Villain or Scapegoat? Park Director gets fired over fireworks

Fireworks were banned in Galapagos in 2018 over concerns that the loud noises were detrimental to wildlife (that makes sense to us). However, the text of the regulations allowed for the opiton of "soundless" fireworks. This ambiguity has led to a major polemic going on in the islands these days.

The town of Puerto Ayora organized fireworks on new year's eve, despite not having received the authorization of the police, which we presume was a requirement. While many in Galapagos enjoy fireworks, a large portion of residents recognize that the islands should do without them, given their special status.


New Year's eve fireworks in Puerto Ayora on 31 Dec '23

The fireworks display led to major criticism on behalf of those that thought they were banned.  In response to the growing criticism, a press conference was held on 3 January, with the park director and the head of the Galapagos regional government, to clarify the situation. The director (Juan Chavez, an old work colleague of ours when we was working in the islands) clearly indicated that the park was against all forms of fireworks, even those considered "silent" - and he explained that silent ones still make a lot of noise and emit a lot of smoke.


Jan. 6 press conference - Juan Chavez (right) makes his case. President of the regional government Edwin Altamirano, and a government technician.

Things got more heated the following days, and on Saturday 6 January, he was fired from his job. We can only presume that this was in response to pressure from proponents of fireworks, mostly local municipal politicians.

This is an unfortunate development. Many residents have recognized that a unique Galapagos island culture needs to evolve to ensure that the human presence in the islands is in tune with the special status of Galapagos. A lot of effort has gone into promoting this change. The fireworks case we are seeing now is an illustration of the challenges they face.

Over the years, the development of an island culture in tune with its environment has been a growing theme.  Practices such as keeping domestic animals such as cats and dogs are considered not in line with an island culture.  These are not native to Galapagos and prone to going feral and preying on native species.  They can also carry diseases that could be transmitted to wildlife (the very contagious and deadly canine distemper can be transmitted to sea lions for example). But banning pets among a growing population is not as simple as publishing a new decree.  

There have been some successes.  CNH Tours is involved in promoting local artists for example, and we hire a local group of musicians who sing songs about Galapagos life from time to time.  There are local small environmental NGOs that focus on instilling a sense of Galapagos pride and culture among children. 

CNH Tours contributes $10/guest to the Intenational Galapagos Tour Operators' Association - which in turn supports the development of a local island culture.  ECOS is one such recipient of IGTOA support.


This is a developing story. There is a lot of pressure on the part of residents and conservation organizations to re-instate the director. We'll see what happens. If you are traveling to the island in the coming days or weeks you might want to ask any locals you meet what they think about this situation. That should start an interesting conversation.

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