Paradox of Ecotourism

Commentary by Paul Watson
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Former Newfoundland Member of Parliament, Richard Cashin, said back in 1980 that tourism is a form of whorism.

Now Cashin was no friend of the environment and he was referring to calls to replace seal killing with seal watching.

In fact it was the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) appearing before the Royal Commission on Seals and Sealing in Canada that called for seal watching to be promoted as an alternative to sealing.

Unfortunately, although there is now a tourist industry based on seal watching, it has not deterred the killing of seals. Instead some tour operators actual defend the seal hunt to the people they take out to the ice to pose with the seals.

The same holds true for Norway, where whale watchers are often treated to a whale meat dinner after spending the day observing whales in the wild. The industry actually thinks it is funny that they actually named one of the dishes Whale ala Watson in my honor.

So in a way Cashin was partially right. Those who make money off of ecotourism are often quite willing to compromise or turn a blind eye to threats that in the long run will diminish the raison d'etre for ecotourism. Little thought is given to the long term vision for the future and all efforts instead are directed instead towards the realization of short term profits.

And so we now have the ugly situation in the Galapagos, where the President of Ecuador has appointed a pro-fishing, anti-conservation director for the Galapagos National Park. He has fired Edwin Naula, a committed and courageous champion of conservation, and replaced him with a political appointmentee who will allow the illegal exploitation of the Galapagos to continue.

In response to this, the SSCS has called for a boycott of tourism to the Galapagos.

We knew that in doing so we would make many people angry, especially people in the Galapagos tourism industry.

But they must realize that they not only have a responsibility to protect the Galapagos, they also have an obligation.

The appointment of Senor Fausto Cepeda, as pretender to the position of the Galapagos National Park Director, is a turning point for conservation in the park. This man arrived at the Park on September 22nd in the company of fishermen, and when striking park rangers refused to let him enter the building, his fishermen supporters attacked and injured ten park rangers.

The fishermen have been getting their way for years now by utilizing violence, threats and intimidation to expand their influence, and the Ecuadorian government has bowed each time to these violent efforts.

If fishing is a secondary industry in the Galapagos compared to tourism, where is the voice of the tourist industry?

The answer is business as usual. Yes, there are exceptions. The Aggressor Diving Company has taken direct action against poachers and Scuba Iguana Dive Tours has been very outspoken in opposition to illegal activities. But for the most part, the industry has been content to ferry tourist out to the sites for profit, very little of which goes back to the park.

Last year over 95,000 people visited the Galapagos. Each paid a $100 conservation fee to enter the park. After a percentage is paid to the Navy and to the community, less than 50% is left for the park. Out of that, the Park must pay for the fuel for the naval vessels that "patrol" the park and do nothing. Last year families of naval officers were treated to an excursion around the island and the park had to foot the bill for the fuel to entertain the wives and children of the officers.

The Park can barely afford to maintain its equipment or meet its payroll for rangers and staff.

Meanwhile the tourist industry has raked in the dollars and most of it goes off island to the mainland.

It is a disgrace.

Perhaps things would be different if the tour operators were besieging the park headquarters with clubs and Molotov cocktails like the fishermen. Perhaps then they would be listened to.

The SSCS does not of course expect the tour operators to be as ignorant and as violent as the thugs, who call themselves fishermen, but we do expect them to be more aggressive in their demands on the Ecuadorian government to bring stability and protection to the National Park.

Therefore, the SSCS is appealing to tourist directly to be responsible and let it be known that as responsible travelers they do not wish to ignore the assault on the Galapagos by simply paying to see the diminishing marine reserve without protest.

There is only one language understood by government, and that is the language of finance - of profit and loss.

The tourist industry brings more revenue into the Galapagos and Ecuador than fishing, much more.

Yet the government is intent upon killing the goose that lays the golden egg because governments do not usually concern themselves with the future, governments are primary concerned with getting re-elected, for that is only necessary looking a head a few years.

President Lucio Gutierrez is in political trouble and he needs the support of the fishermen and he appears to be quite willing to sacrifice the Galapagos to get this support.

People from around the world need to speak up. The Galapagos is a world heritage site and this means that people of all nationalities have a responsibility to protect these enchanted islands.

Ecuador can only understand the impact of continued diminishment of the Galapagos by feeling the economical consequences now and that can only be done by a boycott by tourist of the Galapagos.

Therefore, the SSCS is calling on divers, birdwatchers, naturalists and travelers everywhere to cancel plans to visit the Galapagos until Edwin Naula is reinstated to the position of Galapagos National Park Director.

If you care about the future of the Galapagos, let the government of Ecuador know just what the consequences of the collapse of tourism will be. Let them know now with a tourist strike rather than later when the peaceful place will rendered unfit for tourism because of ruthless exploitation by unscrupulous fishing concerns.

Earlier today, September 23rd, SSCS received an email from six members of the tourism sector demanding that we desist from our call for a boycott and issue a formal apology to the Ecuadorian tourist sector. They denounced our statement that they have been very silent about what has been happening in the Park and listed what they have done to date. They also disagreed with our motives for calling for a boycott. They ended their email by threatening to request that the Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador initiate a claim for damages against us if our call for a boycott causes detriment to the tourism business and harms the image of their country.

The SSCS's answer to the Galapagos tourist association is that they have the power to demand the President of Ecuador stabilize the situation in the Galapagos and reinstate Edwin Naula. If they do not exercise this power they are betraying the Galapagos and the future of their own industry.

The SSCS is not interested in destroying the tourist industry in the Galapagos- we are interested in saving it. And if that means taking a position that is unpopular, then so be it.

The SSCS is urging people all over the world to write to:

Presidente Lucio Gutiérrez
Palacio de Gobierno
Garcia Moreno 1043
Quito, Ecuador

Fax: (593 2) 580-735
Fabián Valdivieso Eguiguren
Minister of the Environment
Avenue Eloy Alfaro and Amazon
Quito, Ecuador

Telephone(s): (593 2) 2563429 or 2563430

Gladys Eljuri De Alvarez
Minister of Tourism of Ecuador
Eloy Alfaro N32-300 Carlos Tobar
Quito, Ecuador

Telephone(s): (593 2) 2507559 or 2507560 or 2228304 or 2228305
Fax: (593 2) 2229330