Visitors to the Galapagos Islands do not come for the nightlife, the beaches or to see museums and art galleries filled with the plundered treasure of long dead civilizations. The visitor will surely want to see the animals and birds and learn about their ways, their past, present and future, while experiencing the extraordinary landscape of the islands.
This is why it is important to have a knowledgeable and informative guide to show the visitor the ways of the island and its inhabitants and to help the visitor get the most from their trip. At the same time it has to be acknowledged that the Galapagos environment is delicate and under threat and even the best-intentioned tourist may unwittingly do lasting damage to this unique environment.
To help counteract this, in 1975 the certification of official Naturalist Guides began. Giving priority to those born on the islands, their task is to instruct and teach tourists about the natural history of the Galapagos Islands and to ensure that the tourists under their responsibility understand the measures that are needed for the continuing conservation of the area. They are trained in conservation and natural science by the Charles Darwin Foundation and licensed by the Galapagos National Park.
The rule is that all visitors to the Galapagos National Park must be accompanied by a licensed Galapagos Naturist Guide. All boats, yachts and tour ships that operate in the islands have the official guides included as crew members to ensure that tourists are educated and the rules explained before leaving the vessel. The Galapagos Islands Naturist Guide is a highly skilled job and there are three levels.
A Naturist Guide I is either a native of the islands or has lived there for a number of years and speaks English and has a good knowledge of the region. They will have a high school diploma and must have passed the Naturalist I course. They must also have the ability to lead a group of no more than ten visitors and are usually stationed on the economy boats that operate in the islands.
Naturist Guides II is Ecuadorian by birth or by naturalization and will have a high school diploma or a relevant degree and is fluent in English, German, or French. They must pass the Naturalist ll course and be able to lead groups of up to sixteen tourists. They will usually be stationed on tourist-class yachts.
Naturalist Guides III are Ecuadorian by birth, or by naturalization, or if a foreigner, must have the correct legal documentation. They must hold a relevant degree and be fluent in Spanish, English and then speak French or German. They must have passed the Naturalist Guide III course and can lead up to twenty visitors. They are stationed on first-class and luxury, and tourist-superior-class yachts.
The tasks of all levels of guides are to educate visitors in the natural history, marine animals, land animals, and flora, control and monitor where tourist go in the island and ensure rules are upheld. They have a uniform and must carry their license and identity papers with them at all times. It is their duty to ensure their group is informed and kept safe.
An important task for them is to collect information and make observations on the islands and report to the Galapagos authorities if necessary. On June 30, 2009, the commercial tuna boat the Don Mario, was caught fishing illegally in park waters. The guides will need to be on the look out for signs of such activity.
With increasing tourism and with larger cruise ships being licensed to visit the islands this will inevitably bring changes to the way the tourist services and infrastructure of the islands will operate. Although it is recognised and accepted that the Galapagos Islands need tourism it has to be sustainable and in manageable numbers.
The visiting of large cruise liners like the MV Discovery have caused great concern over the future of islands. These liners carry over 500 passengers and around 300 staff and fears that sudden influxes of visitors will cause variety of problems.
With increasing numbers of such ships bringing increasing numbers of visitors, guides will need to be alert to any signs of such introductions and training will need to be updated periodically to keep abreast of events. There will need to be close observations of these visits so that evaluations can be made and perhaps changes in practice and procedures may be required to ensure that the balance of the ecosystem is maintained.