On Peace Boat’s 101st voyage, 28 participants disembarked from the ship in Ponta Delgada, Portugal and traveled to Ecuador on an overland tour to join the Galápagos Forest Revitalization Project. As a committed campaigner for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), numerous Peace Boat tours are developed with the SDGs in mind. The focus of this programme in particular was Goal 14 “Life below water,” and Goal 15 “Life on land.”
The Galápagos Islands are an archipelago located approximately 1000km west of continental Ecuador, consisting of 19 main islands and scores of islets and rocks. The extreme isolated environment of these island has resulted in the unique evolution of animal and plant life which famously inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.
The Galápagos giant tortoise is the world's largest living species of tortoise.
As such, the first stop on our itinerary was the Charles Darwin Research Station. The station serves as the headquarters for the Charles Darwin Foundation and is the center of research and wildlife conservation in the Galápagos. Sadly, many species unique to the islands have historically been hunted to the point of extinction, which is why research centers such as these play a vital role in protecting animals unique to the islands, such as the giant tortoise. On our visit to their facilities, participants had a chance to visit the station’s resident baby giant tortoises, growing healthily under the researchers’ watchful eye.
Peace Boat participants enjoy the company of giant tortoises while planting trees
The next day, staff from the Galápagos National Park (Parque Nacional Galápagos) and local high school students teamed up with participants for a day of tree planting. Over the course of the day, we successfully planted approximately 200 native trees such as scalesia, cafetillo, and guayabillo, across Rancho Primicias and the Galápagos National Park; known habitats of the giant tortoise.
“While many visit the Galápagos Islands, few organizations actually take the time to help plant trees on their visits. And of those organizations, Peace Boat is the only one that consistently visits to help with our planting efforts,” shared one local staff member, pointing out some of the trees planted by previous Peace Boat visitors growing tall and healthily in Rancho Primicias.
As night fell, we had a chance to spend more time with the local high school students, who had prepared traditional dance performances and meals for us. The food was prepared by students attending the local culinary school, and as we enjoyed sharing stories, they revealed that the majority of students go on to work in the tourism industry after graduation. Participants and students went on to share their opinions on tourism and conservation efforts in the Galápagos.
“There have always been giant tortoises here, ever since I was a little. I took the nature on the Galápagos for granted, and even now, it doesn’t feel like this environment in endangered. But seeing so many people visiting us from faraway places like Japan made me realize how valuable and precious our islands are,” said one student.
Peace Boat participants also shared their thoughts on the days activities. “I am grateful to the students for joining us despite it being their holiday season. It was interesting to learn that their school had courses like cooking and art, and that they could choose their focus according to what they wanted to learn. When I was a student, we never had the choice to learn things like international exchange and community engagement in our classes, so it was refreshing to speak to such promising young students.” On that note, a long but gratifying day packed with tree-planting, new experiences, and stimulating conversations finally came to a close.
Blue-footed boobies are known for their bright blue feet and unique mating rituals.
On our third day, we headed to North Seymour island to learn more about the wildlife on the islands. On the Galápagos, certified naturalist guides accompany visitors to maintain and protect the wildlife and vegetation. With naturalist guides each leading a group of participants, we started our walking tour around the island.
On our first stop, we paid a visit to an area of the island that could only be described as a wildlife paradise. Some of the lucky groups got a chance to see blue-footed boobies and their unique mating dance. To our surprise, we even had some Galápagos sea lions swim playfully towards us, curious and seemingly unafraid of humans.
Wild Galápagos sea lions join Peace Boat participants for a swim
Witnessing the beautiful natural wonders of the islands, and meeting the passionate local people working tirelessly to preserve this one-of-a-kind environment forced us to think about our impact on the island as visitors. Tourism continues to be a significant cause of environmental degradation around the world, lending to the opinion that the very act of setting foot on these islands may be detrimental to the wildlife we yearn to see. Yet, experiencing and seeing the Galápagos with our own eyes is what has also compelled us to learn, care, and strive to protect the wildlife we’ve come to love.
Humans have pushed many endemic species on the Galápagos to the brink of extinction, and it is our responsibility to be part of the solution. The journey to recovering the nature we’ve destroyed is a long and arduous one—but we hope that projects such as the Galápagos Forest Revitalization Project can help build awareness, spark action, and contribute to local conservation efforts for voyages to come.