SPECIAL: Earth Day 2014

Today is Earth Day: a day dedicated to the environment. In 1970, the first Earth Day marked the birth of the environmental movement. Now, it has grown to be celebrated by a billion people across 192 countries. Although Earth Day brings attention to the environment and the natural world, we must remember that humans are very much a part of life on Earth. With more than half of the global human population living in cities, Earth Day 2014 is dedicated to green and sustainable cities, something which is of great relevance to the Galapagos Islands.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D806hNr-mrk]

Although 97% of the land in Galapagos is protected natural reserve, the urban presence of humans has an ever-increasing impact on the Archipelago. From a population of 2,000 in the late 1950’s, there are now approximately 30,000 inhabitants on the Islands. In addition, the park attracts around 200,000 tourists yearly and both of these figures are expected to continue rising. The pressure that this influx of human activity has placed on Galapagos is immense.

The construction, infrastructure growth and pollution that results from a rapid increase in human presence has the potential for serious negative impacts on both the islands’ fragile ecosystem and the people who live there. As such, sustainable development on the Islands has been the focus of several projects in recent years.

One such project is the Galapagos Sustainable Buildings Project; a collaborative effort between GCT, the Prince’s Foundation for Building Community (PFBC) and the Charles Darwin Foundation to improve the sustainability of both existing and future buildings in Galapagos. Waste-water treatment, solar panels, natural ventilation and rainwater collection are all features which can be retrofitted into existing buildings or included in the design of new buildings to improve their energy and water efficiency. Taking these into account, the PFBC have designed a number of exemplar houses for Galapagos which limit the buildings’ environmental impact. To learn more, visit the project site.

Another project is being undertaken by the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) and Toyota, who have been working together to focus on waste management in Galapagos. By 2020 they plan to implement an integrated waste management and recycling system on all of the Archipelago’s inhabited islands which will be another step in the right direction for a more sustainable Galapagos.

All these efforts are important, for they remind us that through sustainable practices we are helping to protect both the environment and ourselves. But, while this is happening thousands of kilometres away, you may be thinking “What can I do for Earth Day?”

The answers are numerous! You could make a donation, plant a tree, install solar panels on your roof, reduce your plastic footprint, help with outreach or even just talk to your friends about what this day means to you and why conservation is so important for life on Earth. One very important thing to remember is that even as today comes and goes we should continue playing our part to protect the planet. After all, as the Earth Day Network says, “Earth Day is every day”.

by Jose Hong