Coordination and collective action for mitigating the impact of climate change: the case of the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador

Coordination and collective action for mitigating the impact of climate change: the case of the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador

René Mendoza V. *


What practices contribute to the climate given the crisis of climate change? Apart from measures concerning the use and supply of energy related to construction, transport and industry, and the elimination of solid waste from garbage dumps, in what follows we list some measures recommended by different studies and organizations on forestry and agriculture. For the former, decrease deforestation, regeneration and repopulation of the forests and agro-silviculture, and carbon capturing. For the latter, change the management of water, intensification and agricultural technological innovation including value adding in a sustainable manner, less and more efficient use of nitrogen fertilizers, no-till agricultural technology, increase in soil capacity, improvement of rice technology, better management of ruminant animals (sheep, goats, larger livestock), and better use of manure in combination with agriculture.

To try to implement these measures we propose a framework of synergy between science, conservation, economics and coordination. In the first section of the first article (“The importance of peasant agriculture for Climate Change”), we looked at the big contribution of science on climate change, the progress of international coordination in the United Nations, the indifference of the economy to the climate, and its effect on environmental deterioration. In the second section of the same article, we saw that science, to the extent that it requires knowledge more specific to different geographies, contributes less; other actors like the FAO and IICA raise their voice without any progress on coordination, maintaining the separation between economy and ecology. To illustrate alternatives to this challenge, this article and the following ones will show cases about how synergy happens or does not happen between science, economics, ecology and coordination. We start with the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador that has mostly aquatic biodiversity.

The Galapagos islands, known worldwide because it was the basis for Darwin to develop his theory of natural evolution by natural selection, were designated in 1934 as a Wildlife Sanctuary, in 1959 97% of its territory was declared a National Park, in 1978 they were declared the Natural Patrimony of Humanity and in 1984 a Biosphere Reserve, in 1986 the Marine Reserve of Galapagos was created, in 1998 the Special Law for the Galapagos Islands was passed, and in 2001 the Marine Reserve was declared the Natural Patrimony of Humanity. The islands have attracted the immigration of Ecuadorian families and tourism; between 1960 and 2007 tourism increased from around 2,000 to 160,000 visitors per year. This growth and the associated economic opportunities created tensions between ecology and economics, the local citizens and the foreigners. How have they been resolving them?

What follows is based on a conversation with the biologist Milton Yacelga, who stayed on the Galapagos Islands for years as part of his scientific work. The accompanying Figure illustrates the solution framework that three communities implemented: scientific community (square shape), the community of the local inhabitants (circle shape) and the community of the tourists (triangle shape).  The management plan involved the three communities: 1) to know what to conserve you have to know what there is, likewise science has to identify which species are in danger and how to manage them; 2) the local inhabitants fish to feed their families and sell to tourists, for that reason they learn from science what species to use, at what ages, and what sex (2-1=0 “if you eliminate the female you have done away with the species”), in which places and at what times (e.g. not in the prolific moment for the fish; 3) the tourists need to feed themselves from the fish, contribute to their conservation, walk around and learn.

The challenge has been the three actors coordinating in the midst of their conflicts; the same figure above shows how difficult their combination can be, between something square, triangular and round. There were times in which the local inhabitants rejected the findings of science, arguing that there always had fish and that the number of fish had never gone down, that the foreigners with science were affecting the traditional culture of Ecuador; certainly in times of low demand for fish, the fishing was less, but with the increase in tourism and the growing demand for fish, the fish population changed. The tensions with the tourists increased, and because they had to follow rules agreed upon by the scientific community and the local community (restaurants, hotels, tourist guides, transportation) that meant knowing at what moments which places could be visited, how to treat the animals and how to connect with the local population. These tensions revealed differences between economics and ecology. In the end the three communities agreed upon experimenting on one island, whose results would allow them to recognize one another and reach a framework for agreement, even with tensions within each community, like the growing exclusion of small businesses, the debate between traditional ecology and new ecology (see Mendoza, 2002, “Nicaragua: ¿Cómo salvar el bosque? Haciendo fincas, cortando árboles,” en: Revista Envío,, the type of tourism and its effects on the human and aquatic populations.

This agreement allowed the fish and tourism to increase, the ecology and economy to understand one another, and consequently they were able to draw up a Management Plan that provided institutionality to the coordination. Within this framework, for example, corridors were defined so that the species can migrate and immigrate, preventing them from falling into genetic degeneration from reproducing among themselves in isolated patches; they worked because there are various trails so that the tourists rotate their use without overburdening any trail, scaring away animals and birds, which in the long run would also affect tourism itself; and they agreed upon mechanisms for protecting  collective rights like water (“the water is for everyone”) in contrast to the logic of the large businesses and private tourism (“the water is mine”).

From this unique experience we can get some inspiration for the country. Having a long term perspective is the basis for seeking synergy between the economy and the ecology, while the control  of one group affects the other. It makes a big difference to produce crops, cattle and biodiversity as the basis for life, while the degradation of one affects everyone. A common effect of dispossession processes is doing away with the humus (layer of leaves) of the soil and move to where there is humus. When a management plan results from the coordination of the affected actors, it tends to be an effective framework for coordinating and resolving conflicts. If the science functions like the scientific community, outside the control of the elites, it contributes; if it is complemented by the wisdom of the population (e.g. in order to discern the impact of climate change by zones, following up on the amphibians that are indicators of global warming because of their sensitive and humid skin that in the face of heat gets filled with fungi that kills them, and the snakes that decrease in number with the deterioration of the forest and human superstition – “if the worker kills a snake he gets the day off” says the large estate owner), and responds to the actors in the territories (instead of responding only to international aid), its contribution makes a difference.

Each community if fundamental to solving the crisis of climate change. Even more fundamental is the synergy among the communities: the most important knowledge is not knowing that 1+2=3, but understanding what “+” means. And even more so if that synergy is the basis for building lasting alliances within an institutional framework of coordination between ecology, economy and science, so 1+2 is more than 3.

* René Mendoza V. ( has a PhD in development studies, and is a collaborator of the Winds of Peace Foundation (


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