There are few places on earth as unique as the Galapagos Islands.
Home to flora and fauna not found anywhere else in the world, this pristine ecosystem is beautiful, scientifically invaluable – and under threat.
Monty Halls, broadcaster and President of the Galapagos Conservation Trust, flew out to the islands to live for three months with his family: wife Tam and daughters Isla, five, and Molly, three, for Channel 4’s My Family and the Galapagos to see firsthand how the people and wildlife of the Galapagos are coping with the multifaceted dangers now putting a strain on this archipelago of volcanic Ecuadorian islands.
Here, Monty tells Radio Times about his adventure…
After we finished filming this series, Channel 4 said that it wasn’t what they set out to make. They thought it was going to be a rather nice, twee Escape to the Chateaux-type show. But they looked at the footage that we’d filmed over the three months and thought ‘Wow, we’ve actually got a powerful conservation film’. And all credit to C4 – they did a big re-edit and I think that really comes across in the programme.
There are several sequences that the Galapagos National Park have never really been shown before because tourism is so important to the economy of the islands. For example, the fact there’s plastic all over the beaches of the Galapagos. The scientists we worked with were chuffed to bits that they’d finally got the chance to say ‘look at this’, because they hadn’t before allowed a film crew to show that side of the Galapagos.
Another big change the islands have faced is the number of people. When I first visited the islands, the population was about 2,000. Now it’s 30,000 people. With tourism, about 220,000 people now visit the Galapagos every year.
From this trip, I saw the stuff that you don’t really see as a tourist. Working and living with the community on conservation projects and learning about the challenges they faced. In the Galapagos, they’re really trying hard to turn things around and through the series, we meet some really inspirational people who are doing some fantastic work around issues like invasive species, ecotourism, illegal fishing and climate change.
It’s tough times everywhere for delicate ecosystems, but it’s important to balance that with the fact that we’re even talking about them. What I’m hoping is that when people watch the series, they will want to do a bit of research and make a little difference. And there’s loads of things we can do. The Galapagos Conservation Trust is the only UK-based conservation charity that’s dedicated entirely to funding projects out there if people want to have a look at them. And we can avoid buying single use plastics, plastic water bottles, margarine tubs… There are plenty of ways we can get rid of single use plastics from our lives. What I always say is that you don’t want to go to your grave thinking ‘I didn’t bother’. Instead, think ‘you know what, I did a little thing and I got stuck in’.
The biggest surprise for me in terms of my family was just how great the kids were. They were utterly fearless, got stuck into everything and I was really proud of the girls the whole time. They were like little gladiators. We walked up a volcano – you see it in the second episode – and it was a five-mile hike in 30 degree heat, yet they just monstered it.
Molly was three so she was quite little, but I think it was life-changing for Isla. I saw the lights come on with her and it really impacted her in a really positive way. We live on the coast in South Devon so she’s always been into the sea and animals, but this has really set her on the path; particularly things like swimming with turtles and snorkelling with sharks.
I think the really poignant stuff in this programme is seeing the islands through the eyes of the kids. Isla says: ‘This is really bad, I don’t understand how your generation has let this happen’. I’m hoping that will touch a nerve with people and should get people thinking there are things we can do; certainly in terms of plastic.
I am optimistic about the future of the Galapagos. There is an impetus, momentum and a willingness to try and make things change that just wasn’t there 20 years ago when I first visited. Back then was a kind of gold rush time where everyone was setting up tourist operations and trying to make money out of the place.
What surprised and heartened me on this trip is how the community are mobilising to sort out the problems that are facing the islands. I think that’s the measure of the new generation coming through and how the young people of the islands are so engaged with what’s going on and that was really good. So I am cautiously optimistic. That’s the best way to put it.