Profiles in Sustainable Development Partnerships:
The Rainforest Alliance, Conservación y Desarrollo and Ecoventura working to protect ecosystems and improve quality-of-life in a world-famous archipelago
Known for their stunning beauty, plant and animal species found nowhere else on Earth, their remarkable wealth of marine resources, and as the birthplace to Charles Darwin’s evolution theory, the Galapagos Islands are also an increasingly popular tourist destination. Lying 600 miles west of Ecuador, the Galapagos are a huge boost to this South American country’s economy, as tourism brings in millions of dollars annually.
But in the Galapagos, as everywhere else on Earth, tourism often has a less than desirable impact on the environment and local cultures. Its infrastructure – hotels, roads, parking lots, trails, restaurants, and other services – can create waste, destroy habitat, and displace local residents and wildlife. Success and profit breed more development, which can quickly overwhelm vulnerable natural areas. Improperly managed tourism contributes to pollution and erosion, disturbs wildlife, tramples delicate plants, mars scenery, and brings unwelcome influences to once isolated cultures.
There are many threats to the delicate ecosystems of the Galapagos, including illegal fishing and the introduction of alien species that harm the defenseless and endangered island wildlife. Tourism in the Galapagos grew from 46,000 visitors in 1994 to 60,000 in 2000, so it’s crucial that this economically important industry be very carefully managed. A Local and International Partnership Sets Sail In order to bring sustainability to tourism in the Galapagos, the Ecuadorian conservation group Conservación y Desarrollo (CyD) is working with the Rainforest Alliance, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting endangered ecosystems and the people and wildlife that live within them. With a group of advisors, the Rainforest Alliance and CyD have developed standards for environmentally and socially sound travel and piloted a certification program that provides participating tour boats that operate in the Galapagos with a “green seal of approval” called SmartVoyager.
Boats enrolled in the SmartVoyager program already are making significant environmental and social changes based on the certification guidelines (see below). Key changes include careful fuel management, a waste-disposal system that includes recycling, fresh water that is produced onboard, and training and health benefits for employees.
The Rainforest Alliance and CyD invited Galapagos boat operators, the local community, environmental groups, and government officials to participate in the development of the SmartVoyager standards. After learning how the program works, Ecoventura expressed interest in becoming certified. Rainforest Alliance and CyD certifiers visited the Ecoventura yachts numerous times and prepared detailed reports with recommendations on specific conditions they needed to meet in order to obtain a SmartVoyager certification.
While already in compliance with some of the standards established by the program, Ecoventura upgraded their practices to meet most of the other principles and follow these important criteria for sustainable tourism:
- Only lead-free and TBT-free paint is used.
- Only biodegradable soaps, detergents and shampoo are used.
- A waste disposal system that includes recycling has been adopted.
- Fresh water is produced on board with a desalinization plant.
- Four-stroke engines — which are 70 percent quieter, emit virtually no fumes, and use 50 percent less fuel — have replaced two-stroke outboard motors on dinghies.
- Black and gray wastewater is treated through aerobic decomposition. All residual water is filtered and purified with ozone before being discharged into the sea.
- All supplies are strictly managed to minimize the transport and/or introduction of foreign plant and animal species to the islands.
- The loading and storage of fuels are carefully managed to minimize the risk of spills or leaks.
- Employees receive such benefits as advanced training, improved living quarters for crew, and health care.
At a ceremony held on December 14, 2000, in Guayaquil, Ecuador, the Rainforest Alliance and CyD awarded SmartVoyager certification to five of the vessels operating in the Galapagos.
Having fulfilled at least 80 percent of the rigorous certification requirements, Ecoventura’s M/V Corinthian, M/Y Eric, M/Y Flamingo, M/Y Letty and Canodros’s Galapagos Explorer II are now displaying the SmartVoyager seal of approval on their boats. Each boat carries 16 passengers or more.
The Rainforest Alliance and CyD will audit these boats every year, as well as make unannounced visits, to ensure that they continue to make improvements and comply with the requirements of the certification program. Responding to eco-minded tourists who want to visit the Galapagos Islands without damaging the world-famous National Park, a program was developed by the Rainforest Alliance and the CCD (Corporation for Conservation and Development), an Ecuadorian conservation group, to certify tour boats in the Galapagos Islands.
This ecological certification or “green seal of approval” gives passengers the assurance that they are traveling with an operator who cares about the conservation of the islands and has taken every measure to ensure that passengers enjoy a safe, memorable, educational, mind-expanding and thrilling adventure without harming the wildlife or this special environment.
SMART VOYAGER Ecological Certification: