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San Cristobal Interpretation Centre:
Conservation and Development Hall

Galapagos, 2007-2008

The San Cristobal Environmental Interpretation Centre was the first project of the Spanish International Aid Agency in Galapagos, back in 1994. It is a National Park official tourist visiting site, attracting the vast majority of tourists that visit the island.

The Centre houses a series of exhibits that explain noth the natural history of the islands and the much more recent history of human exploitation and colonisation. It is this last feature that sets it aside from other Galapagos-inspired exhibits anywhere else on the islands.

Built by architect Francisco Ausín, both the building and most of its contents have stood the test of time remarkably well. Not so the last hall, dedicated to conservation, which in 2007 presented clear signs of wear and some neglect.

Twelve years after it was first put together, it was decided to update and redesign its contents, a task given to Olga Ibarmia, Spanish environmental education specialist, and myself.

Olga Ibarmia, environmental education specialist, whom I worked with on this project.

The Centre

Situated on a hill just outside the port town, the Environmental Interpretation Centre offers inside and outdoor spaces, including a theatre and peojection room.

Hall 1: Natural history

The first hall explores the islands' natural history, from its volcanic origins to the mix of ocean currents that gives rise to the archipelago's biodiversity, famous for its high level of endemism.

Hall 2: Human history

The second hall is the only permanent exhibit on the islands that goes through human activity in Galapagos. Starting with its discovery by a lost Spanish cleric, the whalers and pirates and the many colonisation attempts until the early and mid twentieth century communities.

Hall 3: Conservation

The third hall, dedicated to conservation, was designed in a markedly, and more childish, style to the rest of the centre.

Although rich in photographs and drawings, the text was too much and too little, so that few visitors bothered reading any.

The panels had been de-coloured by the effect of direct sunlight and showed signs of wear. In addition, the TV monitors had not been working for years.

New hall 3: Conservation and development

Having to do with a relatively modest budget (high for Ecuador, but very low by European standards), we could not contemplate any large, structural changes.

We chose instead to remove some of the free-standing structures and include glas cabinets, to create three independent spaces, shown below.

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Content and design

The new content was arrived at through two different routes.

First, we held a number of workshops with members of the local community, like teachers, public officials, community leaders and others well placed to give us their thoughts on what content we should display on their behalf.

Secondly, we used the Galapagos National Park Service's new Management Plan in considering what conservation in Galapagos entails in the twenty-first century.

It is no longer enough to talk about maintaining biodiversity integrity or the threats to certain species without talking about the impact of what is considered legitimate human development on the islands today.

We settled on dedicating the three spaces of the new, revamped hall to community stories, resources for human development and the new, medium and long term challenges for conservation and sustainable human development.

Space A: People

A permanent photographic exhibition captures everyday moments in the life of different communities in Galapagos.

Education, health, entertainment, changes from generation to generation... the aim was to bring the visitor, almost always foreign, to the lives of the islanders.

Space B: Resources...

Water, food, power: the basic needs for human development on the islands always carry an environmental impact.

The very recent colonisation of Galapagos by humans gives rise to hopes of a kind of development is aware of this impact and is determined to control it.

...and our ecological footprint.

We also used this space to touch on the subject of human activity's effects on our environment. A chart was included showing Ecuador's place in the list of world countries and their ecological footprint (quite below average).

Space C: Conservation and sustainability challenges

Some of the more fundamental questions, whose answers are the keys for sustainability in Galapagos, are presented in this space, after a brief introduction to each issue.

How can the introduction of invasive species be avoided? What type of tourism do we want for Galapagos? What is meant by sustainable popuation growth?

What is a fair distribution of the benefits of tourism in Galapagos? How can a competitive farming sector be encouraged? What options ae there for the future of the fishing sector?


Vinyl, ink and colour samples (above) spread on the floor of my porch in Galapagos.

Twelve years after they produced the original interpretation panels for the Centre, Rubio&Asociados (left) we once again hired to print and place the new content.


Opening and official visits

I produced a CD pack to be sent out with the invite for the official opening. It contained information about the new hall, the Centre's history and the new content in digital form.

Marcela Aguiñaga
Environment Minister of Ecuador

The newly appointed Environment Minister of Ecuador, herself a former Galapagos National Park employee, inaugurated the new hall.

In the last photo, from left to right: Marcela Aguiñaga, Carlos Pi, Tania Villegas (ministerial advisor on Galapagos) and Sixto Naranjo, Director of the National Park Service.

Miguel Ángel Moratinos
Spanish Foreign Secretary

The Foreign Secretary also visited the Centre in the few hours he had dusring his same-day visit to the islands. As ultimate head of the Spanish Aid and Cooperation Agency, he took the opportunity to check on some of the work we did for the province.