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Galapagos Threatened by Introduced Species

The isolated and biodiverse archipelago of Galapagos is a double World Heritage site, with both the land and the marine area being protected. While Galapagos is in many ways thriving, the flora and fauna are being threatened by invasive species.

More than 600 miles off the Ecuadorian coast, Galapagos has a rich ecology which caught the attention of naturalist Charles Darwin, helping inspire his theory of evolution. In these remote islands he found turtles, finches and marine iguanas which had adapted to their environment free from external influence.

The days of a pristine Galapagos have ended and the place has become an industry unto itself. The tourism and fishing industries have brought visitors and migrants to the islands. But with positive development comes a downside, in this case taking the form of introduced invasive species. Some have been introduced deliberately with good intention, later proving disastrous for native species. Others have likely arrived as accidental cargo on boats and planes from the mainland.

According to the Galapagos Conservation Trust, radical measures must be taken to eradicate or control the introduced species. The very mascot of Galapagos, the Galapagos Giant Tortoise, has already lost much of its natural habitat due to an influx of feral goats. But there are countless other offenders and victims. Black and brown rats are able to out-compete young tortoises and the native rice rat. Foreign Guava and Cinchona plants overtake and destroy endemic plants such as Miconia and Scalesia. Feral pigs destroy nests of sea turtles, giant tortoises and ground-nesting birds, as well as dominating their food sources. Stray cats and dogs are posing a threat to populations of marine and land iguanas, tortoises, birds and lizards. Many of Darwin’s beloved finch species are being seriously threatened by the larvae of parasitic flies and the predation of their nests by rats. Scientists claim some of the finch species could face extinction, given the number of factors working against them.

The situation in Galapagos is complex but much is being done. A landmark effort by several organizations and governmental agencies has established the Special Law for the Galapagos, meant to preserve the delicate ecology of the archipelago and prevent further damage to native species. While the Law provides a hopeful framework, many aspects are not fully enforced or have not yet been operationalized, which means the Galapagos are still in need of stronger protection.

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