Renowned as they are, there is still so much that remains little-known about the Galapagos Islands. Start with the fact that it wasn’t actually the Darwin finches that inspired Charles Darwin, but the mockingbirds. Equally, nearly anyone realizes just how large a contribution the international community — and in particular foreign visitors to Galapagos — have made to the conservation of these islands.
As Executive Director of the Charles Darwin Foundation, it’s not usually my business to review commercially published guide books about the Galapagos. This case, however, is different. Understanding Galapagos: What You’ll See and What it Means is a book that I not only immensely enjoyed myself, but which my position at the helm of the oldest and largest scientific organization operating in the Galapagos compels me to actively recommend.
I regularly remind even my own staff that 60–70% of the funding we receive to carry out science in the Galapagos Islands can be traced back to its visitors. Visitors to Galapagos are almost without exception astounded — not just by the wildlife of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, but also by the conservation success that has been achieved over the past decades. During their trips to Galapagos, visitors recognize that without the work of privately funded organizations like the Charles Darwin Foundation, Galapagos would no longer be one of the world’s most pristine tropical archipelagoes.
Telling the story of the daily efforts of those involved in protecting the Galapagos is just one of the many aspects where Understanding Galapagos hits the mark with factual, interesting, and relevant information. Equally importantly, it also excels at giving visitors the background information necessary to truly understand these islands. The book links science to what visitors get to see, and in that way it enhances the entire experience of the visit. Why do chicks of Nazca boobies kill their siblings? What’s the mystery of sexual dimorphism of frigate birds? What is the long-term outlook for the Islands given the ever-increasing tourism?
Authors Dr. Randy Moore and Dr. Sehoya Cotner are both scientists, but possibly more importantly, they have come to Galapagos for more than two decades to share their passion for these islands with students and other visitors. They know from experience what’s relevant for visitors, they have had access to a broad range of long-time residents of the islands to drill deeper into subjects about which much mis-information circulates, and they have clearly written this book as a work of love. The latter is evident by the fact that they chose to donate a part of the book’s royalties to Galapagos Conservancy.
Galapagos Conservancy (GC) is not just closely aligned with the Charles Darwin Foundation through being our single biggest funder, but it can also lay claim to being the single most successful private fundraising organization in the history of the Galapagos Islands. Randy and Sehoya know that by asking their readers to support GC, they help get urgently-needed funding into the hands of a team that has decades-long, deep understanding about the projects that need funding in the Islands. Galapagos Conservancy raises funds in the US using it’s 501(c)3 status, and the Charles Darwin Foundation deploys funds by operating the Charles Darwin Research Station and working with local partners such as the Galapagos National Park Directorate.
As Sir David Attenborough once said, “Without tourism, there would be no more Galapagos.” However, Galapagos also needs the right kind of tourism: visitors who are genuinely interested in the Islands, who are respectful of the Islands when they visit, and — ideally — who stay involved with the cause long after they have left.
Understanding Galapagos will help provide visitors with the best possible experience while they are in the Islands, while directly contributing to the conservation of Galapagos. What else would I need to make a heartfelt recommendation to purchase this book?
Swen Lorenz, Executive Director
Charles Darwin Foundation