Liz Bonnin is a biochemist, wild animal biologist and television presenter. She presented the spectacular three-part BBC One series Galapagos that aired last year. Her other recent presenting credits include Wild Alaska Live and Stargazing Live. She is an ambassador for the Galapagos Conservation Trust and led our Galapagos Islands Cruise wildlife group tour in December 2018.
What was the highlight of your most recent trip to the Galapagos?
Working on the Alucia, a state of the art research vessel, surrounded by the scientists who are studying these enchanted islands, made the entire trip a highlight for me as a biologist. I have always wanted to visit Galapagos, ever since I was a child reading about Darwin’s journey on the Beagle, but to learn about this unique place by following the cutting-edge research taking place there was beyond my wildest dreams. And thanks to the submersibles, helicopter and technology on board the Alucia we were able to explore even the most remote parts of the island chain – from 1000 meters beneath the waves in the Bolívar Canal to the highest caldera on Isabela Island.
Why do you feel so passionately about the Galápagos?
Because of its remote geographical position and the confluence of vital nutrient-carrying cold currents, the sheer wealth and diversity of wildlife in Galapagos is staggering. It’s often been described as mini earth, a living laboratory for scientists to study and apply their findings to the conservation of the whole of the planet. In Galapagos you walk amongst nature as if you are truly a part of it, not a mere spectator of it, and that experience changes you. These islands give you a glimpse of what the natural world may have once looked like across the globe, and that is incredibly humbling. It’s a very, very special place. To think that the archipelago is now bowing under the pressure of the modern world and that many of its endemic species are endangered makes me want to do everything I can to protect it.
What do you think should be done to help preserve the Galapagos Islands?
Every ecosystem in the planet is inextricably linked, which means that what we do here at home affects the health of Galapagos and if its health falters our own health will inevitably fail. We are living in an age where the effects our actions and behaviours exert are more apparent around the world than ever before and even remote, seemingly pristine places like Galápagos are no longer immune to the impact of our human footprint. So we all need to step up and show the planet that we can be responsible custodians of all the precious wild places that are ours to protect and cherish, no matter where they are. We need to change our habits and live more sustainably, use fewer resources, recycle responsibly and consume less. What does it say about us if we let the beautiful wildlife of Galápagos diminish on our watch?
Do you have a favourite Galapagos animal?
I think the marine iguanas of Galapagos are fascinating reptiles. Not only have they adapted to become swimming, diving animals that deal with all the salt they ingest while feeding on algae by snorting it out in an unbecoming but highly effective manner, but recent research has shown that when food is scarce they can actually shrink their bones to become smaller, and therefore consume less food, and when the marine algae recovers, they can grow bigger again, all within a year or so! Nature is truly astounding, and we are still only scratching the surface when it comes to our knowledge of what animals are capable of.
Why do you think tourism is important to the future of the Galápagos?
Responsible ecotourism is a very effective way of getting people to care about the planet. There is nothing like immersing yourself in nature, wherever and whenever we can. It’s good for our physical and mental health but it also puts into perspective the grandeur of the natural world and our place in it. Through experiencing nature in all its glory, we can become inspired to protect it. The Galapagos Islands rely not only on tourism for livelihoods but on us all to help to protect their precious wildlife. We need to learn to live alongside, visit and appreciate our wild places without destroying them. It’s possible, as long as we don’t let greed or financial gain get in the way of caring for nature.
What excited you about the prospect of returning to the Galápagos with Steppes Travel?
I was excited to return and simply soak in the majesty of the place and the stunning variety of fascinating and almost improbable species that meander past and go about their lives. It’s a pleasure to share my knowledge of the place, and perhaps pass on my thoughts about what it means to care for Galapagos. As one of its privileged visitors, long after we’ve returned home and unpacked our bags – each of us can take responsibility to care for these islands with every small lifestyle change we make.