similar events in the future that will take up themes such as tourism, marine and waste management, urban planning, energy and transport, climate change and food security.