Workforce dynamics in the Galápagos Islands: How agricultural empowerment can aid conservation

This space has to be carefully managed in order to maximise productivity but also minimise negative impact.

Fishing, tourism and agriculture are the economic foundation of the people in the Galápagos. As the demand on tourism increases, the workforce dynamics have shifted towards this most profitable industry and it has implications that go much further than simply changing jobs. Models run by Steve Walsh and his team from the University of North Carolina at Chappel Hill help us understand how this shift in work dynamics can have an effect in the economic sustainability of the islanders and how this can also reduce the spread of the Guava.

The Guava is one of the most invasive plant species in the Galápagos Islands. Without management this species can easily and quickly spread, especially in those areas where native vegetation has been cleared to make room for crops. The eradication of this plant is labour intensive and as such, expensive.

Today, many fishing vessels are preferring exchanging their licenses for tourism patents and farmers are abandoning lands in favour of other ventures, like restaurants, hotels or other tourism related employment. The study revealed that the tourism guides the dynamics of employment and self-employment but it also showed that empowering farmers would have positive economic and environmental impacts.

As farmers are better rewarded, by receiving subsidies on the costs of the Guava eradication, agricultural productivity increases thus lowering the cost of living, making the islands more economically sustainable. Similarly, the effects of needing lesser goods brought from the continent reduce the probability of introducing more alien species. As agricultural lands come back into use, the Guava becomes better managed it reduces its unprecedented spread.

Although most importantly, empowering farmers has an even greater social impact. The interactions between man and nature are complex but this can be very positive for both if correctly guided. Promoting better living standards are the foundation of a stable economic society and this has escalating impacts across industries and generations. Rewards are seen not just in monetary but in their quality of life. Empowerment means better opportunities for the entire community and not just for the farmers.


Walsh, S.J., Miller,B.W., Breckheimer, I., McCleary, A.L., Guzman-Ramirez,L., Caplow, S.C., & Jones-Smith,J.C. 2009. Complexity theory and spatial simulation models to assess populationenvironment interactions in the Galapagos Islands. Short Papers. Galapagos Science Symposium.  Learn more here. 

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In 2022, the Galapagos Science Center (GSC) and the broader UNC & USFQ Galapagos Initiative will celebrate its 10th Anniversary. We are proud to announce the World Summit on Island Sustainability scheduled to be held on June 26–30, 2022 at the Galapagos Science Center and the Community Convention Center on San Cristobal Island.

The content of the World Summit will be distributed globally through social media and results documented through papers published in a book written as part of the Galapagos Book Series by Springer Nature and edited by Steve Walsh (UNC) & Carlos Mena (USFQ) as well as Jill Stewart (UNC) and Juan Pablo Muñoz (GSC/USC). The book will be inclusive and accessible by the broader island community including scientists, managers, residents, tourists, and government and non-government organizations.

While the most obvious goal of organizing the World Summit on Island Sustainability is to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the GSC and the UNC-USFQ Galapagos Initiative, other goals will be addressed through special opportunities created as part of our operational planning of the World Summit.

For instance, we seek to elevate and highlight the Galapagos in the island conservation discourse, seeking to interact with other island networks in more obvious and conspicuous ways to benefit the Galapagos Islands, the UNC-USFQ Galapagos Initiative, and the world. We will seize the opportunity to further develop the I2N2 – International Islands Network-of-Networks. Further, we wish to highlight and emphasize multiple visions of a sustainable future for the Galapagos Islands and we cannot do this alone. Therefore, engaging the Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Tourism, the Government Council of Galapagos, the Galapagos National Park, and local Galapagos authorities, including government and non-government organizations and local citizen groups, is imperative.

The Galapagos Science Center on San Cristobal Island, Galapagos

Borrowing from Hawaii’s and Guam’s Green Growth Program and the Global Island Partnership, we wish to examine existing global programs that emphasize island sustainability and their incorporation into life, policies, and circumstances in the Galapagos Islands. We will also seek to enhance our connections with the institutional members of our International Galapagos Science Consortium and expand the Consortium through the recruitment of other member institutions. We will also work to benefit islands and their local communities by working with citizen groups as well as important NGOs who seek to improve the natural conditions in the Galapagos and diminish the impact of the human dimension on the future of Galapagos’ ecosystems.

Lastly, we will use the World Summit to benefit UNC & USFQ and our constituencies through a strong and vibrant communication plan about the World Summit, creating corporate relationships as sponsors, identifying funding goals through donors, and benefiting our study abroad program for student engagement in the Galapagos Islands. We plan to develop and issue a Galapagos Sustainability Communique after the World Summit that includes the vision and insights of all its participants for a sustainable Galapagos with applicability to global island settings.

We are eager to hear your perspective and have you join us at the World Summit on Island Sustainability!