Plundering Paradise: The Hand of Man on the Galapagos Islands

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9780060193904: Plundering Paradise: The Hand of Man on the Galapagos Islands

Mention the Galápagos Islands to almost anyone, and the first things that come to mind are iguanas, tortoises, volcanic beaches, and, of course, Charles Darwin. That's what Michael D'Orso imagined when he first traveled there three years ago. What he discovered on these idyllic islands, though, was a tropical paradise under siege from an onslaught of desperately poor South American refugees and corrupt fishing fleets that have brought crime, crowding, pollution, and violence.

In a narrative as rich and exotic as the landscape and creatures that frame it, D'Orso tells the story of the odd European adventurers who first settled the Galápagos in the early twentieth century, of the eccentric Americans who arrived in the mid-1950s, of the scientists who dug in a decade after that, and of the ecotourism industry that has burgeoned over the last twenty years.

As he explores the conflicts on land and at sea that now threaten to destroy this fabled "Eden of Evolution," D'Orso follows a group of offbeat modern-day islanders:

  • From Jack Nelson, owner and manager of the Hotel Galápagos, who came here in the late sixties to escape the Vietnam draft, to the local prostitutes who are sometimes paid with precious sea cucumbers rather than cash.
  • From British biologist Godfrey Merlen and his colleagues at the rustic Darwin Research Station to the armed poachers and illegal hunters who evade park service rangers as they roam the islands' jungled hillsides and crystalline inlets in pursuit of their prey.
  • From old-timers such as Gus Angermeyer, who fled Hitler's Germany in the 1930s at age twenty-three to sail to the Galápagos with his three brothers, to the teenaged islanders of today who surf the archipelago's worldclass waves by day and frequent its pulsing discotheques at night.

Plundering Paradise is an inside look at the Galápagos as seen through the eyes of the people who actually live there. It is a story of alarm and of crisis, but also of hope, as the men and women who treasure the beauty and wonder of these ageless islands gather their forces to fight to protect them.

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About the Author:

Michael D’Orso is the author of the New York Times bestseller Like Judgment Day: The Ruin and Redemption of a Town Called Rosewood and has collaborated on many notable titles, including Walking with the Wind, with Senator John Lewis. He lives in Norfolk, Virginia.

From Booklist:

The isolated Galapagos Islands, home to a unique ecosystem, are, thanks to Charles Darwin, the epicenter of evolutionary biology, and numerous scientists have chronicled the lives of the islands' giant tortoises, iguanas, and diverse bird species in his wake, but journalist D'Orso, author of Like Judgment Day (1996), is no nature freak. Instead, he spent three years researching and exploring the islands to learn about their overlooked human inhabitants. Captivating in both his lucidity and precision, D'Orso seamlessly blends island history, political reportage, ecological analysis, and vivid portraits of islanders as he traces the radical changes that are turning this once pristine natural paradise into a besieged and endangered ecological battleground where poachers, scientists, and ecotourists come into sometimes violent conflict, invasive species threaten native plants and wildlife, and corrupt Ecuadorian officials siphon off millions of tourist dollars, condemning islanders to abject poverty. By telling the stories of those who have dwelled precariously, often lawlessly, on the inhospitable Galapagos, from whalers and buccaneers to refugees, mavericks, Ecuadorians fleeing the collapsed mainland economy, and valiant Park Service officers, D'Orso brings into focus the entire spectrum of Galapagos life, a very different world from that shown in romanticized documentaries or glossy tourist brochures. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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