Every time she visits the Galapagos, Lauren must wonder about the hand of fate. Her grandmother, a Norwegian, almost moved to the Galapagos in the 1920s in response to an ad placed by the government of Ecuador seeking settlers to establish a new fish cannery.
A flip of a coin sent her to the United States instead. So Lauren grew up exploring the lakes and streams of Minnesota and Wisconsin. After studying economics in college, she joined the Peace Corps and found herself working with a farmers' cooperative in Paraguay. Lauren quickly realized there were practical, economic ways to sustain local livelihoods without devastating the environment.
Lauren spent five years with the Peace Corps and worked for the Inter-American Foundation before joining WWF in 1993, where she began applying her views about economics and conservation to the Galapagos. Tourism is the single biggest threat to the islands, straining infrastructure and prompting a population explosion in recent years - all of which pose great risk to the islands' many unique species. "With more people living on the islands, you have increased demand for energy, schools, social services - and you have a growing human footprint including an increased demand for electricity, water, schools, roads, housing, and other basic services" she says. "You also risk the introduction of a plague or a new species that could devastate an island."