Galapagueno children and their dog enjoy the natural wonders of their surroundings. (Photo by Ilona Koren)
The Ecuadorian National Census of 2010 reports the Galapagos population at 25,124. 81% of the residents describe themselves as Mestizo, 7.5% as Native Indian (from the Ecuadorian mainland), 7.3% as Caucasian and 4.2% as African-Ecuadorian. Of those living permanently in Galapagos, 74% migrated from outside of the archipelago. Nearly 50% of these individuals report economic reasons as the driving force behind their relocation to Galapagos.
The human population in Galapagos is limited to 3% (100 square miles/236.5 km2) of the land area of the islands. Approximately 85% of the inhabitants live in the coastal villages of Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz (9,208), Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristóbal (5,539), Puerto Villamil, Isabela (1,570), and Puerto Velasco Ibarra, Floreana (109), with the remainder living in the rural portions of Santa Cruz, San Cristóbal, Isabela and Floreana. (See our Islands page for more information.)
The population has grown rapidly since the 1970s, driven by a rapidly growing tourism industry beginning in the mid 1970s and heavy government expenditures during Ecuador’s oil boom (1972-1983). Migration was fueled further by a weak economy in mainland Ecuador during the 1980s and 1990s and a boom in the sea cucumber fishery (1993-2000). From 1999 to 2005, the population in Galapagos grew by 60%. During much of the 80s and 90s, the population was increasing at more than 6% per year, compared to about 2% on the Ecuadorian mainland. This rate would double the population in Galapagos every 11 years. For more information, see Taylor (2006).
The Galapagos Special Law of 1998 laid out immigration protocols which sought to limit the size of the resident population. However, loopholes and incomplete and inconsistent implementation of the Law resulted in continued growth.
Uncontrolled immigration was among the 15 issues identified by the World Heritage Center and IUCN when it inscribed Galapagos on the list of World Heritage Sites in Danger in 2007. Subsequently, the Ecuadorian government under President Correa implemented a policy known as “Zero people on irregular status in Galapagos,” which involved the implementation of a system of Transit Control Cards for visitors, a more transparent process for granting permanent and temporary residency status, and penalties (such as a one-year ban from entering Galapagos) for those whose status in Galapagos is found to be “irregular.” In 2009, 263 irregular residents were returned to the mainland, 694 were informed of their irregular status, and 257 were banned from returning to Galapagos for a period of one year. For more information, see the complete 2010 report of the World Heritage Center/IUCN commission.
While progress is being made in the area of population control, it is generally believed that the pressure for more illegal and temporary immigrants to help serve the tourism sector will continue until tourism is better managed and more efforts are made to build the capacity of the local workforce.