A comment on the conservation of the Galapagos turtle

A reader commented on the About page about an old post where comments are closed.

Galapagos conservation project prevents the evolution of ninja turtles

Archie G Says:

Hello, I wanted to comment on a post but couldn’t find where to do it, so I’ll just do it here. About the Galapagos conservation project. I know your post was intended to be humurous but it think it is important to make this clear anyway: it was not a way to protect a charismatic species above an “ugly” species. Even if rats were there before Darwin arrived, they were an introduced european species (Rattus rattus) that had limited the perpetuation of Galapagos turtles since its introduction to the Island. The rats ate 100% of the hatchlings that had no predators before. It is not “specism”, rodents are not bad, but introduced species in general damage ecosystems, whether they are a pretty animal or not. Conservation is not a matter of some animalistic fan group, it takes years of research and effort to understand its mechanics.

But I beg to differ.

(The Galapagos turtle is itself an invasive species and how it got there is not known. And it is interesting to consider all the humans who were “introduced” to Australia and the New World as invasive species who – for the conservation of the indigenous peoples – should now be rooted out).

“Conservationists” are effectively making value judgements which are unjustified. When “general damage to an ecosystem” is quoted, a judgement has already been made as to which ecosystem is “good” and which is “bad”. But all these judgements always penalise the successful species and protect the unfit species. 

I think the Galapagos turtles are fantastically “charismatic” too, but they are fundamentally an unfit species. In evolutionary terms they are ripe for extinction. So are tigers. But they are being “saved” for the aesthetic sensibilities and the entertainment of humans – not for finding or creating an adapted neo-tiger or neo-turtle species which can find a real place in the world, rather than for surviving in a zoo. Protected reserves – as some of the Galapagos islands are – are little more than large zoos and their purpose is just for the entertainment and edification of humans.

“Conservation” as it is practiced today seeks to maintain a past, or an unviable status quo. Such “conservation” is flawed. In the name of “conservation”, reserves and zoos are used to create big cats for “canned hunting”. By default, a “huntable lion”, no good for anything other than being hunted, is now being bred. Far better to help a species to adapt to real, possible futures. Far better if species were helped (by genetic engineering perhaps) to adjust to the new realities and find a new place. What’s the point of saving a species, that is unfit for a current habitat, and freezing it in this unsuccessful form for a habitat which is no longer viable?

As the dominant species on this planet, humans will never allow some other species to become so successful as to be a threat. There is no moral reason they should. And species which cannot adapt to the dominant species are unfit and deserve to become extinct. After all, 99% of all species that have ever lived are now extinct.


Genetic adaptation – not stagnating conservation – is the way to help threatened species


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2 Responses to “A comment on the conservation of the Galapagos turtle”

  1. Archie G Says:

    Hello. Again I differ with this. The real problem is that human induced changes in environment (of any kind such as land use, species introduction, climate change, etc) occur so fast that no species (including ourselves) are capable of adaptation. Evolution is a phenomenon that doesn’t happen in the “ecological chronology” or hundreds of years, it takes a “geological time” or millions of years to happen. Looking at the galpagos turtles and the rats as an example, even if the rat was the “fittest” species for that environment (leaving aside the fact that it was introduced) it would end up dissapearing from the island eventually because of the high rates of predation it had upon the turtles, and so making the rats a pretty unefficient predator and not a very fit species.

    It would be nice if genetics could be worked as easy in every species the way it is in transgenic crops, but adaptation is a product of complex mechanisms including natural selection, sexual selection and random mutations. How can we know what are the needs of an ecosystem upon their species and the needs of all and each species in it to be able to determine how can we genetically modify them? The truth is: We don’t know. And not even the best scientist knows, so this is the motivation to constantly research and update species status and information.
    Besides it is hard to know because of the huge quantity of species that exist nowadays on earth (about 9million and less than 20% are described) and some of them have a huge impact on the biosphere, even if they are not known species.

    The habitats that are in reservations are not “frozen”. First we have all the global changes and secondly we have all the modifications that the human makes inside of natural reserves as management. Natural reserves are a way to keep big industries from destroying places that are potentially the base for all kinds of life (again we can’t be 100% sure because we have not explored and studied every place on earth). If there is conservation it is because the loss of the species affect us in a way, even if it is direct or not. The species that are put importance to conservation are the ones that are key species of ther habitats.

    Evolutive success is when a species is fit to their environment and its changes, not being smart or able to hold tool. Fitness can mean being able to survive to anything (being that a specific factor or multiple factors at the same time). And our relationship to the rest of the species of the world is not competition (because there is no other living being that occupies our same niche and thus compete for it).
    Humans are not the “dominant species”, evolution is not about how many steps it took a species to get where they are (for instance, green algae have been the same since the beginning of life). It’s like a computer: you have version number 2 of program A, version 40 of program B and 100 of program C, they all work in the OS (or ecosystem) and they cannot be compared because the function of each program (or specie) is unique in the OS. You cannot say that program C is more “updated” than A when one of them is a browser and the other one is a media player. That is life on earth. We are not “more evolved” just because we have consciousness and we are able to create technology. We are just different, the same as all the other species are different.

    Maybe it is a bit of an artistic thing but this short documentary is pretty accurate on the importance of species: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysa5OBhXz-Q
    Even if it talks about wolves it can be applied to any species (not only charismatic).

    Thanks for the time of reading and responding to my comments, it’s not common on the internet. And sorry if I made any mistake, english is not my first language.

    • ktwop Says:

      Thanks for your comments.
      Evolution is just a result – it has no predetermined direction. It is effective if you take the continuation of life as its objective but it is also inefficient. One difficulty is in trying to determine whether evolution has any purpose at all. I suspect the process produces far more species than are necessary for an ecological “system” to function (and it is also difficult to ascribe any “purpose” or objective to this system). Is a stable ecological system with just 10 species more efficient or is a stable system with 20 species more successful? What is the measure of “goodness”?
      Even if you take the view that it is the “selfish gene” which uses evolution as its tool to ensure survival, then all the various species that exist are just to create a redundancy.
      I too like visiting nature reserves but this is entirely for my own aesthetic satisfaction. Over the years I have lost my appetite for zoos where every large animal seems to be psychotic in its cramped surroundings. But in many reserves we try to keep species as they are, in surroundings which are temporary- we do not to try and help them to adapt to the change that is coming.
      Humans are natural too. So were natural disasters like the Toba eruption or Krakatoa. Some species survived the change and some did not.
      I suppose I don’t like it when the “status quo” is made into a god for “conservation”.
      Essentially this is about change management and the hierarchy of how to deal with change. At the lowest level we Observe the change, A little higher and we Cope with the change. Where we can, we Manage the change. But it is best if we Design the change.

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