The Conservationists

The Conservationists

From Oxford, Pete, and Graham Watkins. Galapagos: Both Sides of the Coin. Morgansville: Imagine Publishing, 2009. Print. Available for purchase in our online store.

1935 was an important year for Galapagos because it marked the centenary of Darwin’s visit to the islands. The increased attention focused on the Galapagos Islands, through numerous private and scientific trips, led to the first steps towards conserving the islands.

In the 1930s, leaders from the American Committee for International Wild Life, the Carnegie Institution, the British Museum, and the California Academy of Sciences began to express concern about the future of the islands. This initial concern led the government of Ecuador to adopt Executive Decree 607 in 1934, protecting key species, regulating collections, and controlling visiting yachts. A 1936 US Tariff Act and Customs Order backed this law by mandating confiscation of all Galapagos fauna taken in violation of Ecuadorian law.

Dr. Irenaus Eibl-Eibesfeldt

Victor Wolfgang von Hagen led an expedition to Galapagos in 1935 to mark the centenary of the Beagle’s visit and erected a bust of Darwin on San Cristobal. One of von Hagen’s objectives was to establish a scientific research station and to mobilize scientists in Ecuador, the US, and Europe to conserve Galapagos. In 1936, through Supreme Decree 31, the Ecuadorian government declared the Galapagos Islands a national reserve and established a national Scientific Commission to design strategies for the conservation of the islands.

In the early 1950s, two vocal proponents of Galapagos conservation—Irenaus Eibl-Eibesfeldt and Robert Bowman—lobbied the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to examine the situation in the islands. With the support of the IUCN and UNESCO, they returned to the islands in 1957 for a four-month expedition financed, in part, by Life Magazine, the International Council for Bird Preservation, the University of California and the New York Zoological Society. They presented their reports to UNESCO and to the 1958 International Congress of Zoology in London. These reports recommended immediate action to protect endangered species, such as tortoises and iguanas, to deal with invasive species, to regulate tuna fisheries, and to establish a research station. The Congress unanimously supported the proposal.

Dr. Robert Bowman

In the late 1950s, a formidable lineup of scientists and conservationists set to work with the government of Ecuador to turn around the situation in Galapagos. The team included Julian Huxley of UNESCO, Peter Scott of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Victor Van Straelen and Marguerite Caram of IUCN, Dillon Ripley and Jean Delacour of the International Council for Bird Preservation, Harold Coolidge of the IUCN Commission on National Parks, Misael Acosta-Solis of the Central University of Quito, Kai Curry-Lindahl of the Nordic Museum, and Jean Dorst of the Paris Natural History Museum. On June 15, 1959, the Ecuadorian government passed a new law making all of the Galapagos Islands a national park, except for those areas owned by existing colonists. The new law also banned the capture of species, such as iguanas and tortoises, and made the port captains the authority for implementing the new rules.

On July 23, 1959, the group established, under Belgian Law, the Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands, with Victor Van Straelen as its first president. In 1960, with support from UNESCO, WWF, the New York Zoological Society, and other organizations, the Foundation began to work in Galapagos through the Charles Darwin Research Station. The first activities of the Station addressed education, invasive species, and endangered species issues identified by the Bowman and Eibl-Eibesfeldt reports. Galapagos resident Miguel Castro became the Station’s first conservation officer, initiating activities to change the ways in which people viewed conservation. In 1961, the Research Station began work on invasive species, removing goats from Plaza Sur Island.

In 1966, an analysis of the Galapagos situation—the Snow and Grimwood Report—recommended that the Government establish a National Park Service and, in 1968, the Government of Ecuador appointed the first two park conservation officers, Juan Black and Jose Villa. In 1969, Ministerial Accord 690A defined the borders of the National Park, leaving about three percent of the land area in the hands of colonists. The same accord legalized the National Park Service as an organization for control of conservation. In 1972, the government appointed the first park superintendent—Jaime Torres—and constructed the first National Park buildings. By 1973, there were 18 staff under a legally-established structure. With support from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the government of Ecuador published the first National Park Master Plan in 1974.

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