From Janet Stone McGuigan
There is a thought that how one ushers in the new year will set the tone for the rest of the year. I hope this is true. My family was fortunate to ring in 2023 while exploring the Galapagos on a once in a lifetime adventure. We spent a week amazed and enchanted by its flora and fauna. Giant tortoises? Check. Blue footed boobies? Check. And who knew penguins also lived in these equatorial waters?
I appreciate this experience will continue to inspire me. The Galapagos is famous for its influential role in Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. I was reminded that young Darwin voyaged on the Beagle for six years as the ship’s naturalist, and then didn’t publish On the Origin of Species until decades later at age fifty. Credit keen observation skills, dedication, the value of lifelong learning and the wisdom that comes with age, says she who is just slightly north of fifty.
While in the Galapagos, I was impressed by the efforts to sustain this fragile ecosystem. Humans colonists and visitors (pirates included!) have taken a toll on these islands since their discovery in 1535. Efforts to protect the Galapagos go back almost a century — Ecuador made it a national reserve in 1936 and UNESCO made it a Biosphere Reserve in 1984 — although fully reestablishing populations of threatened species will take at least fifty more years. The airports boasted of being carbon neutral with wind turbines and solar panels on site. Everywhere there were recycling bins next to trash bins, including for organics, and it appeared that everything was properly sorted.
We traveled from island to island by ship. The couples and families sailing together were strangers to each other but quickly established a comfortable camaraderie. We each made a point to rotate seats at mealtimes until we were all acquainted with one another. We took turns going around our tables asking what inspired us to choose this destination, and while avoiding intrusive questions, expressed interest in learning what each of us did when we were not on vacation. One week is not enough time to establish lifelong friendships, but with a little civility and respect we magnified the magic of the experience. We understood were all passengers in the same boat.
Ecuador is a small country, the Galapagos is a small archipelago, and our ship was a small vessel. But like the tortoises the give the Galapagos their name, the examples they set are giant. The biodiversity that will hopefully be preserved may represent only a tiny fraction of the planet’s biodiversity, but if the Galapagos succeeds there is hope for our world. Our children are telling their elders to act now for the sake of the future. Ecuador and its global supporters are doing just that. This generation may not see the fruits of these labors but they are on the right track.
But for every step forward. Once comfortably back in Greenwich I eagerly tried to catch up on the news. How ironic that a cover story on a Sunday New York Times featured Ecuador’s struggle to protect its Amazon oil reserves. Ecuador is a poor country where a quarter of its children are undernourished. During the pandemic the country suffered economically; our guides related that for two years tourism stopped and they lived off savings and the food they could raise on their small properties. The government hoped developed nations would provide economic support so oil reserves could be left untouched, but donations have only trickled in, and now it has no choice but to move forward with drilling projects. May these projects move forward with the speed of a giant tortoise and Ecuador’s wealthier neighbors come to its aid before it is too late.
Meanwhile I resolve to continue to reflect on the following insight by Darwin: It is not the smartest nor the strongest species that survives, but the one best able to adapt and adjust to its changing environment. After visiting the place that inspired his theory, I hope I have come away a little more evolved.
Janet Stone McGuigan serves the town of Greenwich as a Selectwoman