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Why are the Galapagos a UNESCO World Heritage Site?

User Avatar Written by: Christopher Klassen
Galapagos islands: World Heritage site

The Galapagos Islands are UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the fact that they serve as an emblem of a pristine ecosystem that is thriving with countless unique creatures – many of which are found nowhere else in the world! The Galapagos also continue to serve as a living laboratory of evolution, underlining the importance of preservation efforts that help protect this highly unique location for future generations. In this blog we invite you to find out about how the Galapagos landed its place as the second-ever World Heritage Site in the world (right after the magnificent city of Quito)!

How did the Galapagos qualify as a UNESCO World Heritage Site?

In order to qualify as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an area or location must itself be deemed to have “Outstanding Universal Value,” have international significance and, perhaps most importantly, must “be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity.” Additionally, natural heritage contenders must also meet the following criteria:

Criteria VII: “To contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance.”

Why are the Galapagos Islands a UNESCO World Heritage Site?

Champion Islet, Floreana Island

Criteria VIII: “To be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth’s history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features.”

geology in the galapagos

Lava cactus on lava rock over on Fernandina Island

Criteria IX: “To be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals.”

sea turtle galapagos

Sea turtle swimming at Punta Vicente Roca

Are the Galapagos Islands dangerous?
Criteria X: “To contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.”

galapagos giant tortoise

The Galapagos Islands are home to some of the highest levels of endemism on the planet

If a Heritage Site manages to check off each of these criteria, it is inscribed in the World Heritage List. Such an honor and title also entails that the State that the site belongs (in this case Ecuador) have an “enduring obligation” to guarantee the conservation, management and monitoring of the Heritage Site. Why is the Galapagos a UNESCO World Heritage Site? Because of all this and more!

Having such a prestigious UNESCO title means that the protection of this one-of-a-kind place is of the utmost importance. Note: UNESCO assesses World Heritage Sites every six years to check on the state of the site as well as the measures that have been implemented to help protect and conserve the site.

Historical Fact: The Galapagos Islands were declared a Natural Heritage Site for Humanity in 1978. Over two decades later, UNESCO extended this designation to include the Galapagos Marine Reserve.

Did you know?

The Galapagos National Park reinforces its conservation efforts (with respect to its UNESCO title) by requiring that every visitor explore the National Park in the company of naturalist guides, these of which have been licensed and certified by the Galapagos National Park Service. Naturalist guides help keep visitors continuously informed about the fragile and delicate nature of the archipelago. Upon arrival, visitors receive a welcome package at immigration that includes information about the uniqueness of the Park, and why it is everyone’s responsibility to help keep it the way it is. Its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site is also used to justify the National Park fee that visitors must pay upon visiting the fragile environment of the Galapagos Islands, funds which go into preserving the National Park itself.

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