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January 2007 Vol. 33, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Serious New Regulations in the Galapagos Islands

from the January, 2007 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

The Galapagos have become a very popular destination for divers wanting big fish action. All the boats are selling out months in advance. The number of tourists has skyrocketed to nearly 100,000 per year, as many as 20,000 of whom are divers.

This increase in visitors creates pressure on both the Galapagos’ land visitation areas and the dive sites. So the Galapagos National Park (GNP) is implementing new rules to reduce the pressure any one tourist creates on Galapagos’ ecosystems. The GNP owns and controls the Galapagos so when it makes a rule, it takes effect immediately. This year, the GNP issued a rule that there must be two divemasters on every dive outing. And, they also began managing itineraries. By altering the boats’ itineraries, the GNP is able to spread them around the archipelago, thus reducing the impact on heavily visited locations. Therefore all yachts in Galapagos must follow their standard itineraries every week. Here are other potential changes:

No more diving on naturalist trips. Many of the naturalist boats offer occasional diving on their tours. “It used to be that one out of 100 trips were to be for diving, but I’m guessing now that 20 to 30 percent of all trips are dive trips,” said Marc Bernardi, owner of Aquatic Encounters, which runs the Reina Silvia on seven-night dive trips in the Galapagos. There is much concern that many of these new dive operators aren’t very experienced.

No more ten-night dive itineraries starting in 2008. In the past, passengers on ten-night dive trips did a lot of diving and quite a few land visits, too. That meant each individual on one of these trips created more dive pressure than any one individual on a seven-night dive trip, plus the same amount of pressure on the land as a second person on a naturalist trip.

While his boat doesn’t do 10-day trips, Bernardi also says it’s a good idea to limit the number of days per trip. “Right now, all the ten-day trips go to Darwin and Wolf islands and spend most of their time there, which makes too much of an impact on the marine life.” But if boats are limited to seven-day itineraries, Bernardi is in favor of limiting the number of boats at Wolf and Darwin to three at a time. “Too many people diving at once would ruin the islands. The whale sharks would be touched too much, so they’d leave. Plus, everyone and their brother would be running a dive trip there, smashing into each other, and that would not be good for the environment.”

Potential limits to land excursions and night diving. Now that naturalist boats may no longer be allowed to offer occasional diving, the owners of these vessels are pushing the GNP to tell the dive boats that they are no longer allowed to do any land excursions at all. Most of the dive yachts’ owners do not think that this will happen, although it is possible that the land visitation sites they will be allowed to visit will be limited. Right now, all the dive yachts are offering a limited number of land excursions on their trips. This could change at any time without notice. Land excursions never have been and never will be allowed on either Darwin Island or Wolf Island. If these additional restrictions pass, divers will be sorely cheated of all the Galapagos wonders, said Bernardi. “If you’re only allowed to go up to Darwin and Wolf, to dive, you’d get a lot of diving, but you’d miss out on all the animals on land that the Galapagos have to offer. That wouldn’t be such a great trip for the customer.”

Also, the GNP is currently considering a proposal that would ban night diving. Night diving in Galapagos has always been the exception rather than the rule. On most nights, the yachts are either navigating or else there are no nearby areas safe for night diving. The Sky Dancer and Deep Blue still will occasionally offer night dives. The Galapagos Aggressor is no longer offering night dives on any of its trips.

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