WWF enhances ecotourism to benefit species and people in the Galápagos
Meet Juan Carlos Garcia, WWF Program Officer for Sustainable Management in the GalápagosWWF: What is your work like in the Galápagos?
JC: Most of my work focuses on helping the islands transition to a new way of doing tourism. The Galápagos are a very popular tourist destination, and this creates a lot of pressure on these fragile habitats. WWF helped design a new tourism model that will generate a smaller human footprint on the islands, and it’s currently being implemented.
WWF: “Ecotourism” is a term that we hear about a lot. How would you define “ecotourism” for the Galápagos?
JC: WWF works in many places to see tourism is done sustainably. For the Galápagos, I would say that ecotourism involves travel to a unique natural area that not only guarantees visitor satisfaction, but also promotes conservation and contributes to the well-being of the local population.
WWF: Do you feel like you are making a difference for marine conservation?
JC: Definitely. The new tourism model was formally approved in January 2011, and has the support of all the main local institutions. The local communities are also embracing our campaign to raise awareness on sustainable tourism. This new model is a big achievement and its implementation will move us closer toward creating harmony between people and nature, both above and below the sea. Such a model of ecotourism can then be replicated in our other marine priority areas.
WWF: Do you have a lot of experience working in the tourism industry?
JC: My first job was as a naturalist guide in the Amazon, and I lived there for seven years. That job gave me insight into how to create a memorable travel experience and also informed what I currently do, from creating public policies for tourism development to promoting best practices among tourism entrepreneurs.
WWF: What made you want to work for WWF in the Galápagos?
JC: My original dream job was to be a dive guide in Galápagos, since I love spending time underwater. I knew about WWF’s work in the Galápagos Islands, and definitely wanted to be part of that someday. A few years ago, the opportunity arrived.
WWF: How did you become passionate about conservation?
JC: I have always spent a lot of time in the outdoors, especially growing up. My best memories as a kid were always nature-related.
WWF: Do you have any exciting stories from your work? Close encounters with wildlife?
JC: In the Galápagos, wildlife is everywhere. I’ve had some incredible experiences, like visiting a volcano on Isabela Island and finding hundreds of giant tortoises next to lava flows and huge hot air vents. But underwater is where the most excitement happens for me. I get a thrill every time I am diving or snorkeling, whether it is a surprise encounter with a marine turtle, a ray or even a shark!