GALA­PA­GOS

IWC is sup­port­ing the Charles Dar­win Foun­da­tion with do­na­tions and by invit­ing their cus­tomers to follow suit.

Plaza Watch International - - Contents - WORDS JOSH SIMS

Follow the lead of IWC and support The Charles Dar­win Foun­da­tion.

It is, in many re­spects, a cu­ri­ous kind of of­fer. IWC has kindly pro­vided its fans with the op­por­tu­nity to spend some of their money, not on watches, but on flora and fauna sev­eral thou­sand miles away. A new deal be­tween the Ger­man watch company and the Charles Dar­win Foun­da­tion in­vites the do­na­tion of any­where be­tween $20 and $1000, for which the donors re­ceive, well, not a lot re­ally: the sym­bolic adop­tion of an en­dan­gered species or, at best, in­vi­ta­tions to IWC bou­tique events and pref­er­en­tial treat­ment – should one ever choose to travel to meet with said flora and fauna sev­eral thou­sand miles away.

It is, clearly, hardly the high glam­our sales pitch typ­i­cal of the watch in­dus­try, which for decades has strived to as­so­ciate it­self with clas­sic yacht rac­ing and For­mula One, aer­o­batic teams, Grand Slam ten­nis play­ers and Hol­ly­wood su­per­stars. IWC has many ‘Friends of the brand’, com­pris­ing movie stars, mu­si­cians and sports celebri­ties… so this ini­tia­tive is some­thing of a con­trast.

“We’ve never been a company to use per­son­al­i­ties to push prod­ucts, and we’re not a brand that’s ever been about glitz and flashi­ness, but un­der­state­ment and sub­stance over style, so to speak,” coun­ters Si­mon Cham­bers, IWC’s brand di­rec­tor. “But what’s more is the fact that deals like the one for the Charles Dar­win Foun­da­tion are good things to do, and the right things to do. Yes, it gives a form of cred­i­bil­ity to IWC that you can’t get by as­so­ci­a­tion with a Hol­ly­wood celebrity. But, more than that, there’s a new con­sumer than ex­pects more from the brands they buy into than prod­uct alone. They want to see a demon­stra­tion of a com­mit­ment to so­ci­ety.”

Even if that so­ci­ety com­prises the likes of fish-eat­ing snakes, man­grove finches, whale sharks, marine igua­nas and gi­ant tor­toises – th­ese and the many other strange and fas­ci­nat­ing in­hab­i­tants of the Gala­pa­gos ar­chi­pel­ago that the Charles Dar­win Foun­da­tion, the only char­ity to fo­cus ex­clu­sively on the con­ser­va­tion and sus­tain­abil­ity of the ar­chi­pel­ago, is do­ing much to pro­tect. In­deed, the com­mit­ment is im­por­tant pre­cisely be­cause that so­ci­ety does com­prise such rare species – 40 per cent of the is­lands’ species are in­dige­nous, 95 per cent of their orig­i­nal bio-di­ver­sity still in­tact; it has yet to lose an en­demic bird species while, in com­par­i­son, a third of Hawaii’s are al­ready ex­tinct and many of the rest en­dan­gered.

Of course, IWC makes cap­i­tal out of its re­la­tion­ship with the Foun­da­tion – as­so­ci­a­tion with the em­phat­i­cally wild na­ture of the is­land chain gives au­thor­ity to the out­ward-bound im­age of its div­ing watches, for ex­am­ple, most typ­i­cally its Aqua­timer range, spe­cial edi­tions of which were launched this year to un­der­line this as­so­ci­a­tion. But then a closer look at the Gala­pa­gos – like ‘Serengeti’, a by­word for the grandios­ity of na­ture to most – and it re­veals the im­por­tance of just such a re­la­tion­ship.

Let the man whose ances­tor first iden­ti­fied the is­lands’ global im­por­tance – Ran­dall Keynes, great, great grand­son to Charles Dar­win, au­thor and now cam­paigner for the Foun­da­tion – ex­plain why IWC’s phi­los­o­phy is, and here the pun is en­tirely de­lib­er­ate, a suit­ably evolved one. “When I first went to the Gala­pa­gos they had al­ready been so much part of my life I was ter­ri­fied I’d be dis­ap­pointed,” says the man who spent his school-days blithely ig­no­rant of quite why so many of his school chums kept cracking jokes about his be­ing de­scended from a mon­key.

“But I was sim­ply blown away – it was a spir­i­tual ex­pe­ri­ence,” Keynes adds. “The won­der of the place is that, be­cause it has been cut off from hu­man con­tact, one can get ex­traor­di­nar­ily close to the wildlife, but also that life there is still get­ting es­tab­lished, th­ese are still is­lands new­lye­merg­ing from the ocean. Its global pe­cu­liar­ity is its abil­ity to show the

“We’ve never been a company to use per­son­al­i­ties to push prod­ucts, and we’re not a brand that’s ever been about glitz and flashi­ness, but un­der­state­ment and sub­stance over style, so to speak.”

process of evo­lu­tion. It’s a one-off liv­ing ex­per­i­ment. And it was for this rea­son that, dur­ing one five- week visit in 1835, a young nat­u­ral­ist [Dar­win] came to spot the mech­a­nism of that process. But it’s also a unique test-bed in the hu­man im­pact on highly frag­ile nat­u­ral life, a prob­lem we’re see­ing again and again across the planet.”

Cer­tainly, as Cham­bers stresses, that is why the Foun­da­tion needs all the help it can get, be it money, plain and sim­ple, the help­ing hand of a global brand the likes of IWC, or even just its PR of­fice, of a scale and reach that the Foun­da­tion might only dream of. Ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion – one of the least well-known en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems of global im­port – has, for ex­am­ple, al­ready killed off much of the co­ral around this UNESCO World Her­itage site. Mean­while, tourism is cen­tral to the ar­chi­pel­ago’s econ­omy – and the in­come of many lo­cal Ecuado­ri­ans – and yet its growth also threat­ens to cross a tip­ping point when it will start to de­stroy its very rai­son d'être. “The fu­ture of the Gala­pa­gos is un­cer­tain – it could eas­ily be con- served so that we could ap­pre­ci­ate it for ever more, but to do that the num­ber of hu­mans vis­it­ing has to be con­trolled,” as Keynes says, sound­ing not too pos­i­tive.

The decision to im­ple­ment that con­trol, how­ever, may well be not too far off, per­haps in no small part down to the fact that Gala­pa­gos it­self is, as Ian Dunn puts it, “… a pow­er­ful brand that peo­ple want to lis­ten to, cer­tainly far above what the size of the is­lands or the char­ity would war­rant, and while it’s a small part of the en­tire con­ser­va­tion world – it’s just an ocean ar­chi­pel­ago – its place in the the­ory of evo­lu­tion and its so­cial im­pact means that it punches above its weight.” Dunn is an en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­en­tist and the chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Gala­pa­gos Con­ser­va­tion Trust and, per­haps un­ex­pect­edly given its re­mit, spent much of his ca­reer in the petro-chem­i­cal in­dus­try – giv­ing him, he ar­gues, the kind of business nous many NGOs lack.

He ar­gues that, while the Gala­pa­gos brand can be pushed fur­ther to ben­e­fi­cial ef­fect – Septem­ber, for ex­am­ple, sees the launch in Ecuado­rian schools of an ed­u­ca­tional pro­gramme on the im­por­tance of the ar­chi­pel­ago, one which is set to be rolled out to schools in the UK too – get­ting in more money will also be cru­cial. “Just rel­a­tively small amounts of money can make a huge dif­fer­ence. We’re work­ing on a shoestring bud­get here com­pared with what’s spent in the cor­po­rate world. And I speak as some­one from the cor­po­rate world. A sim­ple com­mer­cial ar­range­ment with a company, the likes of IWC giv­ing us $250,000, al­lows us to run a pro­tec­tion pro­gramme for an en­tire species for a year.”

Per­haps a small ex­am­ple will il­lus­trate just what chal­lenges lie ahead for the Gala­pa­gos, how one might be hope­ful for its con­ser­va­tion, but also rather cau­tious in one’s hope. One of the big­gest chal­lenges the is­lands face comes from an in­va­sive species that might, in time, prove a se­ri­ous threat to the na­tive birds. That species is a tiny fly. And how does one even be­gin to erad­i­cate a fly that has spread to all cor­ners of an ar­chi­pel­ago cov­er­ing 45,000 square kilo­me­tres?

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