Environmental Issues For The Galapagos Islands

It took millions of years for the delicate system of the Galapagos to evolve. Human interruption and introduction easily disturbs such a delicate system. Thus, there are many environmental problems plaguing the islands, some stemming from the pressures of the introduction of species by humans, such as rats, dogs, cats, and goats. Also, there are concerns with overpopulation, commercial fishing and climate changes such El Niño.

Impact of Non-native Species

Since the times of the first inhabitants, non-native species have been imported to the Islands, often with drastic consequences. Many of the species have had dramatic effects.

Feral dogs, most likely imported to the Islands as pets of early settlers, have been a threat to tortoise eggs, native iguana species and even penguins.

Four species of goats were introduced to the Santiago Islands in the early 1800's. They went rampant and one estimate calculated that their population had grown to nearly 100,000. The introduced species eradication program, though slow going, has eliminated feral goats from several small islands. Due to their constitution and ability to feed on nearly any plant, goats alone may be responsible for the local extinction of up to 4 or 5 species of vegetation and compete with the Galapagos tortoise for their food source.

Dogs are now absent from the island of Isabela. The efforts to reintroduce and repopulate species such as elephantine tortoise have increased their numbers dramatically.

The Charles Darwin Research Station constantly searches for solutions to the problem of introduced species.

Human Migration

Looking for work, people from mainland Ecuador have literally invaded the Islands. The Galapagos human population has increased over 300% in the past few decades. Today, more than 40,000 people live on the Islands. The population is doubling every eleven years, which means that there will be 80,000 people on the Galapagos Islands by 2025.

Tourism

For decades, tourists have been coming to the Islands for the rich flora and fauna of the Galapagos. There are two airports, one in San Cristobal and one in Baltra. The airport on Baltra was rennovated in 2013 to accommodate larger aircraft. The park service does a great job of regulating the licensing of guides, as well as designating low-impact landing sites. The National Park charges a $100 entrance fee to foreign tourists.

Over-fishing

Recently, over fishing or illegal fishing has become a large issue. When migrants do not find work in tourism, they often find jobs in the fishing industry. The sea cucumber and sharks of the Galapagos have become alarming targets, both popular in Asian markets for their aphrodisiac or medicinal qualities. Due to the alarming decrease, in the early 1990's an Executive Decree enforced by the National Park service banned all fishing of sea cucumbers in the Galapagos. Fishermen were not filled with enthusiasm. Although the ban has been replaced by a quota, there have continuously been strikes on the part of the fishermen. In April 2004, angry fishermen besieged the Charles Darwin Station and demanded the right to use greater nets and longer lines. The seizure ended with an agreement signed between Ecuador's Minister of the Environment, and the fishermen. The conflict, however, is far from over.

To read more on the fishing management, visit the website for the National Park of the Galapagos.

Climate | El Niño

While an entirely natural occurrence, the weather pattern took a vital part of the ecosystem out of the chain. Many fish searched for different waters to feed upon. The fur seals were most greatly affected as they depend on the fish being closer to the surface. The surface waters were heated more during the attacks of El Niño, and the fur seals between ages 1-4 were virtually all wiped out. El Niño also affected coastal birds. The absence of fish in the coastal waters meant that many of the traditional nest areas for birds were abandoned.

Solutions

While there are a great number of issues and problems facing the fragile environment of the Galapagos, there are success stories and potential solutions as well. Environmental education efforts on the Islands help their inhabitants understand the larger picture and need for conservation. Enforcement of responsible tourism and park guidelines help preserve the Galapagos for the future. There are seemingly endless needs for the park's preservation and funding is always limited. Other than what little budget it receives from the Republic of Ecuador, the National Park relies entirely on funding from philanthropists, the fundraising efforts of the Charles Darwin Foundation, Inc. and other private organizations.

How can you help during your visit?

When you visit the Galapagos National Park, stick to the following park rules to help preserve the unique flora and fauna on the Islands.

Additional Resources

GALAPAGOS / PERU