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Are we loving the Galápagos Islands to death?

Melanie Stetson Freeman

(Read caption) Tourists walk along a trail on Plaza Sur.

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Although many online readers don't realize it, when the Monitor ceased daily print publication, it didn't go online exclusively. Our publications now include a weekly print paper that looks much like a news magazine. In the April 19 edition, arriving in subscribers' mailboxes this week, is an important cover story on the Galápagos Islands.

Written by Sara Miller Llana and Moises Velasquez-Manoff and richly photographed by Melanie Stetson Freeman, it focuses on conservation efforts being undertaken to restore the ecosystem of one of the most biologically unique places on Earth.

For a sneak preview, see Melanie's video with this post, “Are we loving the Galápagos to death?"

As noted in the video and the article, tourism and immigration have both had a negative impact on the archipelago's environment. I asked Melanie to tell her about her personal experience in the Galápagos:

This wasn't her first trip, she says. "I had been there 18 years earlier for a story for The CSM on whether tourism was helping or hurting the islands. We concluded then that it was helping – but that it couldn’t grow too much or it would start to hurt the place. Also, people were moving over from the mainland to make money off tourism -- and that could quickly become a problem.

"I don’t know the numbers from back then," she says, "but now there are 170,000 tourists yearly, and I can say that it saddened me to see how changed it was – fewer animals, a lot more evidence of tourists being on the islands, a way bigger city.

"I shot still photos to accompany the article and video for online. I decided to do my multimedia on the human presence on the islands – both tourist and resident – because people don’t seem to realize how many visit – and that people actually live on the islands. There are 24,000 in the biggest city, which seems to shock people. Most people think no one lives there.

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