Monday, December 14, 2009

Environmental issues in Galapagos islands

The Galapagos Islands, located 972 km west of continental Ecuador, are UNESCO World Heritage site, and one of the last remaining oasis of wildlife in the world. The wildlife here is really special with many endemic species that can be found only here like the Galapagos land iguanas, Galapagos tortoise, Galapagos Penguin (the only tropical penguin species), etc. The rapid development is the thing that threatens the most this paradise of wildlife.

Galapagos has in the last few years become a real touristic attraction, and new hotels, discos, bars, have sprung up on several of the islands. This has of course increased significantly human population on the Galapagos islands, and the latest data says that human population has more than doubled in the last 10 years.

Some will probably say how this is not the reason for concern since 97 percent of the islands form a national park in which development is banned, but this is sadly not the case here because towns outside the park are becoming popular places among not only many tourists but also among young Ecuadorans that arrive from the mainland on cheap air tickets looking for fun in local discos.

The more people are introduced to these islands the bigger the environmental pollution there is, and this also opens the door to many invasive plants and animals that cause lot of trouble to survival of native species. Feral goats, cats, and cattle, have already done a significant damage to this sensible wildlife, and what is even worse they still continue to decimate the habitats of the native species.

The situation is so serious that today introduced plant species (748) outnumber those that are native (around 500), and according to the latest scientific research from Charles Darwin Foundation around 60 percent of 168 endemic plant species are already threatened. Also more than 500 non-native insects have been introduced to these islands so native species are really having tough time to survive.

Many of these invasive species are brought in on tourist and cargo ships carrying food and fuel to the ever-increasing population, and the worst part is that majority of these ships do not treat water discharged into the sea, which then threatens many native marine species.

More population, more tourists, and most of all more invasive species means more environmental problems for this wonderful piece of nature. If current trend continues many native Galapagos species will go extinct. The Galapagos Islands really need immediate action or else this wildlife treasure could be lost for ever.

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