Can “Pachamama rights” be translated into a harmonic relationship between sea lions and human communities in the Galapagos Islands?

by Jose Guerrero Vela
People and sea lions, a daily scene at San Cristobal Island Pier – Source: Galapagos National Park  Service 2014

People and sea lions, a daily scene at San Cristobal Island Pier – Source: Galapagos National Park Service 2014

San Cristobal, the capital of the Galapagos Islands, is the place that I am lucky to call home. San Cristobal is the main fisheries port in the Galapagos, and home of the Galapagos sea lions (Zalophus californianus, subspecies: wollebacki). This situation entails particular interactions and in some cases ‘wildlife conflicts’ (Distefano 2008, Denkinger 2013), like this testimony illustrates:

‘Sea lions are always sick with flu and conjunctivitis. That’s contagious for people, it can become into an epidemics for the people who are here in the Galapagos. That would be because of the sea lions that live here. So, couldn’t the sea lion be eradicated? …if we move the sea lions far to the other side of the island [where there is no human settlement], there will be more job opportunities for the local people as tourist will contract us to take them there to see the sea lions, there would be more job for the local transport sector’.
Galapagos fisherman, personal communication, 2012
Some local boat owners used to have barbed wire and nails to prevent sea lions to rest on their boats. Source: Galapagos National Park  Service 2014

Some local boat owners used to have barbed wire and nails to prevent sea lions to rest on their boats. Source: Galapagos National Park Service 2014

Wildlife conflicts are not a new phenomenon, and many cases such as orangutans, elephants or tigers , illustrates situations that emerge when human and wildlife requirements overlap (Distefano 2008). Judith Denkinger (2013) studied human perceptions about sea lions in the Galapagos and suggests that fishermen tend to express a relatively negative perception of sea lions in comparison to local people which works in the tourism sector and the remaining community. Reasons for this negative view are not only based to the perception that they ‘compete’ for the same resources, but also because sea lions might represent a symbol of a repressive and exclusionary social, political, and economic system (Denkinger 2013).

Human perception of different social sectors on Galápagos sea lions using positive (right) and  negative (left) classification  Source: Denkinger 2013

Human perception of different social sectors on Galápagos sea lions using positive (right) and negative (left) classification Source: Denkinger 2013

Good living futures?

Since the new development model of good living incorporated in the 2008 Ecuadorian constitution provides constitutional legal rights to Pachamama Mother Earth-, animals and plants have its own rights, at least in theory. However, a question remains whether “good living” is only a discursive tool functional to the State’s interests or if is it really contributing for a deeper ‘intercultural, inter-epistemic and pluri-national transformation’?(Walsh 2010, p.20). In the Galapagos, such transformation is more likely to occur if biodiversity conservation management reorients and compensate a history of exclusionary approaches to more participatory and effectively inclusive models.

Many initiatives are currently occurring which demonstrates that such participatory model is possible. For instance, marine recreational fishery can provide alternative economic income source and ensure fishermen well-being (Schubauer 2013, Usseglio 2013). Another good instance is citizen science where fishermen are involved in biodiversity research, by formulating questions, registering sea lions populations, analyzing such data and disseminating information. A participatory approach is also when children and young kids are involved in research, educational and scientific endeavors related with biodiversity (Usseglio 2013).

The Galapagos National Park service built two floating platforms in order to create resting spaces for sea lions. Source: Galapagos National Park  Service 2014

The Galapagos National Park service built two floating platforms in order to create resting spaces for sea lions. Source: Galapagos National Park Service 2014

The good living framework seeks ‘to achieve the attainment of the quality of life…in peace and harmony with nature’ (Walsh 2010). In that sense, Ecuador has a unique constitutional framework that creates a bridge between biodiversity conservation and social justice. Challenges are enormous if we want to bring this legal tool from theory to practice. The potential of interdisciplinary, inter-institutional and intercultural efforts to join social and economic justice, research and biodiversity conservation is one good option to bring healthier human-wildlife relationships. Therefore, I strongly believe that citizen empowerment of the good living framework can contribute in this process.

References

Denkinger, J., Quiroga, D., & Murillo, J. C. 2014, ‘Assessing Human–Wildlife Conflicts and Benefits of Galápagos Sea Lions on San Cristobal Island, Galápagos’, in Denkinger, Judith &Vinueza, Luis (eds.), The Galapagos Marine Reserve, pp. 285-30.

Galapagos National Park Service 2014, Alternativas de manejo de lobos marinos en Bahía Naufragio, San Cristobal (Sea Lions Management alternatives in http://www.galapagospark.org/nophprg.php?page=desarrollo_sustentable_lobos_marinos&set_lang=EN

Schuhbauer A, Koch V 2013, ‘Assessment of recreational fishery in the Galapagos Marine Reserve: failures and opportunities’, Fisheries Research, vol. 144, pp.103–110

Usseglio P, Schuhbauer A, Friedlander, A, ‘Collaborative Approach to Fisheries Management as a Way to Increase the Effectiveness of Future Regulations in the Galapagos Archipelago, in Denkinger, Judith & Vinueza, Luis (eds.), The Galapagos Marine Reserve, pp.187-202.

Walsh, C. 2010, ‘Development as Buen Vivir: Institutional arrangements and (de) colonial entanglements’, Development, vol.53, no.1, pp.15-21.

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About Biodiversity Conservation Blog

I am an Associate Professor at The Australian National University and convene a (very awesome) course called Biodiversity Conservation. Myself and students in the course contribute to this blog.
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3 Responses to Can “Pachamama rights” be translated into a harmonic relationship between sea lions and human communities in the Galapagos Islands?

  1. “Pachamama” is a very progressive concept, although, as we have discussed, it remains at odds with some activities in Ecuador that are very detrimental to the environment. Really enjoyed reading this and the beginning really drew me in. Phil

    • Jose Guerrero Vela says:

      Hi Phil, thanks for your comments. As you are aware, the environmental discourses are one thing, but the real world when economic and political forces are in play is much more complex. In Ecuador, important discursive changes have occurred, including this innovative approach of including Pachamama at a constitutional level. However, the process of changing our values, attitudes and practices is a challenging long term process. Martha Nussbaum says that the crisis that is likely to be, in the long run, far more damaging to the future of civilization, is a worldwide crisis in education. I take as the most positive outcome of this course the feeling that education combined with passion are key ingredients to increase our willingness to learn and think more critically, and to find creative ways of dealing with such wicked problems. You did a great job in that sense Phil ..thanks!
      pd. a reflection of education by Martha Nussbaum
      http://kulturaliberalna.pl/2009/06/08/nussbaum-the-silent-crisis/

  2. Pingback: Marking blogs is one of the great pleasures of being a lecturer in Biodiversity Conservation! | Biodiversity Conservation

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