Conservation in the Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands have been called a ‘unique living museum and showcase of evolution.’ Their extreme geographical isolation, unique geology and location at the confluence of three major ocean currents allowed new life forms to evolve here that are found nowhere else on earth. These life forms, which include giant tortoises, marine iguanas, and a variety of finches, inspired Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution by natural selection in the 19th century, forever altering our most basic understanding of life on earth. Because of the remoteness of the islands and their relatively recent discovery by humans, 95% of the species that were around during Darwin’s time can still be found here today.
The government of Ecuador declared the Galapagos Islands a national park in 1959 and they were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978, due to their exceptional biodiversity, high rates of endemism (species found nowhere else), and ecological integrity. The Galapagos Marine Reserve, which was established in 1986, now encompasses nearly 80,000-square miles of the surrounding Pacific, making it one of the largest protected marine reserves in the world. Only three percent of the total landmass (on just four of the 19 islands) of the Galapagos is open to human habitation and development. And access to the uninhabited islands is strictly controlled, making the Galapagos one of the most carefully managed tourism destinations in the world.
In spite of all of this, the pristine ecosystems and unique wildlife that have made the Galapagos Islands one of the world’s premiere nature tourism destinations face many serious threats. On June 26, 2007, the World Heritage Committee recommended that Galapagos be added to UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger. The reasons for their decision can be grouped into six major categories:
1) Invasive species
2) Illegal and unsustainable fisheries
3) Control of tourism
4) Population growth
6) Government Control
The World Heritage Committee voted to remove the Galapagos from the list in 2013, citing significant progress made by Ecuador in addressing these problems. Still, many of the threats still persist.