Sunday, March 7, 2010

Undersea Explorer - Part III: The Galapagos

In 1997, The Best of Undersea Explorer traveled to the Galapagos Islands to film for a paltry 7 days. This island chain is located in the Pacific Ocean near the equator, roughly 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. It is famous for being where Charles Darwin had a fire lit under his hindquarters while carrying out his work as a naturalist aboard The Beagle; one of the islands even now bears his name. In the documentary, there are only snapshots of the diversity in the area, but I was shocked and excited to learn the crew saw at least one whale shark... on EVERY ONE of their 10 dives!

Since this piece is 13 years old and there have been many changes to the area, instead of a film synopsis, I'd rather bring up some issues regarding this mysterious place and its heritage.

RATING: ~~~ (3 out of 5 waves) totally worth watching; it would get more waves if it were more recent or perhaps a longer documentary... allowing for more coverage

1/3 of the species found on the Galapagos Islands are endemic (i.e. they are not found anywhere else in the world). This makes the area invaluable as its own independent biosphere and pristine ecosystem... well, in theory. The animals coating the island chain and the surrounding waters show no fear of humans since there are no large predators; this makes for an amazing scientific and eco-tourist hot spot. But having said that - human interference and habitation of the islands, whether temporarily or permanently, is having profound effects. Initially, this influence was purely negative, and only in recent years (in relation to the Galapagos' ancient history) has that impact started turning around for the positive. Our very presence is hurting the ecosystem. So I pose these questions...
  • Should anyone be allowed to see the area at all? Is is fair to only allow scientists or a select few with the money partake in such a priceless area? But, is it right to let the tourist industry run amok and allow humans to trample the area like a hoard of army ants?
  • Since Ecuador is such a poor country, all the protection issued as a sanctuary and international treasure is basically followed by those who choose to uphold those laws - there is no one to enforce it. Maybe the tourist industry should have to pay to have guards permanently available to patrol and protect? I'm certain the list of interns willing to spend a summer in the area for food and shelter would quickly have a long wait time, permitting the industry to be picky when choosing with whom to share such a privilege.
  • So, if this untouched biotic paradise exists in the middle of the Pacific, is it realistic to believe there are yet more unspoiled treasures out there? We have supposedly mapped the entire planet, but with the vastness of the oceans, is that a realistic assumption?
I have omitted a discussion on Darwin himself because THAT will be a topic all on its own for another day. To delve into the man's history and reasoning deserves more time and the proper attitude. But there is a mass of people who simply condemn the man and his work for all the wrong, close-minded reasons. When diving into this subject, you might learn a few things.
HINT: Darwin was a Christian, and evolution is scientifically considered FACT, not theory.

With all this said and done, traveling to the Galapagos Islands remains a personal goal I have harbored since I was just a kid and saw my first giant tortoise. Put it on my "bucket list" right next to the Great Barrier Reef.

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