Island Studies Journal (Nov 2011)

Nature’s Eden? The Production and Effects of ‘Pristine’ Nature in the Galápagos Islands

  • Hennessy Elizabeth,
  • McCleary Amy L.

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 6, no. 2
pp. 131 – 156


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Best known for inspiring Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, the Galápagos Islands are often referred to as an “evolutionary Eden” and celebrated as one of the world’s few remaining bastions of “pristine” nature. However, recent concerns of a crisis of over-development prompted UNESCO to put the Galápagos on its list of World Heritage Sites “In Danger.” In this paper, we interrogate the conception of pristine nature which undergirds the recent crisis discourse and argue that such understandings of nature are not in fact natural, but are social productions that reflect particular ways of understanding island space. We then explore the material and political effects of understandings of “pristine” nature by showing how they work to structure the tourism industry and investment in public infrastructure in ways that have created social inequalities as well as negative environmental impacts. We then briefly discuss measures taken so far to address the crisis situation, arguing that they would benefit from critical attention to the complexity of social-environmental relations in the Galápagos and a re-thinking of the nature of the islands.