Exploring economic reformation and the Sustainable Development Goals in a post-Covid Galápagos

Project summary

Galápagos is a unique archipelago, a World Heritage Site and one of the most important conservation areas in the world. Prior to the pandemic, these factors were attracting >250,000 tourists per year, generating economic input and employment but also driving human population growth, overwhelming social services and introducing invasive species. The fragility of this socioeconomic system has been clearly highlighted by Covid-19 with the corresponding collapse in tourism placing thousands at risk of falling into poverty.

There is, therefore, an urgent need for policy reform. Both the local and national governments wish to transform Galápagos into a Sustainable Development Goals ‘Territory’ and move toward a more knowledge-focused economy. However, there are many obstacles to be overcome in working toward this aim, including economic limitations, key knowledge gaps and challenges in the existing policy-making processes. Our project, based at the University of Cambridge, aims to support Galápagos decision makers in overcoming these obstacles by identifying sustainable recovery options and facilitating a shift toward the knowledge economy and away from tourism reliance. We also hope to establish a new policy advisory mechanism and contribute to improving the cohesiveness of research on the islands.

Primary aims

Explore post-Covid economic recovery options. To support the Governing Council of Galápagos to work toward a sustainable recovery from Covid-19, we are working with the Charles Darwin Foundation to organise and conduct scenario analysis research into post-pandemic economic recovery options and provide policy recommendations. In simultaneously supporting a shift away from tourism reliance and toward the knowledge economy, we will be considering alternative methods of revenue generation for conservation in Galápagos. Here our work ties in with that of another University of Cambridge project. This element of the project is funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund.

Identify priority SDG targets for the islands. Using stakeholder participation and network analysis we plan to identify synergies and conflicts between SDG targets in the Galapagos context, allowing appropriate focus of resources toward those with the potential to yield maximum benefits while mitigating possible negative impacts on others.

Future aims

In addition to the funded work outlined above, we are seeking to develop further elements of the project as described below. These are dependent on securing further funding for our work.

Increase resident participation in conservation. We are exploring options to enable an increase the participation of local people in conservation activities such as invasive species control. This could engage large numbers of people, thus enabling wide acquisition of relevant knowledge and skills and supporting a shift toward the knowledge economy.

Improve the science-policy interface in Galápagos. We are hoping to establish two interlinked entities – a Policy Advisory Group (Grupo Asesor de Políticas para Galápagos; GAP Galápagos) and a wider network of scientific and technical organisations within and beyond Ecuador to inform policy and pilot solutions (Red para la Vida Isleña Sostenible, Galápagos; REVISO Galápagos). Together, these would improve the efficiency of Galápagos-focused research, enable the filling of necessary knowledge gaps, allow science-informed policy decisions to be made and allow policy needs to feed back into research aims.

Project team

Dr Sophia Cooke (generously supported by the Evolution Education Trust)

Dr Chris Sandbrook


Rob Bensted-Smith (Talking Transformation)

Pippa Heylings (Talking Transformation)

Fundación Charles Darwin para las Islas Galápagos

Dirección del Parque Nacional Galápagos

Consejo de Gobierno del Régimen Especial de Galápagos