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NATURE galapagos quest
GalapagosQuest is an interactive expedition developed by Classroom Connect that will take a team of scientists and explorers on a journey of discovery through the extraordinary Galapagos Islands of Ecuador. Follow along here for daily reports on their quest.

GalapagosQuest: Should I have ordered the ravioli?

Cars are becoming more prevalent in the Galápagos Islands

Real 28K


March 8, 1999
Web posted at: 3:32 p.m. EST (2032 GMT)

By Dan Buettner

(Classroom Connect) -- Last night, when I ate a bowl of tomato pasta at Las 4 Linternas restaurant, I helped destroy delicate ecosystems of the Galápagos Islands and devastate its animal population. Forever.

So how does eating a bowl of pasta wreak so much havoc? It didn't even have meatballs.

Well imagine what it takes to get those noodles from 600 miles away on the coast of Ecuador... to the Galapagos Islands... onto the island of Santa Cruz... into the city of Puerto Ayora... over to Las 4 Linternas Restaruant... and finally to my plate.

Just take the tail end of the trip. The cook who made it came to the islands from Ecuador's mainland because the jobs pay 75% better here. He came with his wife and four children. His children all need to go to school, which requires teachers, janitors and a principal. They also like ice cream on Sunday, which means they need dentists too.

More on GalapagosQuest
from Classroom Connect:
     • Team Update
     • Christina's Critters
     • Set the Course
     • Mystery Photo
     • What's New?

The waiter who served my pasta, a good-looking Ecuadorian boy wearing Tommy Hilfiger pants and a tight T-shirt didn't move from the mainland. He's a Galapagos native. But, his taste for hip cloths helped fuel the demand for a new clothes store that opened on main street. There, you can buy all the latest fashions -- at prices well above what most people can afford. My waiter could earn the money for the jeans by working longer hours. But his friend, a fellow "Galapague–o" who fishes for a living, has to take more tuna fish so he can pay for these fashions. The waters around the Galápagos are already over-fished. You can always make more jeans. The fish will run out.

The restaurant owner, an older lady with jet-black hair, who peers at her clientele from behind bifocals, is earning good money by serving tourists like me. She's made enough money that she was just able to buy a new car, which was shipped in from the mainland. For decades, she was content to walk from place to place. Now, as many of her friends are getting cars, she is too. Puerto Ayoro, which used to be a quiet, seaside town, now roars with motors and bellowing horns. The smell of exhaust is starting to overpower the delicate fragrance of the Flame Trees that line the streets.

The tomato, onions and garlic in my pasta all had to be imported from the mainland too. Along with this produce came some of the 60 introduced species that entered the Galápagos this year. These species, mostly insects but also seeds and small reptiles, are slowly but surely beating out the species that have lived in the Galapagos for hundreds of thousands of years. Introduced Blackberry plants are destroying rare native miconia plants, mainland fire ants are infesting tortoise nests (killing babies), and no one even knows what the newly arrived frog will do to the ecosystem.

I will pay for my pasta using Ecuadorian Sucres, which I bought with dollars at the bank. The bank employs 63 people, who, like every one in the restaurant, hotel, taxi, shipping, grocery, clothing, and service industries, will need shelter, electricity, water, food, and a place to dispose of their waste.

All of this adds up. There are now 15,000 people living on this tiny, fragile archipelago. It's the $100 million that I -- and 62,000 other tourists -- will spend this year in the Galápagos that allows these people to make a living. If tourists like me didn't come to the Galápagos, chances are most residents would move back to the mainland. This would make it easier for the creatures that belong here to survive. As it is, the human population is growing faster here than any place else in Ecuador -- and the populations of many native plants and animals are plummeting. At this rate, the question is not whether or not the Galápagos will lose its uniqueness. It's a question of when.

This all begs the question: should we have even come here at all?

Or perhaps a better question is, should I have ordered the ravioli?

Flippers Up!


Galapagos volcano eruption forces evacuation of giant tortoises
October 7, 1998

Ecuador OKs protections for Galapagos Islands
March 12, 1998

Tortoise, goat compete for survival on Galapagos Islands
July 17, 1997

Travel Destinations:
   •Going Galapagos

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