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Integrating Community and Conservation on Floreana

Floreana Project Facilitator Gloria Salvador shares how Floreana Island residents have found ways to integrate community and conservation and uphold their deepest values in the face of change.

By: Gloria Salvador

The Galápagos archipelago, also known as the Enchanted Island, received its nickname from the stories wrapped around its natural and human history. Since its discovery in the XVI century, the islands have been used as a refuge for pirates, a source of food and shelter for whalers, inspiration for scientists, punishment for prisoners and political outcasts, a tactical place during war times, business opportunities for visionaries, and home for many people, including my own grandfather, who found in this isolated place the opportunity to build a “different life.”

The stories I have heard about the way of living in the Galápagos of middle century (1950) relay abundance in natural resources, seafood that you could catch on the coast, such as lobster, octopus and fish, fruit that could be collected on the highlands, rich soil for agriculture, livestock that used to run free on the land that now belongs to the National Park, and a lot of joy and freedom for the people that choose to live here. Please don’t get me wrong–the life, as idyllic as it may seem, required a lot of effort given that services such as healthcare, education, transportation, and all the amenities of the modern life found on the mainland were nonexistent in Galápagos at the time.

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Jumping into Floreana’s waters. Credit: Yajaira Altamirano

I myself witnessed some of that life. What I most remember is the life in community; everybody knew each other–probably a dozen blocks constituted the town of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island, and reciprocity and collaboration were implicit values in every human being.

Much has changed since then: the opening of Galápagos to the world, the constitution of the National Park, the boom of tourism, immigration, population growth, implementation of goods and services to supply the demand of the people living and visiting the archipelago, and more. These transformations have brought us to a different style of life, at least on Santa Cruz Island. We don’t know everybody anymore and living in community has a different meaning now.

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Santa Cruz Island. Credit: David Acosta

Hopefully for myself and the world, not all the populated islands in the Galápagos are headed onto this path. Floreana was the first island colonized in the archipelago at the beginning of the XIX century, but for various reasons, including limited resources such as water, connectivity between the islands, or infrastructure, this island didn’t develop at the same rate as the others; thus it retains the ambiance that once was pervasively experienced as the Galápagos’ way of living.

Floreana is a little town that bustles on the coast. Approximately 150 people comprise its population; productive activities include farming, public services, and tourism. Given that few people live on the island, it is no surprise that the same person who runs a restaurant may also work in a governmental institution, and also grow the food that is consumed locally. All of the members of the community depend on one another.

These activities may seem ordinary, but on Floreana, a unique context changes their significance. Due to the minimal fluctuation of products that are exported/imported to and from the island, residents rely on the products they grow and collect. Chicken, fish, seafood, pigs, cows, fruits, yucca, and a few vegetables are the primary products consumed by locals. Only one small store with basic products supplies the entire town, and four restaurants take care of visitors. That said, if you plan to visit the island on your own, as soon as you arrive, it is advised to arrange your meals in advance. If you don’t, nobody can promise that meals will be prepared or restaurants will be open. However, if you take care to arrange for your meals in advance, you will enjoy exquisite local cuisine.

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Lobster dinner on Floreana. Credit: David Acosta

Besides its self-sufficiency and strong sense of community, what makes this island so special? Unlike the other populated islands of the Galápagos, the people living on Floreana have resisted the developmental changes that confronted the archipelago. Floreana’s residents actively participate in social and economic development.

The model of tourism established in the 1970s resulted in the loosely moderated influx of tourists visiting to see wildlife and prominent sites. This is a model that was not compatible with the “Floreanenses” ways of life. In the name of conservation, locals have restrictions for island access as well as limitations in the way they can carry out daily life.

Through a persistent process of open dialogue and discussion leading to consensus among society and administrative governmental institutions, the Floreanenses achieved the implementation of a new model of tourism called “community tourism.”

The community tourism model is designed such that the income generated by tourism is equally distributed to all the participating businesses. Visitors to Floreana have to rotate throughout the hotels, restaurants, and transportation providers. At the same time, the services provided to tourists require the provision of goods and work labor that locals contribute to.

Another feature that distinguishes Floreana is its integration of environment and community. Social empowerment, active community member participation, and decision making are changing the course of the way conservation is conducted on the islands. Historically, many local and external institutions have worked together to protect the unique flora and fauna of the archipelago, but few have worked to take care of the community living here. Despite all the efforts to preserve the natural habitats of the archipelago, conservation cannot be achieved without the involvement of the people living on the islands.

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Critically Endangered Floreana Mockingbird. Credit: Bill Weir

Floreana, as many islands around the world, has suffered from external impacts that have altered its ecological equilibrium. Rats and other invasive predators introduced to the island have brought species to extinction and continue to harm the native and endemic species of the island. This problem hasn’t affected not only the natural ecosystems, but also human wellbeing through impacts to crops and human health. Invasive species put the hard-earned independence and sustainability of the local community at risk.

However, change is possible. Island Conservation, along with partners, is working to remove invasive species from Floreana to benefit the native ecosystem and local community. Not only will conservation intervention support the reintroduction of native species to the island, but it will also protect Floreana’s independence and productivity. Floreana represents an opportunity for conservation to make a difference in ecological integrity as well as human well-being.

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Aerial view of Floreana. Credit: David Acosta

Featured photo: Floreana. Credit: David Acosta
Versión en Español/Spanish transcript

About Gloria Salvador

Gloria is a geographer who graduated from the Catholic University of Quito, Ecuador, and recently finished her masters in social and environmental studies. She has been working in the Galápagos archipelago for many years; in fact, her first experience was as a tour guide. As a resident of the Galápagos Islands, she has always been involved with the environmental issues of the archipelago. One of her personal goals is to support local communities to improve their quality of life according to the environmental conditions of the islands. During her free time, she loves to cook for family and friends.

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