I was one of twenty-four lucky teachers from around the USA who toured the Galapagos Islands for two weeks in October with the Toyota International Teacher Program.
We saw the famous wildlife that helped Charles Darwin form his ideas about evolution, visited local schools, and studied the archipelago’s efforts to sustainably accommodate a growing population. The experience made me a better teacher of evolution and I had ideas while on the trip that are still paying dividends today like my White Mountain Cold Frame Project. It was totally free. Toyota Motor Sales paid for everything including our substitute teachers back home; they even gave us some spending money.
There was plenty of wildlife, but the trip wasn’t about that exactly. The unique wildlife on the Galapagos have attracted lots of tourists and scientists in recent years. Tourists and scientists bring money, and need services. That means jobs. Consequently, the human population of the islands has exploded from just a few hundred people a few decades ago to tens of thousands today! They bring cats and dogs, livestock, rats and non-native plants with them. These, in turn, threaten the defenseless reptiles and birds that attract all the people in the first place.
The Galapagos today are a microcosm of the whole world, complete with rapid population growth, illegal immigration, unsustainable lifestyles, environmental degradation, and an economy based on income inequality. As organic farmer Carlos Zapata told us: “The Galapagos are not just a natural laboratory. They are also a social laboratory.”