Galapagos at the Crossroads (Book Review)

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Galapagos at the Crossroads is a decidedly different introduction to the Enchanted Isles. It is a must read for anyone interested in the recent human history of the island; how the varied and conflicted interests of different groups has impacted the islands.

The book is organized into several chapters which read like essays that cover overlapping periods of time from different perspectives. You can learn about the eradication of goats from Isabela Island by conservationists, fishing revolts that rocked paradise, and how creationism is alive and strong even in the cradle of evolution.

Here’s a little teaser about what I found most fascinating about each of these groups.

Galapagos Pirates

Galapagos-CrossroadsMany people know that pirates used to use the Galapagos Islands as a stopping point, taking giant tortoises for their meat. The less known story is the “Pirates of Villamil” – the recent and painful story of fishermen of Puerto Villamila (Isabela Island’s port town) and their conflicts with the National Park.

The fishermen of Puerto Villamil called themselves pirates, and viewed the National Park and conservationists as an enemy. In 2000, they were angry at limits that the Galapagos National Park had placed on quotas for lobsters.

Mobs of fishermen broke into park headquarters, setting fires and ransacking the place, destroying years of scientific data, and incubators containing baby giant tortoise eggs. They ransacked the house of the park director, and were only subdued by the police.

The quotas remained the same, and they got what they wanted. On nearby Santa Cruz Island, riots were disturbingly common; there were revolts in 1995, 1996, 1997, and 1999; in some cases the rioters slit the throat of giant tortoises in protest.

Biologists

There has been an amazing amount of research and work done by biologists and conservationists. Perhaps the most fascinating is the story of Judah’s Goats.

Goats were introduced to the islands as a source of meat, but many went feral and overran the islands, destroying vegetation and tortoise habitat. There were hundreds of thousands of goats on Isabela and Santiago Islands until the 90s when they began the ambitious eradication project. To eradicate the goats they brought in trained sharpshooters armed with semiautomatic weapons and shooting from helicopters.

The “Judas Goats” were goats specially equipped with radio-collars to give away their location. Since goats are social animals, the Judas Goats would allow the sharpshooters to find large herds.

Tourists

I found the book’s vision of tourism in the Galapagos in the future most fascinating. She writes about a workshop on the Galapagos attended by scholars and leaders of the Charles Darwin Foundation and National Park.

They foresaw three plausible futures for the islands:

  1. It remains with a population of 30-40,000 residents and a model of conservation.
  2. It turns more into a managed zoo or fantasy island, with 200-300,000 visitors annually.
  3. It becomes a beach-resort destination, with big hotel chains and millions of tourists annually.

Though they hope for the conservation scenario, the future of the Galapagos hasn’t been decided.

Creationists

The author of the book is rather shocked to find that creationism is common in the “cradle of evolution” and that many of the islanders, naturalist guides included, do not believe in evolution.

Naturalist guides who are creationists may simply not explain wildlife behavior in evolutionary terms; when asked directly about evolution they quote others. She visits Jehovah’s Witnesses on Santa Cruz Island and questions the National Park’s selection process for guides, which she argues, is more of a checklist of requirements.

Book Details

If you want to find the book and read it yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

  • Author: Carol Ann Bassett
  • Published: 2009, National Geographic
  • ISBN-10: 1426204027
  • ISBN-13: 978-1426204029

Have you read the book? Let us know what you thought in comments!

Meet the Author

Lisa Cho is an expat living in Ecuador, originally from San Francisco, California. She writes about the Galapagos Islands on this site and about her mainland Ecuador adventures on CuencaCultureShock.com

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