For centuries, the Galapagos Islands were a remote, lawless land. Considered nearly uninhabitable by the earliest visitors, the Galapagos Islands soon became known as a good place to hunt turtles and goats, take on water and make repairs for ships.
During this time, the fragile Galapagos ecosystems were plundered and destroyed by hungry goats and careless sailors: Charles Darwin himself attested to hundreds of Floreana tortoises being carted off for food on the high seas. Galapagos was of little interest to Ecuador: it used the remote, harsh islands as a penal colony for the worst mainland offenders. The prisoners and settlers also devastated island ecosystems and introduced foreign plants and animals.
The Islands, poorly treated by these whalers, pirates, warships, colonists and prisoners, turned a corner in 1959. That was the year that Ecuador finally realized that the Islands were a valuable source of tourism revenue as well as being a natural heritage well worth preserving. The Galapagos National Park was created in 1959 and covers some 97 percent of the Island landmass. It has been a great success in the preservation of this unique ecosystem, so important a part of the Natural History of our world.
In 1959, the park staff consisted of a few poorly paid and trained rangers. Now, the park has some 230 highly trained and motivated employees, two bases, four technical offices, three community centers and a number of boats, in addition to modern equipment. The park staff is made up of dedicated professionals who love Galapagos and believe in their mission of preserving it for posterity.
Much of the work of the park service has been in un-doing damage done before 1959. Introduced species, representing perhaps the greatest danger to Galapagos, have been a priority for the park since its creation. Since their discovery, the islands have become infested with many destructive non-native species, including goats, rats, cats, dogs, donkeys and many varieties of plants and insects. Park programs to eradicate these animals and plants have met with some success, especially recently. For example, since 2000, goats have been eradicated from Santiago, Pinta, Baltra, Marchena, Floreana and Espanola as well as northern Isabela: the Park Service expects to remove them from Santa Cruz, San Cristobal and southern Isabela as well, ending a plague begun centuries ago.
The duties of the National Park do not end with eliminating introduced species in Galapagos. They also work with the municipalities on recycling programs, monitor endemic species and their health, test and maintain the few sources of fresh water, control necessary domestic animals such as pets, cattle and chickens, enforce park rules for tourists and much, much more. It is also the National Park rangers that respond quickly to emergencies, such as tourist ships in danger.
Due to their many successes, constant vigilance, hard work and dedication, Galapagos Islands.com joins all other responsible Galapagos tour operators in wishing a sincere Happy Fiftieth Birthday to the Galapagos National Park. We thank you for your preservation and conservation of our beloved Galapagos Islands and wish you many more happy birthdays in the future!