Russell Conner and Deborah Heglund
1992 Woodrow Wilson Biology Institute


The purpose of this case study is to help students consider the various purposes and often conflicting issues surrounding the existence and management of a nature preserve. The specific issues under consideration are rights of access versus preservation and appropriate use of income from nature preserves in less developed countries.

Intended Audience:

First year biology students

Teacher Notes:

Scarcity of resources, inadequate employment, foreign debt, and burgeoning populations put nature preservation in a tenuous position in developing countries. Conservationists tend to use cost/benefit arguments to convince governments to protect their nature, and tourism is touted as an economic boon. In recent years the World Bank has been a strong force in this area with debt for nature agreements. It is the goal of this module to familiarize students with these positions, but also to allow students to generate discussion on whether there is intrinsic value in nature for its own sake. According to the Ecotourism Society research, the essential ingredient for success in Third World nature initiatives is for the local population to be able to realize direct benefit from the reserve. This may or may not be demonstrable in the case used in this study; it remains open for the students to reach a conclusion and consider appropriate policy.

The discussion can be explored during the evolution unit when Darwin's observations on the Galapagos are discussed. To begin, the teacher could ask where the students might go locally to make nature observations like the ones Darwin worked from. Or, he or she might ask if any of the students has ever had the opportunity to visit a National Park and to see unusual aspects of nature. Then a brainstorming session could be initiated as to why these parks exist.

Hopefully, a number of the following points would come up:

  1. For the preservation of wild areas for their intrinsic worth.

  2. For the preservation of rare and endangered species.

  3. For study

  4. For recreation

  5. For tourism

A follow-up reading for this discussion would be the article in Travel and Leisure Jan. 92 on ecotourism.

At this point the students would be asked to consider the Galapagos National Park, mentioned in the article and established by the Ecuadorian government in 1936. Perhaps they could be asked to imagine what it looks like today and what they would like to do there if they won a trip to the Galapagos in a contest. What kind of accommodations would they expect and how do people get there? In some classes there will be some familiarity and in others there will not be any.

Here the National Geographic article, Managing another Galapagos Species, Man, National Geographic, Jerry Emory, Jan 88, p. 146-9. on tourism to the Galapagos should be read and a brief fact sheet on Ecuador distributed. By now all of the students should have access to enough information to begin to see that in the operation of the park some competing interests might come into conflict.

After all three articles have been read the students should be asked to first work individually and list a variety of impressions. Student Sheets follow.

The format that we envision would be to have students respond to the issues individually and then to discuss them as a class or in small groups.

Examples of potential problems are:

Waste from cruise ships polluting the Marine Reserve Park.

Increased walking traffic creating disturbance to seals and nesting birds.

Examples of anticipated benefits are:

Increasing tourism and park revenues.

Increasing number of guides and tourist related jobs.

Taxes on the tours are used to monitor the water quality in the reserve.

Additional money used to develop island phone communications.

For the second stage of the module we will take a look at the potential decisions which would need to be made if increased use resulted in environmental degradation. Students will be told to imagine that they are a policy making team asked to look at the situation and determine an appropriate man-agement policy.

Note to Teachers: A management issue that may come up after students have read the articles is the eradication program being used by park officials to control introduced species. It has not been dealt with in this model because it does not directly relate to the primary objective of human use and preservation but it may provide material for additional ethical discussion in your class.



Total Land Area - 104,505 square miles
Land Area of Galapagos Province - 3000 square miles
Forested Land: 43% of land area


Population in 1990 - 10,782,000
Population Density - 103 people/square mile.
Population Growth Rate - 2.8 % / year
Number teenagers - 3,927,000
Population Galapagos province - 10,000
Population Density Galapagos province - 3.3 people/square mile

Economic Factors:

1986-88 The GNP/person - $1080.

From 1980-88 The GNP increased 1.7% annually. On a per person basis this represents a 1.1% decline per year.

Agriculture employs 31.1% of the labor force and represents 17.2% of the GDP (gross domestic product).

Services employs 43% of the labor force and represents 48.4% of GDP.

Restaurants and hotels employ 3.4% of the labor force.

Inflation for 1989 was 75.9%.

Population percentage in absolute poverty 40% urban & 65% rural.


Public education is free and compulsory for ages 6-14 years. 56% of secondary school age children are enrolled in school.

Social Factors:

Average family size - 5.0
Divorce rate - 0.3
Life Expectancy - 62.6 years

Name: _______________________


What is the Park for?
  1. Does the Galapagos National Park have value? ______ Give three reasons to support your answer.

  2. Would average high school students in Ecuador feel as though the park were valuable?__________ Do you think their reasons would be the same as yours?___________

    Are there other benefits they might mention or other reasons they might not value the park?____________________________________

  3. You have 100 points which you may award in any combination to the following issues to indicate their relative value regarding the park. You can distribute the points in any way you like. The more points you give something the more value you feel it has and the more weight it should carry when park management decisions are made.

    Park Functions Points:

    Historical interest (Darwin)______
    Wilderness preservation______
    Endangered Species Habitat______
    Source of tourism for Ecuador______
    An interesting place to visit______
    A unique habitat for research______
    Other ____________________
    Total point award must equal 100

  4. After reading the articles on the park and ecotourism in general do you see any potential problems for the management of the park in the future?

  5. In 1990 the number of visitors to the Galapagos reached 50,000. Is this any cause for concern? _________ List below the potential benefits of this increased interest and potential problems it might cause.

    Potential Problems:


    Potential Benefits:


Student Reaction Sheet #2

A Look into the Future

In 1990, 50,000 people visited the park. This increase in tourism was carefully watched and it was decided that, that number of people could be handled. Tour companies were allowed to expand their facilities and book the visitors. New guides from the area were hired and trained. Park management has continued as before and the island population and government have enjoyed the increase in tourist revenues.

It is now 1995. The annual environmental assessment group from the research station has become alarmed. Seal mating patterns seem to be changing and birds are nesting farther from the walking paths. This places them in greater danger of predation. A gradual degradation of the environment seems to be occurring. Your commission is charged with making a report. In your initial discussions you see three possible alternatives:

  1. Go back to the 25,000 visitors limit and accept the economic impact of fewer jobs and less park revenue.

  2. Accept the degradation created by current numbers and limit future growth.

  3. Decrease the numbers but charge each individual more per visit to support the island economy.

Assign some members of the class to support each of these choices.

Things they should try to resolve are:

  • If access has to be limited how should it be done? By placing quotas on the cruise companies or by increasing the prices to generate more income and limit the tourists by economics? Or by some other means?

  • If economic limits are used, only very rich people will be able to visit this park. Is that fair?

  • What about the Ecuadorians themselves? Should they have a priority for access to the park? Does this park really benefit the Ecuadorians in a significant way? Is that important? If income from the Galapagos Park continues to grow, how should these monies be used by the Ecuadorian government?

  • If the numbers are allowed to remain high, what other management considerations should be taken? Are hotels less polluting than cruise ships? Is some degradation of the environment unavoidable?


The process of ethical discussion and decision making can result in a feeling of commitment to a position. If this activity has increased your interest in nature preservation and its functioning in park management, you might want to go further by familiarizing yourself with these conservation issues.

Things You Can Do:

  • Visit a park near you. Ask the staff what management concerns they need to consider in their park.

  • Volunteer with your town conservation commission to conduct a study of use in a local park.

  • Investigate the possibility of setting aside some land on your school property for nature study. What management decisions would you need to consider?

  • Do research on some other park. How are the issues similar or different from the ones in the Galapagos?


Managing Another Galapagos Species, Man, National Geographic, Jerry Emory, January 1988, pp. 146-149

Pack Your Parka for an Ecotrip, Travel & Leisure, Bern Keating, January 1992, pp. 53-55

Can Ecotourism Save Natural Areas?, National Parks, Ruth Norris, January/February 1992

Encyclopedia of the 3rd World, Vol. I, Kuricin, George Thomas, Facts on File Inc., New York, NY, 1987

The Europa World Yearbook, 1991, Europa Publications Ltd. London, 1991

Woodrow Wilson Index

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