Sustainability in the Galápagos: For Marine Iguanas and Much More Marine Life

The Galápagos Islands are home to one of the most important marine reserves on the planet, formally protected by law since 1998. In January 2022, the president of Ecuador announced an exciting 50 percent expansion of the reserve, which is expected to protect 40 percent of the world’s marine species, including marine iguanas.

Resident and naturalist Javier Chacón recalls childhood in the Galápagos Islands as “nature and you and nothing more than that.” Stunningly, this magical place has remained that way due to the tireless efforts of dedicated conservationists.

Conservation is in the DNA of these islands, which are home to incredible endemic species found nowhere else on earth, like marine iguanas — along with generations of humans who intend to keep it that way. Naturalist and guide Jeffo Márquez was born on the islands to researchers at the Charles Darwin Research Station and carries on their legacy of education and preservation.

Exploring Punta Espinoza in Fernandina Island./Lucia Griggi

Nature travel and what visitors can learn

According to Márquez, one of the best ways to teach visitors about conservation and sustainability is to expose them to the spectacular nature of the Galápagos, and how better to do that than to literally dive in? Deep-water snorkeling is just one of many immersive ways to discover the islands. While world-class snorkeling sites abound here, spots favored by those in the know might include sea lions, sea turtles and penguins in a single swim; not to mention thousands of fish and a catalog of eye-catching coral.

While Charles Darwin’s research first highlighted the importance of the Galápagos more than 160 years ago, it remains one of the most influential destinations in understanding animal behavior. To ensure this continues to be the case, maintaining sustainable practices is key. And we all have a role to play — for example, choosing to reduce our use of plastics, which makes a difference beyond our immediate location. The unofficial adage of the Galápagos reminds us of our shared responsibility: Take only memories and leave only footprints.

Naturalist guide Javier Cando in Punta Espinoza./Lucia Griggi

Ready to travel to the Galápagos? Read more about this fascinating place here.