by Jose Guerrero Vela
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
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).
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 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.
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.