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Charles S. Fisher
- Published on Amazon.com
and he is us." Pogo, 1952. Carol Ann has written a beautiful but sad book. Maybe it is human nature, maybe corruption of underdevelopment, maybe the inevitable clash between parks, poor people, religious fanatics, big business, bureaucracy, tourism, science, and preservation. This is a book about people. Other books on the Galapagos focus on the local abundance of its unique environment, its extreme weather, odd species, friendly animals, or the Galapagos as a stage for the ideas of evolution. In contrast the author takes us on a tour of the people who live in the Galapagos and their differing relationships to that environment. This has been a missing ingredient in Galapagos literature. And Carol Ann fills the gap in the language of a poet.
She paints a convincing picture that the Galapagos stand at a crossroads of degradation, overdevelopment, and disneyfication versus some kind of use that will both sustain some people who live there, preserve its unique living environment, and make it available for both scientists studying it and outsiders who come to learn its special lessons. In whichever of these scenarios unfolds, the people now there to whom she introduces us will play a leading role.
One of the themes that the author repeats is that education is an important solution. If the recent Ecuadorian migrants---presumably poor people (many of whom are illegal)---, who come from the underdeveloped mainland for economic opportunity, only better understood the evolutionary nature of the islands, they would not so abuse the resources. Some are Evangelicos, converted Protestants, and employed by the Park as guides. These are ideologically opposed to the ideas of evolution. Others along with old-timers, who lived off the immense profits of now fished out sea cucumbers, feel entitled to harvest what may have once enriched them. They now have to keep fishing or harvesting endangered species in order to sustain their families, and anyone denies them access is the enemy. And corruption enters. A law meant to support locals is subverted. Fishermen riot to do as they wish and get away with it. Large tour operators have access to government higher ups and flout regulations. The park responding to pressure recruits improperly trained fishermen as guides. The park has insufficient resources to patrol for longline poachers and uses the Sea Shepard Society---eco pirates--to help until politics intervenes. The Ecuadorian navy itself poaches. If the older generation is resistant then their children may be educated to understand the uniqueness of where they live. They are a hope of the future.
What a mess. But there are heroes on the other side. Carol Ann gives us attractive sketches of biologists, knowledgeable guides, photographers dive masters, and old timers who really care about preserving the Galapagos. The pictures she draws are much more likeable than those of Edward Hoagland renown caricaturist of the New Yorker whose verbal images often had demeaning twists. She acknowledges her subjects' human foibles but brings their humanity and caring alive. While some of these heroes are pessimistic about the future of the Galapagos, others are not only hopeful but dedicated in the face of what might seem overwhelming odds of overpopulation, corruption, and economic pressure.
Carol Ann has done a service in writing this book. We can romanticize about the pristine nature of the Galapagos and visit them for our own pleasure and edification, but like her we now understand how tentative those privileges are. Lonesome George, the last of his kind, is a metaphor. May those who keep fighting for the Galapagos have offspring. Carol Ann's volume is one such. Thank you.
Charlie Fisher Emeritus Professor and author of Dismantling Discontent: Buddha's Way Through Darwin's World