Sustaining the Galápagos

The Galápagos archipelago is treasured in the scientific community, both as a historic landmark to Charles Darwin’s seminal work and for the islands’ unique ecological qualities that should continue to draw scientists studying biodiversity and evolution for years to come.

Just how many years is an open question, however. Enthusiasm for the Galápagos is engendering considerable ecotourism, which poses threats to the area’s ecosystems. In an effort to safeguard the region’s long-term ecological viability, the College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management is working with Ecuador’s Universidad San Francisco de Quito to bring a sustainable tourism approach to the islands’ management.

Representatives from Columbia will visit Ecuador and the Galápagos in mid-March, in part to finalize agreements that will begin with an exchange of students between the universities.

“They are the only university that has a campus on the Galápagos, and they have expertise in biology, ecology — in the sciences,” says David Cárdenas, an HRSM professor and one of the leaders of the trip. “What they don’t have is expertise in sustainable tourism, and so they contacted us a couple of years ago to see if we were interested in developing a partnership.”

Student exchanges will begin this fall, and over the course of the academic year, University of South Carolina faculty will develop sustainable tourism modules for short and semester-long courses that they will teach at the Galápagos campus on San Cristobal Island.

Cárdenas is more than familiar with the area. A native of Ecuador who moved to and was educated in the U.S., he researches sustainable tourism with a primary interest in South Carolina, but he welcomes the opportunity to help preserve the fragile environment of one of the world’s premier ecotourism destinations.

“It’s an amazing location,” Cárdenas says. “If you think about going to a zoo with no walls, that’s really what it’s like. The wildlife is just unbelievable. There’s nowhere in the world that I’ve been that has the natural ecological environment like the Galápagos. It’s wonderful, but it will not stay that way unless it’s protected.”

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