Galapagos Islands Get World’s First “Green” Airport

GalapagosAirport.jpg The Galapagos Islands are the Pacific island paradise where Darwin’s theory of evolution was born. It is a place filled with iguanas the size of small Fords, sandy beaches, and tropical flora. Now it will be famous for one more thing: the world’s first green airport.
The archipelago off the coast of Ecuador has recently contracted Argentine Corporación America to manage the redevelopment of the airport on the island of Baltra, an estimated US$ 20 million project to be completed in 2009. Several highlights of the new development are the utilization of wind and solar energy, passive heating and cooling systems, as well as concrete tarmacs as opposed to asphalt, which are claimed to have a greater carbon footprint during its production cycle. (Note: links appear in Spanish)

This new development couldn’t be coming at a better time for the Gal√°pagos archipelago, which last year was added to Unesco’s environmental “danger list.” For Pacific islands like the Gal√°pagos, Easter Island, or Tahiti, economies are driven almost completely by tourism. However, people like Dr. Graham Watkins, executive director of Charles Darwin Foundation, think these are “unsustainable models of development.”
According to an article in the New York Times earlier this year, the number of visitors to the Gal√°pagos rose more than 250% from 1990 to 2006, while the number of commercial flights to the area has risen 193% from 2001 to 2006. As the Gal√°pagos’ popularity as a tourist destination increases, these types of rises impose serious strains on its resources and environment. The new green airport will allow the archipelago to be more efficient and self-sustaining with the amount of resources it consumes to accommodate such high numbers of visitors.
Air travel has often been reviled for its unsustainability, though recently practices like carbon offsetting have sought to reduce the overall environmental impact of the industry. The greening of airports is yet another one of those attempts. Nearly two years ago, Boston’s Logan airport received LEED-certification for its use of low-flow faucets, waterless toilets, and energy saving features.
However, there are also those who view carbon offsetting and the greening of airports as small band-aids on much larger wounds. The new redevelopment plan of Baltra airport also accounts for a 6,000 sq. meter increase that would allow the airport – and ultimately the archipelago – to receive approximately 450,00 visitors a year. That’s nearly triple the amount of people that visited it in 2006. Coming back to Watkin’s unsustainable model, some might criticize the new airport as a greenwash to make the archipelago more Disneyland-like than it already is, a characterization that Johannah Barry, the president of the Galapagos Conservancy, made in the previous New York Times article. And more Disneyfying, to critics, would only mean a continued hyper-consumption of resources and the further degradation of the “Mona Lisa of natural places in the world.”
What do you think? Will the new green airport serve as an example for more environmentally conscious development throughout the world? Or, in as much as it will have a smaller carbon footprint, will it also accelerate a downward spiral that we are moving on with our relationship with nature and the environment?

Ashwin is an Associate Editor of Triple Pundit. He recently returned to the Bay Area after living in Argentina, where he wholeheartedly missed the Pacific Ocean. He is a freelance editor and media and marketing consultant.After a brief stint working in the wine world, when not staring blankly at a computer screen, you'll find him working on Anand Confections or at 826 Valencia, where he has been a long-time volunteer.

4 responses

  1. You’ve gotta be kidding me. I think it’s great that they’ve made strides with building materials and the right concrete and whatever, but this is totally trivial compared to the impact that even a single flight would make.
    I’m not bashing the effort, I think it’s great, but unless this is coupled with some serious management of tourist impact and education, it’s utter greenwash marketing baloney.
    Now, if they replaced the planes with blimps… then they might be on to something!

  2. “According to an article in the New York Times earlier this year, the number of visitors to the Gal√°pagos rose more than 250% from 1990 to 2006, while the number of commercial flights to the area has risen 193% from 2001 to 2006.”
    How long can the area sustain that kind of growth before the ecosystem starts to collapse? The whole strategy of the area has been to limit visitors to protect it and now they are throwing open the doors?
    Where will the visitors stay?? Multi-million dollar beach front motels.
    How will they get to the parts of the islands that they came to see?? Sea Planes, speed boats and jeeps.
    What will they eat? Local cuisine including, no doubt, bush meat.
    What will they do when they are not observing the wonder of nature?? Discos, night clubs, tennis courts, internet cafes, health clubs, golf, beach volleyball.
    Where will the electricity come from to run these businesses? Gas or oil generators with 55 gallon drums being brought in on boats. There will be acceptable fuel spills.
    How much garbage will they produce and how will it be managed? TONs and these are Islands so the garbage will end up dumped where ever it is conveniently out-of-sight.
    The reasons why this project is wrong is endless.

  3. The fact that they are putting a band aid on a larger project is not wrong VicinSea. It’s not enough but it’s also not wrong.
    Most of them will get on boats that little or no though has gone into reducing their footprint. There is no LEED certification for marine vessels. There should be. A week of diesel gensets, toilet flushing, and garbage dumping by these boats is probably a substantial footprint.
    We can build vessels that are much better. but how does one who invests in the technology compete against the guys using old, depreciated technology? This is not just a market fix. The market is ready with the solutions, awaiting leadership.

  4. I think this issue brings up a really important question. Is it better to try and remedy or reduce a problem from within or completely do away with a system and start over from scratch? It seems like this is an allegory for much larger issues, like the economic crisis that’s going on right now to our oil dependance and fueling our cars with alternative energies. Do we just let companies go bankrupt and people default on their mortgages? Will bailouts now just delay the inevitable later? I heard that for the entire amount of money the US has spent on the war on Iraq, the country could have been a fully functioning hydrogen economy with the entire infrastructure in place to make that happen. But how do you go about doing that? There are a lot of infrastructure and systems currently in place. How does the transition work?

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