This blog will be following the 3rd year 2020 Field Trip in the Galàpagos Islands, tackling problematics of environmental awareness & cultural appreciation, with a focus on how we, and you, can travel as sustainably as possible.
Firstly, a touch of history. The Galàpagos played an iconic part in outlining the Evolutionary Theory, which provides a basis for countless modern zoological principles. Since Darwin’s first arrival in 1835 during which he observed varied beak morphologies in local finches, his early inspiration for the theory of natural selection, the islands’ biota has remained impressively diverse and mostly endemic due to their isolation from the mainland.
Their uniqueness not only lies in the local biodiversity. Situated over a hotspot in the Earth’s mantle, the famously young islands are characterized by their volcanic environment and rapid uplifting events, which have shaped surrounding ecosystems.
Why do these ecosystems matter?
Beyond the impressive diversity of habitats found on and around the islands, which sustains similarly unique species, we find that their importance doesn’t stop there. Mangroves support ecosystems and act as an atmospheric carbon sinks, similarly to wetlands etc. Trapping carbon, which might otherwise be absorbed in sea water, changing its chemical composition and posing a threat to marine species, is one side of the coin. Should these ecosystems be damaged or altogether destroyed, the carbon might then be released, and Sinks would become Sources.
In the light of this fragile yet fundamental balance, our university students are getting involved with mangrove planting and restoration projects every year with the hope that these areas and the species within them can thrive sustainably. To financially help this small NGO set up and run by local students, raising funds with bake sales and crowdfunding has been an elementary part of the students preparation for the trip to the islands. In addition, this provides a way to offset some of the carbon footprint.
What are the threats to these ecosystems?
Similarly to other islands around the globe, the islands’ isolation makes species and ecosystems very sensitive to foreign entities, organic or otherwise.
Firstly, microorganisms lodged in the belongings of tourists and seeds stuck underneath one’s boots could seem trivial at first, but pose a real tangible threat to the biodiversity on the islands. Should these foreign species establish themselves and become invasive, they could outcompete, predate or parasite local species.
Secondly, we mustn’t forget the eternal threat of plastic pollution. A misplaced packaging could remain on the islands long after we visitors have left. For this reason, plastic free expeditions, which are surprisingly achievable (as seen in the recommendation section below) remain ideal. Similarly, simply taking our plastic waste back with us would already bring relief to this unique environment.
Thirdly, the threat doesn’t always lie where expected. In addition to their packaging, some products may be directly harmful to the environment due to their chemical composition. An good example is sun cream: although vital to anyone visiting the islands to protect them from the damaging UV rays, some bands include nano zincs which, when found in their nano form, can be absorbed by our own skin as well as that of fish, sharks, turtles or corals. This can cause biological changes that increase the risks of tumors or cancers. To all avid swimmers and snorkelers, using skin or beauty products that can harm the marine life is a most unpleasant notion, which many tourists remain ignorant about.
How can we prepare for our eco-friendly trip?
In preparation for a truly unique and healthy foreign adventure, we advise:
Swapping one use plastics for reusable containers, such as bar shampoo or soaps, which won’t need to be thrown away during the trip.
Using a reusable water bottle rather than continuously buying plastic ones. Not only is it a cheaper option, it is also facilitated by water fountains in Quito airport and local hotels, which we can happily vouch for.
Cleaning one’s footwear before entering the islands and avoiding bringing any seeds and food into the Galàpagos.
Some eco-friendly products we recommend:
Sunblock from Green People: organic sunblock containing none of the unrecommended chemicals mentioned above, as it is made with non-nano zinc and titanium oxide.
Bamboo toothbrush: with its fast growing pace, bamboo is a sustainable and versatile material which, once tried, will become part of your routine at home too!
Bio clothes wash: usually filled with problematic chemicals, clothes wash should be carefully chosen, especially if you plan on washing clothes in open water sources or streams. Regardless, it easily leaks into marine environments anyways via sewage systems.
Thank you for reading our first blog post, which you hopefully found interesting and educational. Keep an eye out for more over the next few days!
We hope that wherever you are traveling to, some of these ideas can inspire more environmentally aware holidays and expeditions.
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